24 years after the war crime in Kaluđerski laz – SSP continues old practices in marginalizing war crimes

On the occasion of the 24th anniversary of the war crime in Kaluđerski laz, the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) takes the opportunity to invite the Special State Prosecutor’s Office (SSP) to, in accordance with the obligations of the War Crimes Investigation Strategy, but also the approach taken to review many cases from the previous period, take into consideration this case as well to finally determine all the circumstances and facts and reach sustainable indictments and convictions.

As a reminder, in the indictment filed on 30 July 2008, the Prosecutor’s Office stated that on 18 April 1999, in the place Kaluđerski laz, six people were killed and five wounded, and that in other cases that took place from 18 April to 21 May 1999, 11 more people were killed in several locations. All the victims were of Albanian nationality, and among them there were also minors, women and elderly people. The prosecution qualified this as a war crime and for that charged eight people.

After seven years of proceedings and rejection of part of the indictment, all the accused were acquitted. There is still a lot of unclearnesses concerning this crime, because before, during and after the procedure, different information appeared about the number of victims, the time of the murders, and the illegal movement of the victims’ corpses. However, the fact remains that none has yet been held accountable for the murder of these people who tried to find refuge in Montenegro. This obliges the SSP to adequately conduct an investigation and establish all the facts of this crime.

Although certain changes have been made in the SSP, unfortunately, when it comes to war crimes, old bad practices remain, accompanied by a lack of willingness to carry out these cases properly and to the end. The CCE indicates that the adequate processing of war crimes is one of the key commitments from the negotiation chapter 23 (Judiciary and fundamental rights), that the European Commission also assesses this in the accession negotiations between Montenegro and the EU. Additionally, there are other binding documents, such as the Memorandum of Understanding with the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Courts, the results of which the SSP has not informed the public about the results of their cooperation to date.

CCE recognizes the fact that the Montenegrin Prosecutor’s office faces many challenges, but the issue of inadequate dealing with the war past, which starts with the determination of criminal responsibility, must not be marginalized precisely for the sake of the stable future of Montenegro. A highly polarized and radicalized society warns of this, which is one of the consequences of the institutional neglect of key processes, such as dealing with the past. However, since war crimes have no statute of limitation, there is still a chance for the SSP to demonstrate determination and, through concrete indictments, to start establishing justice for the victims of war crimes, but also for Montenegrin society.

As part of the edition on the process of dealing with the past in Montenegro, CCE processed the Kaluđerski laz case through the compilation of documentation from the proceedings before the Montenegrin judicial authorities.

Tamara Milaš, Human Rights Programme Coordinator