Crime on Drvena pijaca in Vukovar

The Supreme Court, at its session held on 12 November 2009, upheld the verdict wherein the defendant was found guilty in the repeated trial (22 January 2009) and sentenced 2 years and 6 months in prison.

INDICTMENT (SUMMARY)

The defendant Slobodan Raič, in the indictment issued by the Vukovar County State’s Attorney’s Office (hereinafter: the ŽDO) No. K-DO-28/06 dated 2 March 2007, modified on 6 April 2007, at the main hearing held on 8 May 2007, in a submission filed on 11 February 2008 and at the main hearing held on 20 January 2009, was charged that on 16 November 1991, in the morning hours, in Vukovar, during the armed aggression by the so-called Yugoslav People’s Army (hereinafter: JNA) and paramilitary formations against the Republic of Croatia, contrary to Article 3, paragraph 1 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 and Article 75, paragraph 2 and paragraph 6 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), as a member of paramilitary formations, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, together with three other unidentified members of paramilitary formations, in a devastated house at the Drvena pijaca Square, he found and captured a civilian named Slavko Batik, aged 48, who was obviously sick and in a difficult mental and physical state, took him to a house in the-then Proleterska Street and handed him over to unidentified members of the so-called JNA and paramilitary formations, whereby he unlawfully deprived Mr. Batik of liberty and detained him, after which Mr. Batik disappeared without a trace and he has not been found until today,

therefore, having violated the rules of the International Humanitarian Law at the time of armed conflict, the defendant inhumanely treated a civilian and unlawfully deprived him of liberty and detained him in the above-described manner,

whereby he committed a criminal act against humanity and the International Humanitarian Law – war crime against civilians, described and punishable pursuant to Article 120, paragraph 1 of the Basic Criminal Law of the Republic of Croatia (hereinafter: OKZ RH).

Before the indictment was modified on 11 February 2008, the defendant was charged that, together with three other unidentified members of paramilitary formations, he found and detained a civilian named Slavko Batik and took him into unknown direction, after which Slavko Batik disappeared without a trace and has not been found until today, therefore, having violated the rules of the International Humanitarian Law at the time of armed conflict, he killed civilians.

Following the abovementioned modification dated 11 February 2008, the ŽDO charged him with detaining a civilian named Slavko Batik, who was obviously sick and in a difficult mental and physical state, that he denied Mr. Batik medical help and handed him over to unidentified members of the so-called JNA and paramilitary formations, after which Mr. Batik disappeared without a trace and has not been found until today, therefore he inhumanely treated a civilian and unlawfully detained him. However, at the main hearing in the repeated proceedings held on 20 January 2009, the ŽDO modified the factual description of the indictment, so that the defendant was no longer charged with denying medical help to Slavko Batik.

 

GENERAL DATA

Vukovar County Court

Case number: K-19/07

Criminal offence: war crime against civilians pursuant to Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH

Indictment: K-DO-28/06 dated 2 March 2007, modified on 6 April 2007, at the main hearing held on 8 May 2007, in a submission filed on 11 February 2008 and at the main hearing held on 20 January 2009

The defendant: Slobodan Raič, a member of Serbian paramilitary formations at the incriminating time, detained from 6 May 2006 until 30 October 2008

Victim: Slavko Batik – listed as a missing person

Prosecution: Vlatko Miljković, Vukovar County Deputy State’s Attorney

Defense counsel: Zlatko Jarić, a lawyer practising in Vukovar

War Crime Council: Judge Nikola Bešenski, Council President; Judge Stjepan Margić, Council member; and Judge Željko Marin, Council member

MONITORING REPORTS

VERDICT

On 20 February 2008, the War Crime Council of the Vukovar County Court published a verdict in which the defendant Slobodan Raič was found guilty and sentenced to 2 (two) years and 6 (six) months in prison.

Detention against the defendant was then extended.

The Supreme Court, at the session of the Panel held on 30 October 2008, by upholding the defendant’s appeal, quashed the verdict by the Vukovar County Court and reversed the case for retrial. The ruling of the Supreme Court of the RoC states that determination by the first instance court, related to the defendant’s inhumane treatment of the injured party, was based on erroneously established facts.

On that same day, 30 October 2008, detention against the defendant Slobodan Raič was cancelled and he was immediately released (he spent almost two years and six months in detention).

You can read the ruling of the Supreme Court of the RoC dated 30 October 2008 here.

On 22 January 2009, following the repeated proceedings, the Vukovar County Court found the defendant Slobodan Raič guilty of unlawful detention (but not inhumane treatment) and sentenced him to 2 years and 6 months in prison, the prison sentence being identical to the one pronounced at the first trial.

The Supreme Court, at its session held on 12 November 2009, upheld the verdict wherein the defendant was found guilty in the repeated trial (22 January 2009) and sentenced 2 years and 6 months in prison.

Here (in Croatian) you can see the Supreme Court’s verdict.

 

OPINION OF THE MONITORING TEAM FOLLOWING THE CONCLUSION OF THE FIRST INSTANCE PROCEEDINGS

The proceeding against Slobodan Raič is one of the several proceedings initiated by the Vukovar County State’s Attorney’s Office in the last two years for which we believe the indictments were issued on the basis of insufficiently competent investigations. While some indictments were not precisely defined (such as the indictment for the war crime in Berak), some were not based on a closed set of indications (e.g. this indictment, and the indictments for crimes committed in Berko and Sotin). During this proceeding, the chief prosecuting attorney either dismissed the indictment or entirely modified the factual description of the criminal offence, and the Court either passed acquitting verdicts or verdicts sentencing the defendants to prison terms lower than the set minimum for a war crime against civilians.

