Is the practice of impunity for war crimes finally coming to an end?

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) welcomes the decision of the Appellate Court of Montenegro regarding the “Morinj case”, which represents the first final judgment in Montenegro concerning war crimes. However, the CCE also reminds that prosecution of war crimes runs reluctantly and slowly, still facing strong political burdening.

The Appellate Court decision, which was announced on 22 April 2014, confirmed the judgment of the Higher Court in Podgorica from 31 July 2013 for the “Morinj case” by which the defendants Ivo Gojnić, Špiro Lučić, Ivo Menzalin and Boro Gligić are declared guilty for the criminal offence war crime against war prisoners in the Morinj camp in 1992. The convicted have so called extraordinary remedy left, i.e. to require the protection of legality from the Supreme Court. The fact that Montenegrin justice needed whole two decades for adopting one final judgment, which does not even include those who ordered the crime, is very discouraging. For the period of seven years during which the “Morinj case” was processed, CCE warned many times of inadequate access to its prosecution, and reminded judicial authorities that they are responsible for it under the law and their profession, as well as morally obliged towards the Morinj victims. The unacceptably long duration of this process has led to a loss of trust towards Montenegrin judicial authorities in the eyes of the victims. In Montenegrin Prosecutor’s Office, none was held responsible for structurally poor indictments in the case of war crimes which significantly contributed to very long proceedings and to the penalties that are very low when it comes to war crimes. The European Commission noted with concern the inconsistency of the work of Montenegrin judiciary in cases of war crimes with international humanitarian law and case law od the International Criminal Tribunal within its latest Montenegro Progress Report.

In the camp of Morinj, which was formed by the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) from October 1991 until the August 1992, was captivated and abused more than 160 Croats, many of them civilians brought from Dubrovnik frontline. At the end of March 2007, the State Attorney’s Office of Republic of Croatia (DORH) delivered to the Supreme State Prosecutor of Montenegro evidence against several people on the war crimes committed in Morinj. Indictment was filed on 15 August 2008, while the trial for six former members of the JNA reserves Mladen Govedarica, Zlatko Tarle, Ivo Gojnić, Špiro Lučić, Ivo Menzalin and Boro Gligić started on 12 March 2010 before the High Court in Podgorica. On 15 May 2010, the court convicted all defendants and condemned them to the total of 16 years and 6 months of imprisonment. In November of 2010, the Appellate Court returned the procedure to retrial, while the part of the judgment in which the Higher Court determined the responsibility for two first accused (Govedarica and Tarle) for issuing orders to abuse prisoners physically. In the repeated proceedings, in January 2012, the Higher Court exonerated Govedarica and Tarle, while the total imprisonment for four convicted was 12 years. On 6 July 2012, the Appellate Court set aside the judgment for four defendants and confirmed the decision by which Govedarica and Tarle are acquitted, and the case was returned for retrial, which was continued on 14 March 2013. Tarle received additional 60.000 EUR of compensation for emotional pain, suffering and violation of honor and reputation.

CCE urges the state authorities to work more efficiently on clarifying the destiny of all victims of wars that happened in the 90s, as well as to act decisively and in a timely manner when determining responsibility for human rights violations in the past. CCE will continue to conduct activities aiming to establish transitional justice as the only way of ensuring long-lasting peace and stable future in Montenegro and region, but CCE believes that greater efforts need be made by decision-makers, especially judicial authorities whose results will offer an adequate satisfaction to the victims and to the society itself.

Tamara Milaš, Programme Associate