On 4 July 2008, the War Crime Council of the Osijek County Court published the verdict No. Krz – 4/08 in which the defendant Boško Surla was acquitted of charges that, in Tenja, he had committed a war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the Basic Criminal Law of the Republic of Croatia (hereinafter: the OKZ RH) and a war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH.
The Osijek County State’s Attorney’s Office (hereinafter: the ŽDO) issued the indictment No. K-DO-38/2007 dated 14 January 2008 against Jovan Rebrača, Božo Vidaković, Milan Macakanja, Branko Grković, Boško Surla and Žarko Čubrilo, charging them with committing a war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH and a war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH.
By a decision of the Extra-trial Council of the Osijek County Court, the procedure against the defendant Boško Surla was separated from the procedure against other defendants who are at large and unavailable to the judicial bodies of the Republic of Croatia.
The indictment issued by the Osijek ŽDO No. K-DO-38/2007 dated 14 January 2008 (the ŽDO did not modify the indictment, but it simply separated the parts pertaining to the defendant Surla) charged the defendants that, in the period between July and November 1991, in the area of the Tenja municipality, the defendant Jovan Rebrača, as commander of the Tenja Territorial Defence Headquarters, the defendant Božo Vidaković and the defendant Žarko Čubrilo, as members of the Headquarters, the defendant Branko Grković as commander of the Tenja Police Station, the defendant Boško Surla as deputy commander of the Tenja Police Station, the defendant Milan Macakanja as a member of the Territorial Defence (hereinafter: the TO), together with Mile Jajić, commander of the Civil Protection Service, during an armed rebellion of Serb population against the legal order of the RoC, after the Tenja TO, assisted by the Yugoslav National Army (hereinafter: the JNA), occupied the village of Tenja and with the newly formed militia took control over that area, contrary to the provision of Article 4, paragraphs 1 and 2, Items a and g of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), by exercising a joint decision to apply all forms of violence against the persons of non-Serb ethnicity in the occupied Tenja area, acted contrary to the provisions of the Convention, so that they:
1 b) in the period between July and November 1991 in Tenja, in the prison located at the-then “Partizan” cinema, the defendant Jovan Rebrača ordered the defendant Božo Vidaković to detain and kill civilians together with members of the TO, without any basis and grounds, simply because they were persons of non-Serb ethnicity. The prison was under jurisdiction of the Tenja militia. The defendant Božo Vidaković, with members of the TO, detained the following civilians in the cinema: Ivan Valentić, Marija Cerenko, Ana Horvat, Katica Kiš, Pero Mamić, Josip Medveda Josip and Evica Penić, Josip Prodanović, Vladimir Valentić and Franjo Burč. On an unidentified day in November 1991, the defendant Božo Vidaković, the defendant Milan Macakanja, the defendant Žarko Čubrilo and two members of the TO, assisted by the defendant Boško Surla and other members of the militia, embarked civilians on a truck, whereby the defendant Boško Surla personally brought detainees and handed them over to the defendant Milan Macakanja and members of the TO. While embarking on the truck, the defendant Milan Macakanja was hitting detainees with a baton, particularly Josip Penić and Ana Horvat. In compliance with the order, they drove detainees in the direction of the cattle graveyard near the town of Bobota, where the defendant Žarko Čubrilo killed them all by firearms,
1 c) in the period between July and November 1991 in Tenja, in the prison located at the-then “Partizan” cinema, the defendant Jovan Rebrača ordered the defendant Božo Vidaković to detain and kill civilians together with members of the TO, without any basis and grounds, simply because they were persons of non-Serb ethnicity. The prison was under jurisdiction of the Tenja militia. The defendant Božo Vidaković, with members of the TO, detained the following civilians at the cinema: Mato Nađ, Zoran Bertanjoli and the Vuko family, where the defendant Branko Grković and the defendant Boško Surla kept them in detention without any legal basis and grounds. During the imprisonment, Mato Nađ and Zoran Bertanjoli were psychologically abused and forced to eat grass in the prison yard. Members of the militia and Tenja inhabitants, who were allowed by members of the militia to beat detainees with rubber hoses, beat them on a daily basis. During their imprisonment, the defendant Branko Grković personally beat up Zoran Bertanjoli with a baton. On an unidentified day in November 1991, in the prison yard, members of the militia staged the escape attempt by Mato Nađ, after which members of the militia killed him.