Thus, the criminal proceedings against Slobodan Raič were initiated by the indictment charging him with a serious war crime – detention and killing of the civilian Slavko Batik in Vukovar in 1991. After the veracity of the crown witness statement was denied, there was no evidence indicating that the defendant killed Slavko Batik, so the prosecution dismissed the charge of killing. The indictment was then modified and the defendant was charged with inhumane treatment of the unlawfully detained Slavko Batik by denying him medical help.

The War Crime Council of the Vukovar County Court found Slobodan Raič guilty of a war crime against civilians due to unlawful detention of a civilian and denial of medical help. The Council found it was proven that the defendant Raič unlawfully detained Slavko Batik and, by denying him right to medical help, violated the rules of the International Humanitarian Law, i.e. committed a war crime against civilians pursuant to Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH. However, taking into account a number of extenuating circumstances, the Council sentenced him to two years and six months in prison, which is significantly lower than a minimum prescribed sentence for a war crime.

In view of the above, we wish to point to the following controversial elements:

o Will the Supreme Court of the RoC find that, under the specific material circumstances, the defendant really denied the victim right to medical help and with this inhumane act committed a war crime against civilians?

o Will the Supreme Court find that the defendant has been proven to have detained the civilian? Evidently, conclusions about the defendant’s acts can be reached from his defence, i.e. evidence presented by the State Attorney’s Office (photographs showing the injured party being taken away and a video recording presenting the same incident)
o It is possible that the Supreme Court will overturn the verdict and reverse the case for a retrial due to the essential violation of provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act (hereinafter: the ZKP) referred to in Article 367, paragraph 8, if it assumes the standpoint that the above-mentioned Article of the Law was violated during the presentation of evidence when an extract from the defendant’s criminal record was read. Namely, the presentation of evidence, in which an extract from the defendant’s criminal record was read, was carried out after the defendant had presented his defence at the main hearing. He announced this in his statement given at the beginning of the main hearing, stating that he would present his defence at the end of the evidence procedure. The minutes from the main hearing state that the extract from his criminal record was read with the consent of all parties, but it was not clearly stated whether this consent also referred to the consent of the defence for this piece of evidence to be presented after the presentation of defence.

When the first-instance verdict was reached, detention for the defendant Raič was extended due to a danger of escape (pursuant to Article 102, paragraph 1, item 1 of the ZKP). At the moment of pronouncing the first-instance verdict, sentencing the defendant to two and a half years in prison, the defendant had already spent 1 year and 9 months in detention, meaning he had spent more than a half of his prison sentence in detention (the verdict was, however, non-final). Since the detention for the defendant was extended when the sentence was pronounced, in this particular case, having compared the pronounced prison sentence and the time spent in detention, the detention practically turned into serving of the sentence.

Centre for Peace, Non-violence and Human Rights, Osijek
Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past, Zagreb
Civic Committee for Human Rights, Zagreb

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

OPINION OF THE MONITORING TEAM FOLLOWING THE CONCLUSION OF THE REPEATED TRIAL

 

In the repeated trial, on 22 January 2009, the War Crimes Council of the Vukovar County Court found the defendant Slobodan Raič guilty of the war crime against civilians committed by unlawful capture of the civilian Slavko Batik and sentenced him to two years and six months in prison.

 

Initially, the accused Raič was charged that together with three unidentified paramilitary unit members he found and captured the civilian Slavko Batik in November 1991, and then took him into an unknown direction without any trace and by doing so, thus, he killed the civilian.

In February 2008, following the conclusion of the evidence procedure, the indictment was modified by charging the accused with unlawful confinement of the civilian Slavko Batik and inhuman treatment for failing to provide medical help despite of the fact that the injured person was obviously ill and in a very bad mental and physical state.

On 20 February 2008, the War Crimes Council of the Vukovar County Court found the defendant guilty as charged in the modified indictment, and sentenced him to two years and six months in prison.[1]

However, on 30 October 2008, the Croatian Supreme Court quashed the verdict issued by the Vukovar County Court and reversed the case to the first-instance court for a retrial. The quashing decision made by the VSRH states that the first-instance court finding, relating to the inhuman treatment of the injured person caused by failing to provide medical help to the injured person Slavko Batik, is based on incorrectly established facts.

The same day, the VSRH also cancelled the detention order against the accused Raič.[2]

In the repeated trial, only one main hearing was held where it was concluded, with the consent of the parties, that exhibited again were all previously presented pieces of evidence.

The prosecution altered the indictment. Prosecuting attorney pointed out to the fact that the indictment was worded in accordance with the statements contained within the detention order decision made by the Croatian Supreme Court and thus one part relating to the failure to provide first aid to the injured person Slavko Batik was omitted from the indictment.

On 22 January 2009, the accused was found guilty of unlawful confinement of the civilian – and thus he committed a war crime against civilians. The same sanction measure – 2 years and 6 months in prison – was pronounced as it had been pronounced in the first trial.

Although with the quashed verdict the accused was found guilty of two types of actions of execution of a criminal act (the inhuman treatment by failing to help and the unlawful confinement), and in the repeated trial he was accused only of one type of action (unlawful capture), the War Crimes Council of the Vukovar County Court pronounced against him in both verdicts the same sanction measure of imprisonment.

In considering the length of detention, it is difficult not to get the impression that the time that the accused had already spent in detention was covered by the pronounced sanction sentence measure.



[1]Opinion of the Monitoring Team of the Centre for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights Osijek, Documenta and Civic Committee for Human Rights, which was prepared after the conclusion of the first-instance trial, has been made available on www.centar-za-mir.hr.

[2]The defendant was detained from 6 May 2006 to 30 October 2008, amounting almost 2 years and 6 months, the quantity of which corresponds to the imprisonment sentence pronounced against him by the quashed verdict reached by the Vukovar County Court.