War crimes are not past

Human Rights Action (HRA), Centre for Civic Education (CCE) and Center for dealing with the past DOCUMENTA, in the eve of 6 December, as a sign of remembrance of the bloodiest day of the siege of Dubrovnik by the JNA in 1991, invite the Supreme State Prosecutor of Montenegro to announce if the state prosecution has done something or intends to do so in the context of prosecution of war crimes committed by the members of the Yugoslav People’s Army – JNA (namely, Montenegrin citizens) on the territory of Croatia.

For almost 240 days, citizens of Dubrovnik lived under the land and naval blockade, 138 days without electricity and water, and spent more than four months in shelters. In the area of Konavle, Parish of Dubrovnik and the coast near Dubrovnik, JNA forces destroyed village after village, demolishing, pillaging and burning civilian objects, as well. Part of the population took refuge in Dubrovnik, northern Dalmatia and the islands, and in the villages remained mostly elderly residents, many of whom were killed or taken to the JNA camps in Morinj, Montenegro or Bileca, BiH. As a war aftermath in Dubrovnik area 116 civilians were killed; as well as 194 Croatian soldiers and 165 members of the JNA from Montenegro, 443 people were detained in detention camps of Morinj and Bileca, 33 thousands people were expatriated and 2,071 residential buildings were destroyed. On 6 December, 19 people were killed during the shelling of the city, 60 were injured, and the library of the International university centre was burned, whereas the core of the old town was significantly damaged.

Up to this day there was no notification that in Montenegro was initiated any criminal proceeding against any person for war crimes committed during the siege of Dubrovnik (from 1 October 1991 until the end of June 1992) , (1)although state officials have accepted responsibility for the detriment of organized looting in which Montenegrin citizens have participated on Croatian territory during the war in the Dubrovnik area. (2)

In 2012, the Supreme State Prosecutor’s Office informed us that it has formed a case in connection with the events in Dubrovnik combat zone, on one criminal charge filed against unknown persons, members of the JNA army reservists from Montenegro, for the perpetration of war crimes against the civilian population, i.e. killing of a civilian in the village of Zvekovica near Dubrovnik airport. We invite the Supreme State Prosecutor to publicly announce the fate of the case, and whether it remained the only formed case up to this day.

For war crimes committed during the attack on Dubrovnik, only former general of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), Pavle Strugar(3) , and his subordinate commandant Miodrag Jokic(4) were sentenced by the Hague Tribunal. Before The Hague tribunal, retired Admiral Milan Zec was charged, but in 2002 acquitted (5) , while also, accused Captain of the First Class JNA Vladimir Kovacevic – Rambo in 2004 was temporarily released for treatment by the Hague court decision (6). The public often raises the question of command responsibility of Momir Bulatovic, former (December 1990 – December 1992) President of the Presidency of Montenegro, who had a legally defined authority to make decisions on the use of the Territorial Defense of Montenegro – the most massive component 2nd operative group composed of the JNA mobilized Montenegrin reservists in the attack on Dubrovnik. This raises the question of potential criminal liability and some of the Montenegrin police officers who took part in operations in the Dubrovnik battleground. (7)

County Attorney from Dubrovnik filed in late 2009 indictment against 10 officers of the former Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) (8) who were charged with, as media transmitted, not having tried to prevent the behavior of subordinate units contrary to the Geneva Conventions, during the aggression of the JNA in the Dubrovnik area in 1991 and 1992: the shelling of populated areas; killing of civilians (116), imprisonment, abuse and forcing civilians to flee; destruction of civilian, cultural, religious and commercial properties; looting and burning (9) . Of the accused Pavle Strugar and Radovan Komar are in Montenegro. The agreement on extradition of Montenegrin citizens concluded between Montenegro and Croatia on October 1, 2010 does not cover the ones accused of war crimes(10) (as opposed to the extradition agreement with Serbia) (11) , Strugar and Komar could only be trialed for these acts in Montenegro (12) .

Although it is generally known that the so-called weekend-warriors from Montenegro participated in the ransacking of civilian facilities and possibly other war crimes in Foča area and other places in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina near the border with Montenegro in 1992-1993 (13). until December 2011, no one has been prosecuted for those crimes in Montenegro (14).

