Crime in Čepin


Acriminal procedure against Fred Marguš and Tomislav Dilber, accused of criminal act of war crime against civilians (Article 120, Paragraph 1, of the Basic Criminal Law of the Republic of Croatia), is being held before the War Crime Council of the County Court in Osijek.

The indictment, brought by the District Attorney′s Office in Osijek, charges the first accused Fred Marguš and the second accused Tomislav Dilber for a criminal act against the values protected by international law – the war crime against civilians, perpetrated in the outer area of the town of Osijek during November and December 1991, stating that the accused had the intention to murder the civilians of Serb ethnicity.
The first accused Fred Marguš is being charged with a violation of the rules of international law during the armed conflict, in a way that he had illegally detained, tortured, inhumanely treated and killed civilians (the killed civilians: Vukašin Bulat, Svetozar Bulat,  Nedeljka Vico, Nikola Vico, Ljubomir Grandić, Dragica Gvozdenović, Stevan Gvozdenović and Dr. Milutin Kutlić), that he had ordered a murder of the civilian (Savo Pavitović) and that he was robbing the civilians′  property. The second accused Tomislav Dilber is being charged with a murder of the civilian Savo Pavitović and therefore, violation of the rules of international law during the armed conflict.

The trial is being held before the War Crime Council which is comprised of: Krunoslav Barkić (President), Mario Kovač and Ante Budić (members); the indictment is represented by Miroslav Kraljević, Deputy District Attorney from Osijek.

The first hearing was held on 13th June 2006, then on 27th June, 28th June, 29th June and on 11th September 2006. The hearing on 18th September was the fourth sitting to be adjourned due to inability of the defendant Marguš which had been established by the psychiatric expertise. The further procedure will depend on the diagnosis and opinion of the interdisciplinary expertise on the time frame required to stabilize the health conditions of the accused Marguš through hospital treatments.

 

SUMMARY OF VERDICT

Following the trial against Fred Marguš and Tomislav Dilber, accused for criminal act of war crime against civilians stated in Article 120, Paragraph 1 of the Penal Law of the Republic of Croatia, committed in November 1991 in the region of Čepin and its surroundings, the War Crime Council of the Osijek County Court reached a verdict in which the defendant Marguš was convicted to a 14-year prison sentence, and defendant Dilber was convicted to a 3-year prison sentence.

 

FINAL OPPINION ISSUED BY MONITORS

Opinion:

The trial was conducted in a correct manner. 

Following the trial against Fred Marguš and Tomislav Dilber, accused for criminal act of war crime against civilians stated in Article 120, Paragraph 1 of the Penal Law of the Republic of Croatia, committed in November 1991 in the region of Čepin and its surroundings, the War Crime Council of the Osijek County Court reached a verdict in which the defendant Marguš was convicted to a 14-year prison sentence, and defendant Dilber was convicted to a 3-year prison sentence.

The trial procedure was followed and conducted in a correct manner. Prior to each hearing, a medical expert was checking defendant Marguš′ health condition and his ability to stand trial. This court proceedings is a rare case of the trial held against members of the Croatian military units, which was conducted in Croatia, and in which the eye-witnesses were willing to testify about the war crime that had been committed. President of the War Crime Council excluded the public from the trial in the moment when he estimated that the witness could come under public pressure which would be more than the witness could bear.

Crucial question in this trial is whether the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia would uphold the opinion of the War Crime Council of the Osijek County Court stating that the events described in Item a (murder and wounding of the Bulat family members) and Item b (detention, torture and killing of Nikola Vico and Nedeljka Vico) of the indictment against Fred Marguš are not viewed as an already definite sentence and legally valid decision, despite the fact that in relation to those events a verdict was passed in the previous Osijek County Court case No: K-4/97, when the indictment was rejected as a result of application of the General Amnesty Law.

The War Crime Council of the Osijek County Court has accepted the explanation of the prosecution which stated that a verdict on rejection of indictment in case of murder, when the General Amnesty Law was applied, did not exclude the verdict of guilty to be passed for criminal act of war crime against civilians since it was not only a crime against the person, but at the same time, it was also a crime against humanity and international law, in which cases there is no limitation period for criminal charges, and, according to international law, it is obligatory for the Republic of Croatia to bring them to court. If the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia upholds it, such a verdict will bring at least a partial satisfaction to the victims of crime, the Bulat and the Vico families. At the same time, the verdict should also be influencing the future judicial practice in the Republic of Croatia, since it is certain that this is not a single case in which a verdict on rejection of indictment in case of murder was passed by applying the General Amnesty Law, and that there are still some cases with such verdicts for murders committed by members of the Croatian military units during the Homeland War.

In addition to the stated, another question has also arisen as to which attitude the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia will adopt towards the defendant Dilber′s complicity in the murder of Savo Pavitović. The War Crime Council of the Osijek County Court considers the statement, that the first shot at the body of Savo Pavitović was fired by the defendant Dilber, as a definite fact. If the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia forms the opinion regarding the stated incrimination in a way that it finds that there is a contradiction between the deposition given by the eyewitness, and the expert′s findings and opinion, there is a possibility that the Supreme Court will request the facts to be re-established.

Moreover, the question remains- would the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia evaluate the extenuating and aggravating circumstances in the same way the War Crime Council of the Osijek County Court did it, or, on condition that it considers that the facts were correctly ascertained, would the Supreme Court modify the duration of prison sentences.

Our opinion is that the participation in the Homeland War and decorations for participation in the war should not present an extenuating circumstance in reaching a verdict on committed war crimes.

Centre for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights Osijek,
Documenta, Zagreb
Civic Committee for Human Rights, Zagreb
Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights