Crime in the Corridor, in Potkonje, Vrpolje and Knin

On 7 May 2009, following the repeated proceedings, the verdict of the War Crime Council of the Šibenik County Court was published, which found the defendants Milan Atlija and Đorđe Jaramaz guilty. The defendant Atlija received a joint prison sentence in the duration of 14 years, while the defendant Jaramaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The Supreme Court at the session of the Council held on 25 November 2009 altered the verdict of the War Crimes Council of the Šibenik County Court. It determined prison sentences in the duration of 8 years to each of the defendant for the criminal act under Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH (whereas the first instance court determined 10 years). Considering the fact that the defendant Milan Atlija had already been previously sentenced to five years in prison, he received a joint prison sentence in the duration of 12 years.

INDICTMENT (SUMMARY)

The Šibenik County State’s Attorney’s Office (hereinafter: the ŽDO) issued the indictment No. K-DO-14/06 dated 19 September 2006 charging Milan Atlija and Đorđe Jaramaz with the following:

I) the defendants Atlija and Jaramaz are charged that, in the second half of June 1992 in BiH, in the area of the so-called Corridor between Doboj and Modriča, the defendant Atlija, as commander of the “special tasks unit of SAO Krajina militia” and the defendant Jaramaz as a member of that “militia” unit, after they unlawfully deprived of liberty an unknown injured male civilian, the defendant Jaramaz brought that person to the Headquarters, to the defendant Atlija. The defendant Atlija questioned the injured party and then ordered the defendant Jaramaz to kill him, after which the defendant Jaramaz took the injured party to the Bosna River-bed. They were followed by the defendant Atlija who strongly hit the injured party on the head with an open palm and then took 700 to 800 Swiss Franks from him. He continued to order the defendant Jaramaz to kill the injured party after which the defendant Jaramaz fired a gun shot and hit the injured party and then, together with another “militia member”, dragged the injured party to the Bosna River, fired another shot at him and killed him, after which he threw the injured party’s dead body to the Bosna River-bed,

II) the defendant Atlija is charged that, in the first half of 1991, as commander of the “special tasks unit” of the so-called SAO Krajina, together with the “Minister of militia” of the so-called SAO Krajina Milan Martić and his deputy Milenko Zelenbaba, planned, organized and ordered armed attacks on the villages of Potkonje and Vrpolje, exclusively aiming the citizens of Croatian ethnicity with the objective of terrorizing and intimidating them. In accordance with that, on 1 May 1991 approximately 120 “militia members” performed an armed attack on Potkonje and Vrpolje, aimed exclusively at approximately 300 villagers of Croatian ethnicity who were intimidated and terrorized, whose houses were unlawfully searched, who were expelled from their houses, unlawfully deprived of liberty and taken to the Knin “militia station” where they were detained. In Potkonje, several citizens of Croatian ethnicity, including an elderly man Nikola Požar, were used as a “living shield”; in Potkonje, militia members beat up Zlatko Gambiroža, Milo Jelić and Ivan Požar and in Vrpolje Ante Milić, Nikola Milić and Emilija Milić. The defendant Atlija, together with approximately 60 sub-ordinate militia men, performed an armed attack on the village of Potkonje, unlawfully deprived of liberty juveniles Tonio Požar and Milo Jelić, aligned them against the wall where the defendant Atlija kept them aligned for more than half an hour by pointing a rifle with a tromblon mine on the barrel at them, while the villagers Branko Batić, Anto Jelić, Branko Požar and Miroslav Jelić were unlawfully deprived of liberty, taken to the “militia station” in Knin, beaten up and detained, while members of the “militia” in Vrpolje unlawfully deprived of liberty Dragomir Grgić, took him to the “militia station” in Knin where the defendant Atlija, after Grgić replied that he was a Croat, was hitting him as hard as he could with fists and legs all over Grgić’s body and head. Following all of the above-mentioned, almost entire population from those villages abandoned their homes and crossed over to the free territory of the RoC,

III) the defendant Atlija is charged that, in the period between 12 and 16 May 1991, after members of special police forces of the Croatian Ministry of the Interior Slavko Turudić, Ivan Knezović and Nebojša Škalic were unlawfully deprived of liberty and taken to Knin, he locked all those injured parties into three separate cells in the “militia station” basement, keeping them there in poor hygienic conditions, without water, bed, blankets and windows, where he tortured them by starving them and keeping them thirsty. During the night, he was taking the defendants Turudić and Knezović out of their cells into a room above the cells where he would beat them all night long, while the injured party Škalic was beaten up in the next room, upon the defendant ‘s order, by his subordinate “militia” members, whereby the injured parties sustained numerous severe bodily injuries in danger of death.