On the conference of ”War for Peace’- 20 years later”, organized by CCE, HRA and Documenta, one of the damaged witnesses in the case of Morinj, Metodije Prkacin, accused the judge of the Appellate Court of Montenegro Milivoje Katnic that, as an officer of KOS was most responsible for looting and arson in Cavtat (15) . Also, Prkacin stated that on the battlefield, as a member of the military police he saw the person, for which he was told that was Vesna Medenica (it is believed that it was the President of the Supreme Court of Montenegro), Lieutenant Colonel Ljubo Knezevic, when entering the conveyor in Cavtat used human shield out of the local population, and that commanders Gojko Duracic, who lives in Bar, and Nemanja Kordolija, who also lives in Montenegro, all know what was done by whom (16). Vesna Medenica, President of the Montenegrin Supreme Court has denied these claims saying that at that time she regularly served as Basic State prosecutor, while the judge Milivoje Katnic denied being responsible for any crimes. According to information provided by the Human Rights Action received from NGO Documenta from Croatian, Metodije Prkacin after the conducted meeting had a talk with the Croatian Ministry of the Interior. In an interview he gave his insight about beatings in Cavtat, he handed over the relevant documentation and referred to other witnesses.

The lack of results in the prosecution of war crimes by the competent authorities of Montenegro is highlighted in this year’s Progress report made by the European Commission, clearly stating “Montenegro should strengthen its efforts to combat impunity for war crimes, and effectively investigate, prosecute and punish war crimes in accordance with international standards. All important allegations of war crimes must be given due escort.” (17)

The practice of keeping current procedures for war crimes before the Montenegrin judiciary has demonstrated a serious lack of capacity of the authorities to investigate, determine the facts and make appropriate verdicts for war crimes. We expect that the new State Supreme Prosecutor will change this state of affairs and that he will inform the public of what has been taken or what he intends to undertake.