1 d) On an unidentified day in November 1991, after the Tenja TO together with the JNA occupied the Orlovnjak farm, the defendant Jovan Rebrača ordered to bring and detain the farm inhabitants Ivka and Mato Krajina, Drago Balog and Rozalija Varga to the premises of the old school which were turned into a prison under jurisdiction of the Tenja militia. The defendant Branko Grković and the defendant Boško Surla kept the aforementioned civilians in the prison without any legal basis and grounds, where members of the-then militia, including the defendant Boško Surla, physically abused them by hitting them on their bodies with hands, legs and rifles.
The defendant Boško Surla is charged with committing a war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH.
2 b) On an unidentified day in November 1991, in Tenja, after members of the Croatian National Guard (hereinafter: the ZNG) Ivica Lovrić, Franjo Ciraki, Miroslav Varga and Ivan Vadlja were captured at the Orlovnjak farm and brought to the prison located in the premises of the Tenja primary school, the defendant Jovan Rebrača ordered members of the militia to abuse and kill the detained members of the ZNG. Following the order, the defendant Branko Grković and the defendant Boško Surla ordered members of the militia and the TO to physically abuse and kill the detained members of the ZNG. The prison was under jurisdiction of the Tenja militia. Following such an order, the defendant Branko Grković and the defendant Boško Surla ordered the-then members of the militia and the TO to physically abuse detained members of the ZNG in the prison premises, which members of the militia did, together with members of other paramilitary formations. Pursuant to their order, members of the militia took away Ivica Lovrić, Franjo Ciraki, Miroslav Varga and Ivan Vadlja and killed them on an, for the time being, unidentified place. The aforementioned members of the ZNG are on the list of missing persons.
The defendant Boško Surla is charged with committing a war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH.
The Osijek County Court
Case file No.: Krz-4/08
The War Crime Council: Judge Zvonko Vekić, Council President, Judge Josip Frajlić, Council member, Judge Drago Grubeša, Council member
Indictment No: K-DO-38/2007, dated 14 January 2008
Prosecution: Zlatko Bučević, the Osijek County Deputy State’s Attorney
Criminal act: war crime against civilians (Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH) and war crime against war prisoners (Article 122 of the OKZ RH)
The defendant: Boško Surla
Defence counsel: Igor Plavšić, a lawyer practising in Vinkovci, selected defence counsel of the defendant Surla
Injured parties: Ivka Trajković, Vera Perković, Iva Krajina, Ilija Lovrić, Eva Ciraki, Manda Vadlja, Zvonko Penić, Marija Medved, Julijana Prodanović, Lucija Valentić, Josip Valentić, Katica Milas, Dragica Valentić, Vlado Valentić, Kata Pejaković, Drago Balog, Ana Bertanjoli, Stevica Bartolović, Rozalija Varga and Mate Krajina
– killed civilians: Ivan Valentić, Marija Cerenko, Ana Horvat, Katica Kiš, Pero Mamić, Josip Medved, Josip Penić, Evica Penić, Josip Prodanović, Vladimir Valentić, Franjo Burča and Mato Nađ
– detained civilians: Zoran Bertanjoli, obitelj Vuko, Ivka i Mato Krajina, Drago Balog and Rozalija Varga
– killed war prisoners: Ivica Lovrić, Franjo Ciraki, Miroslav Varga and Ivan Vadlja
The main hearing commenced on 7 May 2008 and was concluded on 1 July 2008 after five trial sessions. A total of 44 witnesses were heard during the evidence procedure, statements of witnesses-injured parties who had in the meantime deceased were read, numerous material evidence were examined.
The procedure was properly conducted. The Council President introduced the defendant, witnesses and injured parties with their legal rights and obligations.
The first-instance acquitting verdict was published on 4 July 2008.
The defendant Boško Surla was detained from 15 May 2007 until the day of publication of the acquitting verdict; in total he spent 13 (thirteen) months in detention.
The main hearing was open to public. The procedure was monitored by: a monitor from the Centre for Peace, Non-violence and Human Rights Osijek, a monitor from the Humanitarian Law Fund from Belgrade, OSCE monitors, defendant’s family members, Ivka Trajković, daughter of the victim Marija Cerenko, Ilija Lovrić, father of the victim Ivica Lovrić, print and electronic media. The atmosphere in the courtroom was calm.