The defendant Atlija is, under counts I) and II) of the indictment, charged with committing a war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH, under count III) with committing a war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH, while the defendant Jaramaz is under count I) of the indictment charged with committing a war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH.

You can see the indictment issued by the Šibenik ŽDO here (in Croatian)

GENERAL DATA

Šibenik County Court

War Crime Council: Judge Jadranka Biga – Milutin, Council President; Judge Sanibor Vuletin – Council member and Judge Ivo Vukelja – Council member

Indictment: issued by the Šibenik ŽDO No. K-DO-14/06 dated 19 September 2006, counts I and II

Prosecuting attorney: Zvonko Ivić, Šibenik County Deputy State’s Attorney

Criminal act:
war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120 of the OK ZRH

The defendants: Milan Atlija and Đorđe Jaramaz (the defendant Atlija is in Lepoglava serving a prison sentence, while the defendant Jaramaz is detained)

Defence counsels: for the 1st defendant Jadranka Sloković, a lawyer practising in Zagreb, for the 2nd defendant Zoran Petković, a lawyer practising in Šibenik

 

MONITORING REPORTS

KORIDOR, POTKONJE, VRPOLJE AND KNIN – reports from the first trial (in Croatian)

The main hearing in the repeated proceedings commenced on 2 December 2008.

KORIDOR, POTKONJE, VRPOLJE AND KNIN – reports from the repeated trial (in Croatian)

VERDICTS

On 4 June 2007, the Council passed a verdict which found Milan Atlija and Đorđe Jaramaz guilty by all counts of the indictment, except for the fact that Milan Atlija was acquitted of charges for the criminal act under count II of the indictment, i.e. responsibility that, together with the others, primarily Milan Martić and Milenko Zelembaba, planned, organized and ordered an armed attack on the villages of Potkonje and Vrpolje.

The defendant Milan Atlija was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the criminal act referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH, described under item I of the enacting terms of the verdict, while for the criminal act referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH, described under item II of the enacting terms of the verdict, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison, thus he received a joint prison sentence in the duration of 12 years.
Đorđe Jaramaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In the same verdict (item III of the enacting terms), the defendant Milan Atlija was, pursuant to Article 354, Item 3 of the Criminal Procedure Act (hereinafter: the ZKP), acquitted of charges for a war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH (an act described under count II of the indictment) because it was not proven that he committed the act with which he was charged.

At the public session held on 16 April 2008, the Supreme Court of the RoC quashed the first instance verdict pertaining to the criminal act referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH (item I of the enacting terms of the verdict, i.e. count I of the indictment), as well as pertaining to the criminal act referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH (item III of the enacting terms of the verdict, i.e. count II of the indictment) and reversed the case for a re-trial in that part.

With regard to item II of the enacting terms of the verdict, for the criminal act referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH (an act described under count III of the indictment), the decision on sentence with regard to the defendant Atlija (the first instance verdict sentenced him to 3 years in prison) was altered and he was sentenced to 5 years in prison.
Detention against the defendant was extended.

You can see the verdict and ruling of the Supreme Court of the RoC here (pdf, 2,99 MB) (in Croatian)

On 7 May 2009, the War Crime Council of the Šibenik County Court published the verdict, which found the defendants Atlija and Jaramaz guilty of the criminal act with which they were charged under count I of the indictment.

The defendant Atlija was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the afore-mentioned criminal act and, since he had previously been validly sentenced to 5 years in prison for the criminal act referred to in count III of the indictment, he received a joint prison sentence in the duration of 14 years.

The defendant Jaramaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The defendant Atlija was acquitted of charges for the criminal act he was charged with under count II of the indictment.

You can see the verdict of the Šibenik County Court dated 7 May 2009 here (pdf, 648 KB) (in Croatian).

