Crime in Korenica


The criminal proceedings were held before the War Crime Council of the Rijeka County Court against the defendant Željko Šuput and the defendant Milan Panić who are charged with a war crime against prisoners of war referred to in Article 122 of the Basic Criminal Law of the Republic of Croatia (hereinafter: the OKZ RH). On 3 October 2008, a non-final verdict was published in which the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms (the defendant Šuput in the duration of 4 years, while the defendant Panić in the duration of 3 years and 6 months).

 

At the session held on 8 June 2011, the VSRH accepted the defendants’ appeals, quashed the challenged verdict and remanded the case for retrial to the Rijeka County Court.

Repeated trial began on 25 October 2011. On 26 April 2012, the prosecution amended the legal qualification of the criminal offence according to which the defendants are now charged with a war crime against civilians and not any more with a war crime against prisoners of war.

On 12 June 2012, the Rijeka County Court’s War Crimes Council pronounced the verdict in which the defendants were found guilty. Same as in the first-instance proceedings, they were sentenced to the following prison terms: Šuput (4 years) and Panić (3 years and 6 months).
INDICTMENT

The modified indictment by the Rijeka County State’s Attorney’s Office dated 2 October 2008 charges the defendants that, in the period between 15 October 1991 and the end of April 1992, in Korenica, as members of a special militia unit within the armed forces of the so-called SAO Krajina, inhumanely treated war prisoners Nikola Nikolić and Milo Lukač who were captured on 15 October 1991 as members of the Karlovac Police Administration, as well as Perica Bičanić, captured on 23 October 1991. These injured parties, together with other detainees, were detained in the premises of the militia building without basic hygiene and existential conditions, contrary to Article 3 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 12 August 1949. Since the defendants had access to the aforementioned building they, on several occasions and in groups comprising several other militia members of the so-called SAO Krajina, dragged the aforementioned detainees outside their cells into the building hall or the building yard, where they hit detainees with fists and legs wearing military boots, while the 1st defendant Željko Šuput ordered Milo Lukač at least twice to stand still, leaned against the wall, on which occasion the defendant would consecutively hit the injured party with his leg pointing at his head. On one occasion, when guards took detainees out for forced labour, the defendant Željko Šuput ordered Perica Bičanić to wash a personal vehicle despite the fact that water was freezing due to low temperature. On that occasion, the defendant allowed a group of soldiers who were accidentally passing by to hit the injured party with their legs and hands, during which ordeal the defendant insulted the victim’s ethnicity and religion threatening that he could kill him at any moment and no one would hold him responsible for that. During his stay at the aforementioned prison, Nikola Nikolić sustained numerous injuries and haematoma, as well as a spine injury and head contusion with brain injury and, as a consequence, post-traumatic stress; Mile Lukač sustained numerous injuries on the head and body which resulted in decrease in hearing ability, while Perica Bičanić, along with numerous light physical injuries, also sustained a fracture of left hand fingers and forearm,

therefore, having breached the rules of the international law, they were causing great suffering and health damage to war prisoners, whereby they committed a criminal act against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the Basic Criminal Law of the Republic of Croatia (hereinafter: the OKZ RH).

On 26 April 2012, the prosecution amended the legal qualification of the criminal offence according to which the defendants are now charged with a war crime against civilians and not any more with a war crime against prisoners of war.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Rijeka County Court

Case number: K-54/07

War Crime Council: Judge Đurđa Jovanić, Council President; Judge Duško Abramović, Council member; Judge Vlado Skorup, Council member

– in the repeated trial: judge Jasenka Kovačić, President of the Council, judges Dina Brusić and Ksenija Zorc, Council Members

Indictment: issued by the Gospić County State’s Attorney’s Office (hereinafter: the ŽDO), No. K-DO-24/06 dated 31 January 2007, modified by the Rijeka ŽDO on 2 October 2008 and 26 April 2012.

