Quarter of century for crime without punishment

Human Rights Action (HRA), Centre for Civic Education (CCE) and Centre for dealing with the past – DOCUMENTA remind of the day when soldiers of Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) and Montenegrin reservists conducted an unjustified attack on Dubrovnik on 6 December, 25 years ago.

Only on that day, 19 people were killed in bombing, 60 were wounded, and the library of International university centre was burned along with 20 000 books, and the UNESCO-protected core of the city was severely damaged. Siege of Dubrovnik lasted for nine months and began on 1 October 1991.

So far, only two persons were convicted for war crimes during the attacks on Dubrovnik (attacks on civilians and civilian objects), former YPA general, Pavle Strugar and his subordinate commander Miodrag Jokić, and this was done before the International court – Tribunal in Hague, while it is a well-known fact that countless other war crimes were committed against the civilian population during the siege of Dubrovnik and occupation of surrounding area, in the form of murders, molestation, devastation and looting.

Citizens of Dubrovnik lived 240 days under land and naval blockade, 138 days without water and power supply, and more than four months in shelters. In the area of Konavli, Župa Dubrovačka and coastal area in the vicinity of Dubrovnik, forces of YPA destroyed village after village by devastating, looting and burning civilian objects. Part of the population fled to Dubrovnik, northern Dalmatia and isles, and the ones who remained in villages were mostly older population, out of whom many were killed or taken to camps of YPA in Morinj in Montenegro or in Bileći in B&H. Victims of war in Dubrovnik include 116 civilians; 194 dead Croatian defenders along with 165 YPA members from Montenegro; 443 persons who were detained in camps in Morinj and Bileća, 33 thousand persons who were exiled, and 2 071 residential buildings that were destroyed. State officials of Montenegro already assumed the responsibility for the looting of livestock from farm in Grude and negotiated on compensation for the equipment that was stolen from Dubrovnik airport.

State Prosecution of Republic of Croatia announced in 2011 that two years prior to that it accused eight high officers of former YPA for war crimes against civilian population and destruction of cultural-historic monuments, and that it proposed custody and issued a warrant against them. New information on the processing of this case are not available.

Mauricio Salustro, European Union expert, who has analysed and criticised the acting of State Prosecution of Montenegro in the investigation of war crimes, made a suggestion to state prosecutors back in December of 2014 to take a proactive stand, particularly in relation to investigations of war crimes committed on the territory of Dubrovnik, considering that a great number of citizens from Montenegro fought in that area. To that end, Salustro proposed to use the information on the proceedings held in other countries, archive of Tribunal of Hague, information of NGOs, on-field interview of witnesses, available official documents, and etc.).

Special State Prosecution of Montenegro today notified that its representatives resided in Tribunal of Hague in November of 2016 “where they analysed and investigated the database of Tribunal of Hague, in order to collect the information and evidence related to site investigation procedures, that are being led in Special State Prosecution, as well as of information and evidence which would indicate that Montenegrin citizens did actually perpetrate criminal acts of war crimes during the armed conflicts on the territory of former Yugoslavia, including the Dubrovnik area”.

Considering that during past year not a single criminal investigation was launched due to the crimes that had been committed during the siege of Dubrovnik, once again we urge the Special State Prosecution of Montenegro and State Prosecution of Republic of Croatia to invest much greater efforts in order to investigate the existing archived evidence much faster, collect additional evidence and process war crimes that were undoubtedly perpetrated on Dubrovnik battlefield. Punishment for crimes testifies to the acceptance of rule of law, ensures a sincere dealing with the past, and only as such can we prevent it from happening again.

Also, we call the public broadcaster RTCG to open a dialogue within its programme scheme on this very important part of Montenegrin history and consequences for Montenegrin and Croatian society, as well as the sustainable regional cooperation, derived out of the inadequate processing of war crimes.

Tea Gorjanc Prelević, executive director, Human Rights Action (HRA), Podgorica

Daliborka Uljarević, executive director, Centre for Civic Education (CGO), Podgorica

Vesna Teršelič, director, Centre for dealing with the past DOCUMENTA, Zagreb