Tea Gorjanc Prelevic, Executive Director, Human Rights Action (HRA), Podgorica
Vesna Terselic, Director of Documenta, Zagreb
Daliborka Uljarevic, Executive Director, Centre for Civic Education (CCE), Podgorica
(1)On 29 December 2009, the Supreme State Prosecutor of Montenegro has announced that in addition to cases relating camp Morinj, another subject was not formed that treats events in the Dubrovnik area in 1991 and 1992, because to the Prosecutor’s Office by that date were not filed criminal charges against Montenegrin citizens (Reply to request for information, archive HRA)
(2)Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Montenegro, Milutin Simovic, in 2005 stated that based on the signed document Montenegro municipality Konavle pay 375,000 euro in compensation for 268 dairy cows and a number of calves and calves that were taken from the farm in the Grudi ratne 1991. Presidents of Croatia and Montenegro confirmed that the negotiations on the property Dubrovnik airport which were looted during the war and taken to Tivat airport are still in progress. According to the Croatian state authorities during the war of 1991 – 1992 in the operations of the JNA and Montenegrin reservists only in the narrow area of Dubrovnik was destroyed, damaged or stolen 336 larger and smaller vessels (“Nobody’s fault”, Monitor, 20 August 2010).
(3)Pavle Strugar, former JNA general and chief of the attack on Dubrovnik (commander of the 2nd Operational Group of JNA), residing in Montenegro, surrendered to the ICTY in October 2001. Strugar on 31 January 2005 was found guilty on the basis of criminal command responsibility for two of the six counts of violating the rules and customs of war sanctioned by the Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977 and customary law, punishable by the members of the Tribunal Statute, due to attacks on civilians, destruction or willful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity, education, the arts and sciences, historic monuments and works of art and science. At trial, he was sentenced to eight years in prison. In the appellate proceedings, on 17 July 2008, on the basis of partially adopted Prosecution’s appeal, Strugar was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, the reduced sentence from the original due to his bad health. He was released from prison on February 20, 2009, because of his age and poor health after having served two thirds of his sentence. (The subject of “Dubrovnik” no. IT-01-42, “Prosecutor v Strugar”: http://www.un.org/icty/bhs/cases/strugar/judgements/050131/str-tj050131b.pdf).
(4)Miodrag Jokic, commander of the 9th Military Naval Sector JNA and subordinated Pavle Strugar, on the basis of an agreement with the prosecution of the Hague Tribunal, 27 August 2003, he pleaded guilty to violating the rules and customs of war on the basis of six counts of the indictments, cruel treatment, attacks on civilians, devastation, unlawful attacks on civilian objects, destruction or willful damage to civilian institutions. He was sentenced to seven years in prison on March 18. 2004., the verdict was confirmed on 30 August 2005. He served his sentence in Denmark until 3 September 2008, he was released early after serving two-thirds of the prison sentence (http://www.icty.org /x/cases/miodrag_Jokić/acjug/bcs/050830.pdf).
(5) “Milan Zec acquitted”, B92, 26 July 2002 (http://www.b92.net).
(6) The Special Court in Belgrade in December 2007 dismissed the charges against Vladimir Kovacevic with war crimes against the civilian population of Dubrovnik, on the grounds that the accused, because of a serious illness, is unable to follow the proceedings (“the Court in Belgrade rejected the indictment against Rambo”, Radio Free Europe, December 5, 2007, http://www.slobodnaevropa.org/content/article/765255.html).
(7) Documentary movie “Attack on Dubrovnik: War for Peace” by Koca Pavlovic, production company Coast, 2004. The film presents statements from October 1991 for TV by Milisav Markovic, Assistant Minister of the Interior, and Government of Montenegro for the Public Safety Department of the armed actions of the Montenegrin police in Dubrovnik battlefield. The Ministry of Interior was a part of the Government of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. MUP forces in Montenegro to Dubrovnik front were mobilized on the basis of the Order of the President of the Presidency of Momir Bulatovic p. hist. no. 01-14 of 1 October 1991 on the mobilization of Special police units in the strength of reinforced infantry companies, Titograd.
(8)General Jevrem Cokic (till 5.10.1992. Commander of the 2nd Operations Group JNA), General Mile Ruzinovskog (7-12.10.1991. Commander of the 2nd Operations Group JNA) General Pavle Strugar (from 13.10.1991. Commander of the 2nd Operational Group of the JNA ), Vice Admiral Miodrag Jokic (commander of the 9th military maritime sector JNA), Battleship Captain / Navy Colonel Milan Zec (Chief of Staff of the 9th military maritime sector JNA), General Branko Stankovic (commander of the 2nd tactical Group from the 2nd operational group JNA), Colonel Obrad Vicic (commander of the 472nd motorized Brigade of JNA) and Colonel Radovan Komar (Chief of Staff of the 472nd motorized Brigade of the JNA). The two other JNA officers, Captain First Class Vladimir Kovacevic (commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 472nd Brigade of the JNA) and Battleship Lieutenant Commander / Naval Captain Zoran Gvozdenovic (Commander of the Navy gunboats 403 JNA), are also incriminated by the indictment no. 46/09 for issuing direct orders for shelling, “the historic heart of the Old Town of Dubrovnik, which is as a whole under the protection of UNESCO since 1979 and is a world heritage monument”, then the shelling of populated areas “hitting Cavtat, Parish of Dubrovnik, Zaton, Trsteno, Croatia hotels, Belvedere, Plakir, Tirena and Minceta”, on which occasion” many civilians were killed.”
(9) “The Dubrovnik indictment”, Monitor, 7 May 2010.
(10)Law ratifying the Agreement between Montenegro and the Republic of Croatia on Extradition (Official Gazette of Montenegro – International Treaties, no. 1/2011). Group of Montenegrin and Croatian non-governmental human rights organizations demanded 15.09.2010. that the agreement between Montenegro and Croatia includes those accused of war crimes (see: http://www.hraction.org/?p=394).
(11) Law ratifying the Agreement between Montenegro and Serbia on Extradition (Official Gazette of Montenegro – International Agreements, no. 4/09, no. 4/2011 – Agreement between Montenegro and the Republic of Serbia on amendments to the Agreement between Montenegro and the Republic of Serbia on Extradition was concluded in Belgrade, 30 October 2010).
(12)The last publically available news about the procedure are those of May 2010, when it was announced that the prosecution in Dubrovnik for all the defendants proposed detention and issued arrest warrants, and the County Court assigned to the defendants lawyers ex officio and sent them the indictment with instructions for legal remedy of objection. So far they have received four complaints against the indictment filed by lawyers, one complaint was filed by the defendant in person (“The Dubrovnik indictment”, Monitor, 7 May 2010).
(13) For example, the crimes mentioned by the Deputy Minister of Human Rights, Sabahudin Delic, the show Prism, TV Vijesti, 25 May 2011.
(14) President of the association “Women Victims of War” from BiH, Hasecic, on the 11 March 2008, sent an open letter to the President of the Parliament of Montenegro Ranko Krivokapic, in which she expressed readiness to ” on behalf of delegation raped women and men, inmates, abused and beaten citizens and families of those murdered for them to testify in the Parliament on the procedures and actions of Montenegrin reservists and very specifically individual names, and perpetrators and findings where some of them are hiding in Montenegro (see” The Official Montenegro must apologize, “Republic, March 12, 2008). At this writing it is not known to the public that the President of the Assembly responded, and the prosecution has taken any action on this occasion.
(15)Vesna Medenica kao oficir na Dubrovačkom ratištu?“, portal Vijesti, 2 December 2011. Information available on: http://www.vijesti.me/vijesti/vesna-medenica-kao-oficir-dubrovackom-ratistu-clanak-49849.
(16) Ibidem