Zagreb, March 16, 2021
The Supreme Court rejected the defendant’s appeal and upheld the first-instance judgement of the Rijeka County Court, thereby finding the accused guilty of war crimes against civilians in the final instance. He was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, including the time he had spent remanded in custody during the investigation phase. Detention upon final judgement against defendant has been ordered as well.
The accused was convicted of killing civilians in 1995 during an armed conflict. He left his position and went to the village where he had lived before. He fired from an automatic rifle at the man and woman who were in front of his house. He had known them before. He shot the man in the back and head as he fled to a nearby forest. He killed the woman on the terrace in front of the house. He set fire to the mother of the killed, who was inside the house, together with the house and cattle, which were locked on the ground floor of the house.
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia considers that a prison sentence of 10 years will fulfil the purpose of sentencing. The first-instance court correctly assessed as an aggravating circumstance to the accused that he had deprived of life the three persons he had known before. These persons did not in any way endanger the military actions or the security of the members of the army to which the accused belonged. It is also aggravating that the third victim was set on fire alive in the house. The current non-conviction and health condition (alcoholic liver cirrhosis, oesophageal varices, diabetes, PTSD) were assessed as mitigating circumstances. Participation in the Homeland War was not considered mitigating because the accused committed a war crime as a participant in the Homeland War. In addition, on the basis of mobilization calls, he joined the army, having previously fled abroad to avoid mobilization.
The sentence thus imposed corresponds to the degree of guilt of the accused and the danger of the criminal offense. The sentence imposed contains sufficient moral condemnation for the evil that the accused caused by committing the act and sufficient social condemnation for committing the act. Imposing a milder or more severe punishment is not justified.
We would like to remind you that in the twenty-six years since Operation Storm, the Croatian judiciary has initiated four criminal proceedings for war crimes against Krajina Serbs, against a total of nine members of Croatian military and police units. The trials resulted in two final convictions – for crimes in Prokljan and Mandici and for crimes in Kijani near Gracac. Two criminal proceedings resulted in acquittals, for crimes in Prokljan and Mandici and in Grubori. One criminal proceeding was suspended during the investigation phase (crime in Ramljani).
The course of the first instance proceedings
Rijeka, March 14, 2019
Opt. Rajko Kričković, a tempore criminismember of the Croatian Army, was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison for war crimes against civilians, the murder of three civilians in Kijani near Gračac after the military operation “Storm”. The judgement was delivered by a panel of the Rijeka County Court, chaired by Judge Ika Saric. The accused did not attend the announcement of the judgement, so Judge Šarić announced that he would issue an arrest warrant for him immediately after the judgement was announced.
“This Panel finds it proven that Rajko Kričković committed the criminal offense for which he is charged,” Judge Ika Šarić emphasized in the explanation of the verdict.
The President of the Trial Chamber referred in particular to the fact that the crown witness in the trial was a man who repeatedly said at the hearing, confrontation in the investigation and trial that Rajko Kričković had repeatedly told him that he had killed Radomir and his sister, Mira Sovilj, and set fire to their mother in the barn along with the cows. The witness stated that the accused told him that he killed the first two with an automatic rifle, when they tried to flee, and he shouted at them to stop.
They fled perhaps three hundred yards from the house toward the woods when he shot them in a burst in the back. A key witness claimed that Kričković told him that five or six times in his house, and on one occasion when they were passing through Kijane. This witness re-launched the tangle of investigations years after the crime. He was also subjected to a psychiatric examination which confirmed that he was capable of giving a credible statement.
“This witness also insisted in his testimony at the hearing that the accused Rajko Kričković told him that he had killed the victims. The testimony of this witness is to be believed, there is no reason to falsely charge him. According to him, he boasted that he had killed the victims, so the pre-investigation procedure started” said Judge Šarić, noting that the findings of the court show that the accused and this witness had a very good relationship until 2001. Certain differences in the memory of the event from twenty years ago were assessed by the court as normal.
The Court finds that the crown testimony is corroborated, in so far as possible, by the testimonies of other people in the trial. For example, the statement about the shooting in the back confirmed the opinion of the doctor, as well as the accusation of the crown witness that Kričković set fire to the oldest victim, an older woman, with the house.
On 10 January 2017, before the panel of the Rijeka County Court chaired by Judge Ika Šarić, the main hearing in the criminal proceedings against defendant Rajko Kričković, tempore criminismember of the 118th HV Home Guard Regiment, for a crime committed against civilians began, after operation “Storm”, in the period from 15 to 28 August 1995. According to the indictment of the Rijeka County State’s Attorney’s Office, dated 4 November 2014, the Accused committed the murder of three civilians in the village of Kijani, near Gračac. Defendant Kričković killed the brother and sister, Radomir and Mira Sovilj, with automatic rifle shots, while he set fire to Mara Sovilj, their mother, together with the house and cattle locked in the ground floor of the house.
Toponym: Crime in Kijani
Rijeka County Court
War Crimes Chamber: Judge Ika Šarić, President of the Chamber, Judges Dina Brusić and Loreta Sršen, Members of the Chamber
Indictment: ŽDO in Rijeka, number K-DO-23/14-VI, dated 4 November 2014.
The prosecution is represented by: Nenad Bogosavljev, Deputy County State’s Attorney in Rijeka
Criminal offense: war crime against civilians under Art. 120 para 1. OK ZRH
Defendant: Rajko Kričković
Defendants’ defense counsel: Ružica Spasojević, lawyer from Rijeka, Nikola Sabljar, lawyer from Rijeka
Defendant’s attorney: Ljubiša Drageljević, lawyer from Rijeka
Victims – killed:
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- Study visit “The 90s: Anti-war activism in Croatia and Slovenia” July 11, 2023