Prosecution: Darko Karlović, Rijeka County Deputy State’s Attorney

Criminal act: war crime against prisoners of war – Article 122 of the OKZ RH; after amending the indictment on 26 April 2012 – a war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH

Defendants:
– Željko Šuput – in detention during the initial first-instance trial, attends the trial and is not kept in custody in the repeated trial
– Milan Panić – in detention during the initial first-instance trial, attends the trial and is not kept in custody in the repeated trial

Defence counsels: Goran Crnković, a lawyer practising in Rijeka, court-appointed defence counsel for the defendant Željko Šuput, in the repeated trial Đuro Vučinić, lawyer practising in Rijeka, chosen defence counsel representing defendant Šuput; Dragan Smolić-Ročak, a lawyer practising in Rijeka, court-appointed defence counsel for the defendant Milan Panić

Victims:
– unlawfully detained:
Nikola Nikolić, Mile Lukač and Perica Bičanić
TRIAL MONITORING REPORTS

KORENICA – monitoring reports (in Croatian)

The main hearing before the War Crime Council of the Rijeka County Court commenced on 3 September 2007, after the Supreme Court of the RoC transferred jurisdiction in this particular case from the Gospić County Court to the Rijeka County Court (upon a motion by the Gospić Court President, due to their inability to compose a Council, and having obtained the opinion from the State Attorney’s Office). The investigation was conducted at the Gospić County Court with regard to the defendants Željko Šuput, Milan Panić and Milorad Žigić but, during the investigation, the State Attorney’s Office abandoned a part of the investigation request pertaining to Milorad Žigić.

The defence filed an objection claiming that the Council’s composition was not in accordance with the Act on Application of the International Criminal Court Statute and Prosecution of Criminal Acts against the International Law on War and the Humanitarian Law, since members of the Council were judges from the civil department. Council President announced that the Council’s composition was in accordance with the Law (see: Observations).

The defendants pleaded not guilty, they presented their defence at the end of the evidence procedure.

During the evidence procedure, a total of 24 witnesses were heard (Perica Bičanić, Aldo Ivančić, Ranko Luketić, Marijan Luketić, Ivica Luketić, Mirko Luketić, Marko Luketić, Milan Pavlić, Jure Smolčić, Živko Matovina, Mile Lukač, Dražen Rendulić, Darko Holjevac, Ante Pleš, Jure Matovina, Milorad Žigić, Milan Mrle, Nikša Karamatić, Vojin Vukadinović, Mate Rendulić, Nikola Nikolić, Damir Mikec, Nikola Žigić and Jovica Žakula).

Witness testimonies by Nikola Perković and Dana Perković were read.

The permanent court expert Renata Dobi-Babić testified on the time when the victims sustained their injuries.

During the trial, 6 scheduled court hearings were postponed.

The procedure was prolonged both by defence counsels and by the defendants, thus it had to start anew because of a delay that lasted for more than two months. At the first court hearing, defence counsels cancelled the power of attorney deeming that the defendants’ rights were violated and that they were prevented from defence because all of their motions were rejected, thus the trial was postponed in order to provide the defendants with court-appointed defence counsels. The defendants had to receive court-appointed defence counsels, however the selected lawyer Miloš Markiš continued to defend Željko Šuput. Due to the aforementioned defence counsel’s illness, at the hearing held on 30 June 2008 the defendant Šuput was informed about his right to select a defence counsel despite the fact that a court-appointed defence counsel also represented him.
VERDICT

On 3 October 2008, the verdict was pronounced by which the defendants were found guilty. The defendant Šuput was sentenced to 4 years in prison, while the defendant Panić was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months in prison.

Following the publication of the verdict, the defendants were released from detention, but measures of caution were applied against them: they were prohibited from leaving their residence with the obligation to report to the police station and their travelling documents were seized.

The defendants had spent 1 year and 10 months in prison.

The VSRH held its session on 8 June 2011. The monitoring report on this session can be read in Croatian here and decision here

On 12 June 2012, the Rijeka County Court’s War Crimes Council pronounced the verdict in which the defendants were found guilty. Same as in the first-instance proceedings, they were sentenced to the following prison terms: Šuput (4 years) and Panić (3 years and 6 months).