The Supreme Court at the session of the Council held on 25 November 2009 altered the verdict of the War Crimes Council of the Šibenik County Court. It determined prison sentences in the duration of 8 years to each of the defendant for the criminal act under Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH (whereas the first instance court determined 10 years). Considering the fact that the defendant Milan Atlija had already been previously sentenced to five years in prison, he received a joint prison sentence in the duration of 12 years.

You can see the verdict of the Supreme Court of the RoC here (in Croatian).

FINAL OPINION OF THE MONITORING TEAM AFTER THE FIRST INSTANCE PROCEDURE

This opinion is based on the remarks from the main hearings that we monitored. Monitors did not receive permission by the Council President to obtain trial records, the indictment or the written verdict, which rendered difficult the monitoring process and made it impossible to provide legal analysis of the case.

In the course of the procedure, the monitors did not notice breaches of procedural provisions, the trial was properly conducted and in compliance with professional regulations. Comments that we are about to present pertain to the facts which could improve the quality of the procedure itself, but the below-mentioned circumstances, in our opinion, did not significantly influence the quality of the procedure or its outcome.

  1. Although, generally speaking, all procedural provisions were respected in the course of the procedure, it is the assessment of the monitors that certain circumstances existed that should be avoided in war crime trials, pertaining to the right to publicity of the procedure.

Namely, the monitors (or other members of the general public who expressed interest in this procedure) were not in a position to have an insight into the case file and documents from the investigation stage, nor could they monitor the investigation. Therefore, one should avoid the usual practice of not reading the documents and testimonies from the investigation stage at the main hearings but simply stating that they were read. By doing so, the interested members of the general public are not able to follow the evidence procedure content-wise or observe the Council’s decisions with regard to the right to impartial trial.

The main objections by the defence counsels in this procedure pertained to the fact that their requests for re-hearing of certain witnesses were denied. The Council refused to re-hear some of the proposed witnesses because their statements, according to the testimonies provided during the investigation, did not have significance for the procedure, i.e. their new testimonies would not influence the final decision, whereby the Council managed to accelerate the procedure. However, it was necessary in the public interest to actually read the testimonies provided during the investigation, especially because the testimonies provided during the investigation and those provided at the main hearing, pertaining to the defendants themselves, were inconsistent in some significant details. Thus, at certain stages of the procedure one had the impression that the Council refused to hear the proposed witnesses without a justified reason.

  1. We should also warn of the fact that the «main witness» of the prosecution was heard for more than four hours at the main hearing which should not be the practice. Namely, it was evident that, during the last hour of his testimony, the witness was no longer able to focus on the main hearing and respond to the questions, therefore it was to be expected that, due to those reasons, the Council would stop the main hearing and schedule a new one.

FINAL OPINION OF THE MONITORING TEAM AFTER THE REPEATED PROCEDURE

On 7 May 2009, following the repeated proceedings, the verdict of the War Crime Council of the Šibenik County Court was published, which found the defendants Milan Atlija and Đorđe Jaramaz guilty. The defendant Atlija received a joint prison sentence in the duration of 14 years, while the defendant Jaramaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The indictment of the ŽDO Šibenik was charging the defendants with a war crime against civilians pursuant to Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH (liquidation of an unknown civilian in June 1991 in BiH, in the so called Corridor area, and the defendant Atlija was also charged for planning, organising and ordering attacks on Croatian ethnicity citizens of Potkonje and Vrpolje, with the purpose to intimidate and terrorise with expelling as a consequence, and for abuse of Dragomir Grgić in the “militia station” in Knin). The defendant Atlija was also charged with a war crime against war prisoners pursuant to Article 122 of the OKZRH (inhuman treatment and abuse of the Croatian MUP members).

In 2007, the Šibenik County Court reached the verdict that found the defendants guilty of a criminal act referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH (liquidation of an unknown civilian). Each defendant was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The defendant Atlija was also found guilty of the criminal act referred to in Article 122 of the OKZRH and sentenced to 3 years in prison. Therefore he received a joint prison sentence in the duration of 12 years. He was acquitted of charges of planning, organising and ordering attacks on Potkonje and Vrpolje causing Croatian ethnicity population abandon their houses.

