Three decades of waiting for justice for victims of the crime committed in Štrpci

Today marks three decades since the war crime in which twenty passengers were kidnapped and killed from a train at the Štrpci station.

Human Rights Action (HRA), the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) and the Montenegrin Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights (CKP) call for the final prosecution of the perpetrators and all the direct perpetrators of the crime, for a thorough search for the remains of the victims, for Montenegro by amending the law provide social protection to the families of the victims and to introduce this case into the education of new generations. Unfortunately, neither after the change of government of the long-standing coalition headed by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) nor the new governments of Prime Ministers Zdravko Krivokapić and Dritan Abazović (URA) did anything to help the victims’ families.

The crime was committed by members of the Army of the Republika Srpska, who at the Štrpci train station, on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, stopped a train travelling on the regular Belgrade-Bar route, took out, and then robbed and killed 20 passengers, of which 18 were Bosniaks, one Croat, and one remains unknown to this day.

Esad Kapetanović, Ilijaz Ličina, Fehim Bakija, Sećo Softić, Rifat Husović, Halil Zupčević, Senad Đečević, Jusuf Rastoder, Ismet Babačić, Tomo Buzov, Adem Alomerović, Muhedin Hanić, Safet Preljević, Džafer Topuzović, Rasim Ćorić, Fikret Memović, Fevzija Zeković, Nijazim Kajević, Zvjezdan Zuličić and one unknown person. The oldest was 59 years old, and the youngest was only 16. Of the twenty, eight were from Montenegro.

In memory of the victims of the kidnapping in Štrpci, their relatives, friends and other citizens will lay flowers today at 10 a.m. at the memorials on Pobrežje in Podgorica and at 1 p.m. in Bijelo Polje.

The kidnapped passengers were taken to a school in the village of Prelovo near Višegrad, where they were robbed and beaten, and then transferred to the village of Mušići, near Višegradska Banja, where they were killed. So far, the remains of only four people have been found on the shores of Lake Perućac near Višegrad, in 2009 and 2010.

For this crime, Nebojša Ranisavljević and Mićo Jovičić, members of the intervention squad of the Višegrad Brigade of the Army of the Republika Srpska, named “Avengers”, got final sentences. In the meantime, in front of the courts in Belgrade and Sarajevo, 12 more members of the same unit were sentenced to different punishments.

Ranisavljević was sentenced to 15 years in prison before the High Court in Bijelo Polje in 2003, while Jovicic entered into a plea agreement with the BiH Prosecutor’s Office in 2016, on the basis of which he was sentenced to five years in prison. Their commander, Milan Lukić, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Hague Tribunal for war crimes in Visegrad, but he was not prosecuted for the crime in Štrpci. He was accused of this crime in Bosnia and Herzegovina only in December 2019, while in Montenegro, which was the first to try Ranisavljević, this was never done.

No other investigation was initiated in Montenegro regarding this crime, although in his testimony Ranisavljević also mentioned “Montenegrin”, “Drunken Slovene”, Milan “Čačak”, Aca Šimšić, Željko Marjanović, Bogdan Šekarić, Vidaković, Tanović, Goran (of Romani origin) and Mitar “Četnik”, against whom criminal charges were filed in 1998 by lawyers Dragan Prelević and Aleksandar Cvejić, who were hired by the Humanitarian Law Fund from Belgrade to represent the victims’ families.

So far, none of the perpetrators and those who knew that the crime was going to happen, but did nothing to prevent it, have not been prosecuted before any court. In the criminal proceedings against Ranisavljević in Montenegro, it was established that the kidnapping in Štrpci was planned and that the general director of the Railway Transport Company (ŽTP) Belgrade, Milomir Minić, was informed about it in advance, who informed the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Serbia, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia, the State Security Service of Serbia and the Yugoslav Army. Šefko Alomerović, the president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights from Sandžak, publicly testified that he saw Vladimir Matović, the press adviser to the President of Yugoslavia, Dobrica Ćosić, talking to the man who helped the kidnappers at the train station in Belgrade before the train left.

In May 2002, lawyer Velija Murić filed a criminal complaint against 14 persons from the top of the government of the then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Republic of Serbia, the Army of Yugoslavia and the Belgrade Railway Transport Company. The Federal State Prosecutor’s Office at the time, sent the report to the competent Republic Prosecutor’s Office of Montenegro, which did not contact Murić again on that occasion.

The family members of the victims of this crime in Montenegro did not enjoy the status of civilian victims of war according to the Law on veterans and disabled protection (“Official Gazette of the Republic of Montenegro”, No. 69/03 and “Official Gazette of Montenegro”, No. 21/08, 73 /10, 40/11, 1/15, 52/16), because this protection is recognized only to the family members of the surviving victim – a civilian disabled person of the war, and not to the family members of the civilian victims, unlike in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We again appeal to the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare to initiate changes to the existing law and introduce civilian victims of war and family members of civilian victims of war as special categories that have protection.

The law does not regulate the issues of missing civilians during the war. In 2011, Montenegro ratified the UN International Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances. However, enforced disappearance is not yet criminalized as a separate criminal act in the Criminal Code. Montenegro does not have a Law on Missing Persons, unlike for example Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.

In May last year, MPs Suada Zoronjić (URA) and Adnan Striković (SDP) submitted to the Parliament of Montenegro a proposal for a resolution on the crime in Štrpci, which, among other things, appeals to the Government to provide permanent social care for the families of the victims in Montenegro. However, this proposal has not been put on the agenda to date.

In the book Action for Human Rights “Against Oblivion“, selected testimonies about the abduction of passengers from the train in Štrpci were published. The statements of a man who objected to the taking away of a young companion, a relative of a kidnapped passenger who spoke with Milan Lukić, a woman who witnessed the abduction of her husband, the conductor and dispatcher from Štrpci station were presented. At the end, the testimony of the convicted perpetrator Nebojša Ranisavljević who explained in detail how the crime was committed, was presented.

Human Rights Action (HRA)
Centre for Civic Education (CCE)
Montenegrin Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights (CKP)