OPINION OF THE MONITORING TEAM FOLLOWING THE CONCLUDED FIRST INSTANCE PROCEDURE

The Rijeka County Court, as the court of first instance, found Željko Šuput guilty and sentenced him to 4 years in prison, while Milan Panić was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months.

Following the publication of the verdict, the defendants were released from detention since there are no particularly serious circumstances of the act due to which detention was ordered and extended, however, measures of caution were applied against them: prohibition to leave their place of residence with the obligation to report to Korenica Police Station and seizure of passports, which measures may last until the verdict has become legally valid, at the latest.

The defendants spent a total of 1 year and 10 months in detention.

The defendants were charged that from 15 October 1991 until the end of April 1992 at the Korenica militia building, together with several other militia members of the so-called SAO Krajina, on several occasions dragged war prisoners Nikola Nikolić, Milo Lukač and Perica Bičanić outside their cells into the building hall or the building yard and then hit them with fists and legs wearing military boots, forced them to work, insulted them and threatened them, whereby they committed a war crime against the values protected by the international law – a war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the OKZRH.

The investigation was conducted at the Gospić County Court with regard to the defendants Željko Šuput, Milan Panić and Milorad Žigić but, during the investigation, the State Attorney’s Office abandoned a part of the investigation request pertaining to Milorad Žigić.

The Supreme Court of the RoC transferred jurisdiction in this particular case from the Gospić County Court to the Rijeka County Court upon a motion by the Gospić Court President due to their inability to compose a Council.

The objection filed by the defence that the Council’s composition was not in accordance with the Act on Application of the International Criminal Court Statute and Prosecution of Criminal Acts against the International Law on War and the Humanitarian Law, since members of the Council were judges from the civil department, was not approved. Namely, the aforementioned Act stipulates in Article 13, paragraph 2, that a War Crime Council comprises: “three judges from the ranks of judges distinguished by their experience in working with the most complex cases”. Since the Act failed to specifically stipulate which are the most complex cases, we would like to warn about this “weakness” of the aforementioned Act.

We deem that members of the War Crime Council must be judges from the criminal department distinguished by their experience in working with criminal cases (due to the seriousness of the criminal act and their familiarity with criminal law matters), and not judges from the civil department[1].

We deem that the Rijeka County Court, as one of the special courts[2] trying war crimes, should appoint judges with experience in criminal cases to the Council, otherwise what is the purpose of transferring cases from other courts to that particular court?

At the first court hearing, defence counsels cancelled the power of attorney deeming that the defendants’ rights were violated. We do not see the effect lawyers expected to achieve by their protest manifested in canceling the power of attorney. Such procedure is not in accordance with the defence counsels’ Code of Ethics, since defence counsels must not refuse to provide legal protection to a party, because the defendant’s position would deteriorate.

One should note that, upon the completion of each court hearing, parties and participants in the proceedings did not receive a copy of the trial minutes, which is contrary to the practice of other county courts in the Republic of Croatia. Pursuant to the provision of Article 314 of the ZKP, the trial minutes must be finished upon the conclusion of the session and parties are entitled to inspect the minutes, file an objection with regard to the contents of the minutes or request a correction. The minutes were forwarded to defence counsels and the State Attorney’s Office only upon the expiry of a minimum of two weeks after the completion of the hearing, despite the fact that defence counsels requested to receive the court minutes immediately after the completion of the hearing.

You can see the summary of the proceedings here. (in Croatian)


[1] The Panel of the Supreme Court of the RoC (ruling No. II 4 Kr 11/09-3 of 3 February 2009) deems that a war crime council should comprise exclusively judges with experience in working with criminal cases, thus it upheld the motion for transfer of local jurisdiction away from the Virovitica County Court because that court was not able to comprise a trial council that would consist of three judges from the Criminal Department.

[2] The Act on Application of the International Criminal Court Statute and Prosecution of Criminal Acts against the International Law on War and the Humanitarian Law (Official Gazette 175/03) stipulates in Article 12, paragraph 1 that County Courts in Osijek, Rijeka, Split and Zagreb shall have local jurisdiction to conduct criminal proceedings for criminal acts referred to in Article 1 of this Act, apart from the courts which have local jurisdiction pursuant to general regulations.