TENJA reports from the trial (in Croatian)
On 4 July 2008, the War Crime Council of the Osijek County Court published the verdict No. Krz-49/08, by which the defendant Boško Surla was acquitted of charges.
The VSRH’s Appeals Chamber held its session on 25 January 2011. At the session, the County State Attorney’s appeal was rejected and the first-instance court’s verdict was upheld.
OPINION OF THE MONITORING TEAM
The War Crime Council of the Osijek County Court conducted a separated criminal procedure against the defendant Boško Surla for a war crime against civilians and a criminal act against war prisoners. The War Crime Council reached the acquitting verdict due to lack of evidence, applying the principle in dubio pro reo.
This trial caused additional trauma to the injured parties and family members of the victims. Namely, the conducted investigation and issuance of the indictment against six defendants provided an outline of the crime committed in Tenja but, for the time being, this is a step which does not promise a lot to the victims – neither that a procedure will be conducted in order to prove the criminal responsibility of the defendants, nor that a place of burial of the killed victims will be revealed. Apart from the defendant Boško Surla, all other defendants named in the indictment are unavailable to the judicial bodies of the Republic of Croatia. Some defendants possess dual citizenship and live in Serbia or in Montenegro where they are protected from extradition by the current law. In order to prosecute those who gave orders, the perpetrators of the crime and those who assisted in committing the crime, it is necessary, in our opinion, that the State Attorney’s Office of the Republic of Croatia adheres to the Agreement on Cooperation in the Prosecution of Perpetrators of War Crimes against Humanity and Genocide signed with the Serbian Prosecution for War Crimes and the State Prosecution of Montenegro and hands over the evidence material against unavailable defendants so that they would be prosecuted in the countries where they reside.
Witnesses who accused the defendant Boško Surla in their depositions given during the investigation changed their testimonies at the main hearing, i.e. they clarified them. Thus, during the investigation, witness Lazar Radišić stated that he saw militia officers “whom he remembered – Boško Surla and Pero alias “Cino”… knew that these militia officers brought an older married couple Penić….a person nicknamed “Medo the postman”, Ana Horvat and a young man from Orlovnjak from one room at the front of the cinema where they had been detained three to four days, and embarked them on a truck (in which the group of detained civilians were taken in the direction of Silaš and later killed). At the main hearing, that witness said that “neither today, nor at the time when I was giving testimony to the investigating judge, did I know which two militia officers were watching what happened but failed to react“. Witness Drago Balog stated during the investigation that Boško Surla was guarding the detained villagers in the old school, but at the main hearing he testified that he had known the defendant Surla from before, that he was detained for one day and that the defendant Surla “visited” him there, that he did not beat or torture him, but helped him.
Witnesses – injured parties did not accuse the defendant Boško Surla of abusing or threatening them or their family members, nor of ordering abuse and handing over the detained civilians or war prisoners to members of the Tenja TO. Some witnesses – injured parties stated that they did not know the defendant, while others stated that he was a member of Tenja militia, i.e. a deputy commander.
Witnesses who were members of Tenja militia or Tenja TO at the incriminating time also claimed that they did not perceived the defendant Boško Surla as a person who would order or execute detention, abuse or beating of the imprisoned civilians and war prisoners. However, they all stated that as members of the TO they were guarding facilities where prisoners were detained, but those prisons were under control of the militia.
The defence of B. Surla, which he had also presented on several occasions during the investigation, was based on the premise that he was forcibly mobilized, that was assigned to the militia force as a former police officer, that at the time of the committed crime he was not formally a deputy commander of the Tenja police station, but he was perceived so as an experienced policeman, that it was the TO and not the police that had control over the detention facilities where the TO locked detainees, and that the only link between the militia and those detention facilities was the fact that those facilities were located right next to the police station building. The defendant denied any knowledge of prisoner abuse or execution that happened in those detention facilities.
As far as presenting the evidence is concerned, many witnesses at the main hearing were heard in such a way that they were asked whether they remained with the depositions they had given during the investigation. The statements were read if the prosecutor requested so, while questions for the witnesses were asked only exceptionally. These witnesses gave no testimonies about circumstances related to the charges against the defendant Boško Surla during the investigation, so it is unclear why they were proposed as witnesses if they were not additionally questioned precisely about these circumstances.