Human Rights Action (HRA), Centre for Civic Education (CCE), and Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past remind that on this day 32 years ago, the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA/JNA) carried out the most severe shelling of Dubrovnik during the its aggression from 1 October 1991 to 31 May 1992 against the Republic of Croatia.
“The war operation Dubrovnik was a campaign of conquest, destruction and robbery against the Republic of Croatia” wrote historians professor dr Šerbo Rastoder and M.Sc. Novak Adžić in the text about the participation of Montenegro in the war against Croatia.
“It was an unjust, conquering war against Croatia, in which Montenegro was disgraced it hitched itself to the politicy of the JNA and Slobodan Milošević,” said Nikola Samardžić, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Montenegro at the time of the attack on Dubrovnik, testifying at the trial of General Pavlo Strugar before the Hague Tribunal.
“Among the first victims in the city was Milan Milišić. Poet. Playwright. Serb. Milan died (5 October 1991) after the Serb-Chetnik soldiers from the ships shelled the narrow core of the city. This is the best example of how senseless this war is. And I am sure that Milišić died in his armchair, translating poetry into English by candlelight, believing that whatever needs to happen will happen,” stated Pavo Urban, photographer, student, and defender of Dubrovnik, in his war diary.
On that 6 December 1991, 32 years ago, 19 people lost their lives, while 60 were injured and wounded. Several hundred shells were fired at the old city centre, protected as a UNESCO world cultural heritage. Six buildings were completely destroyed, several of them damaged, as well as the main street Stradun. The old town was exposed to an artillery fire for more than ten and a half hours. Inside its walls, Pavo Urban (23) and Tonči Skočko (18) were killed, while three people were seriously wounded.
The International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (Hague Tribunal) sentenced General-Colonel JNA Pavle Strugar to seven and a half years in prison and admiral Miodrag Jokić to seven years in prison for the crimes committed during the illegal shelling of Dubrovnik on 6 December 1991. Admiral Jokić pleaded guilty and was convicted for command responsibility for the actions of his subordinates, but the prosecutor’s position was that he did not issue the shelling order. On the same day, he apologized for the attack to the people of Dubrovnik and the Croatian minister, expressing regret for the victims and damage. JNA captain Vladimir Kovačević – Rambo, from Nikšić, was also accused of the attack on Dubrovnik, but the Hague Tribunal withdrew from prosecuting him due to his incompetence to trial. Later, the court in Belgrade, where Kovačević resides, rejected the indictment against him. In the end, after the trial in The Hague, the retired JNA admiral, Milan Zec, was acquitted.
Apart from the illegal shelling of Dubrovnik on 6 December, the Hague Prosecutor’s Office did not investigate other crimes committed by JNA members during the entire six months of the conquest of the wider Dubrovnik area. During that period, 116 civilians died, 194 Croatian fighters and 165 members of the YPA from Montenegro were also killed, 443 people were imprisoned in Morinj (Montenegro) and Bileća (Bosnia and Herzegovina) camps in inhumane conditions, 33,000 people were deported, 2,071 residential buildings were destroyed and systematically looted private and public goods. The city of Dubrovnik was without electricity and water for 138 days, as well as under naval and air blockade. These data indicate the conduct of numerous war crimes.
Montenegro has so far prosecuted and punished only four people who participated in the abuse of prisoners in the JNA camp in Morinj, on the territory of Montenegro, while the issue of command responsibility was never raised. The State Prosecutor’s Office of Montenegro has an obligation to prosecute crimes committed during the war in Croatia on its own initiative, and it should cooperate with the State’s Attorney Office of the Republic of Croatia concerning this matter.
However, this cooperation, is lacking in a case that was formed in Montenegro on 8 August 2022, to investigate whether the former Chief of the Army General Staff of the Montenegrin Army, admiral Dragan Samardžić, ordered the opening of fire at civilian targets in Split from a ship on 15 November 1991. A year and four months ago, the Special State Prosecutor’s Office (SDT) of Montenegro requested all relevant information regarding the mentioned event from the State Attorney’s Office of the Republic of Croatia (DORH). Despite numerous urgent requests, the requested data has not been delivered.
This cooperation, however, is lacking in a case that was formed in Montenegro on 8 August 2022, to investigate whether the former Chief of the Army General Staff of the Montenegrin Army, admiral Dragan Samardžić, ordered the opening of fire at civilian targets in Split from a ship on 15 November 1991. A year and four months ago, the Special State Prosecutor’s Office (SDT) of Montenegro requested all relevant information regarding the mentioned event from the State Attorney’s Office of the Republic of Croatia (DORH). Despite numerous urgent requests, the requested data has not been delivered.
In addition, in Croatia, former military JNA officials from Serbia and Montenegro have been indicted for war crimes in the Dubrovnik battlefield: Jevrem Cokić, Mile Ružinovski, Pavle Strugar, Miodrag Jokić, Branko Stanković, Obrad Vičić, Radovan Komar, Vladimir Kovačević, Milan Zec, and Zoran Gvozdenović. Warrants have issued against them in 2022.
Since Serbia and Montenegro have no obligation to extradite their citizens to Croatia on charges of war crimes, it is unclear why the Croatian judiciary did not deliver these cases to Serbia and Montenegro for prosecution. Therefore, HRA and Documenta have asked the DORH and the County State Attorney’s Office Split for information on whether, through the usual diplomatic channels, this indictment has been delivered to the Ministry of Justice of Montenegro, with an invitation to inform Montenegrin citizens that criminal proceedings are ongoing against their citizens in the Republic of Croatia. Furthermore, it was asked whether the possibility of assigning this procedure to the judiciary of Montenegro to prosecute crimes, as in the case of some other procedures in the past, is being considered. To date, we have not received an answer to date.
Tea Gorjanc Prelević, Executive Director, Human Rights Action (HRA), Podgorica
Vesna Teršelič, Director, Centre for Dealing with the Past – Documenta, Zagreb
Daliborka Uljarević, Executive Director, Centre for Civic Education (CCE), Podgorica
Photo: Pavo urban
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