Later in April 2008, the Croatian Supreme Court quashed the mentioned first-instance verdict due to incorrect and incomplete establishment of facts relative to the criminal act referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH (liquidation of an unknown civilian) and relative to the criminal act referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH (organising attacks on Potkonje and Vrpolje). The Court reversed the case, in that part of the verdict, for a retrial to the first-instance court. Regarding the criminal act referred to in Article 122 of the OKZRH (abuse of detained MUP members), the first-instance verdict was modified sentencing Atlija to 5 years in prison.

With the same verdict, the Croatian Supreme Court ordered the first-instance court to carry out in a repeated trial a presentation of all already exhibited evidence. Also, in relation to the criminal act referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH (liquidation of civilians), the first-instance court should hear directly or indirectly by means of another court a potentially possible injured parson Jasko (Halum) Gazdić in order to: establish whether this was the person who was mentioned, during the incriminating event, as “an unknown civilian-injured person” i.e. whether this was the person who was killed according to the indictment in respect of the criminal act referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH (organising attacks on Potkonje and Vrpolje, abuse of Dragomir Grgić); with the presentation of further evidence, establish a position of Milan Atlija within a “militia” of the so-called SAO Krajina, his relation with Milan Martić and Milenko Zelenbaba; By hearing the witnesses who already gave their testimonies, and where necessary by hearing new witnesses, establish the fact on his participation in attacks on Potkonje and Vrpolje, on unlawful depriving civilians of their liberty especially Dragomir Grgić, and establish what exactly happened to him in the “militia station” in Knin.

In the repeated trial, the defendants were found guilty of criminal act committed in the so-called Corridor and sentenced to prison, 10 years each. The defendant Atlija was acquitted of the charges to have organised attacks on Vrpolje and Potkonje and to have abused Dragomir Grgić.

The Council established that the defendant Atlija hit the injured person Grgić in the Knin “militia” building. However, as was specified in the verdict’s statement of reasons, it is not possible to exclude this event from entire factual description of the criminal act referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH, that Atlija was acquitted of charges. Since the defendant Atlija he was already sentenced to 5 years in prison by a legally binding verdict in respect of the criminal act referred to in Article 122 of the OKZRH, he received a joint prison sentence in the duration of 14 years.

In the repeated trial, despite all efforts to do so, the Council failed to hear Jasko Gazdić neither directly nor indirectly by means of another court. Namely, the Council was searching the mentioned person via Interpol and the Republic of Srpska’s Ministry of Justice. However, no results were obtained. Interpol informed the Court that Jasko Gazdić was a fugitive with unknown residence address and that there was an ongoing criminal proceedings against him charging the same with a war crime. The Court did not gave credibility to the testimony of Jasko Gazdić, provided earlier before the court in Belgrade, wherein he claimed that he was the one who was injured at the incriminating period at the so-called Corridor but that no firing was made against him. The Court valued that the mentioned testimony was provided by Jasko Gazdić with the purpose to help the defendants.

Witness Pero Bajić, the testimony of which was a basis for acquitting verdict at the first trial, was not heard again. It is unclear to us why the Council did not, despite the proposal by defence, use the possibility of a video-link for hearing the witness who for some reasons was not in position to attend the hearing.

The Council also rejected a proposal by the defence to obtain a drawing of the family Vidaković’s house with its immediate surrounding that was related to the Pero Bajić witness testimony provided to the investigating judge. This testimony contains a statement that from that yard a road and river where the body of unknown male person was thrown on the critical event were visible. Theoretically, such a drawing could have served as control evidence in respect of the Bajić’s testimony. The Court gave credibility to this testimony but exhibiting the drawing as the evidence could have given a greater certainty to the council for reaching a correct verdict.

We find that the repeated trial was conducted in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Act. However, it remains unclear why the court rejected a proposal for obtaining the mentioned drawing because obtaining this evidence could not affect the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of the trial.

However, it is up to the council to decide which evidence will be accepted and exhibited. The Council rejected numerous evidence proposals by reasoning that they were redundant and unnecessary for a correct reaching of a verdict. However, the Croatian Supreme Court quashed the previous verdict exactly due to incorrect and incomplete establishment of facts.