The Croatian judiciary is still faced with a large number of unprocessed war crimes. Of the 490 crimes recorded in the war crimes database of the State Attorney’s Office of the Republic of Croatia (hereinafter referred to as DORH), for 168 (34%) crimes, perpetrators are still unknown.
Last updated report of the State Attorney’s Office of the Republic of Croatia from May 20171, referring to the previous from 2016, provides a quantitative overview of their work in the area of war crimes prosecution. DORH reports on the number of criminal reports received, number of accused persons as well as on the completed proceedings which are not legally binding. Thus, during 2016, 84 persons were charged, while 21 persons were found guilty.These are indictments covering the planned and widespread attacks (without a choice of target) on the civilian population, raised against a large number of defendants who will, in all likelihood, be tried in absentia, contrary to established international standards.
The percentage of completely resolved crimes is very small. The reason for this is the numerous indictments filed in the nineties and even in the decade after, against unreachable defendants for the Croatian judiciary, as well as trials that have now been repeated for years before the first-instance councils.Such a modus operandi further weakens the personal and financial resources of the prosecution, the victims are again traumatized, and the witnesses show fatigue during repeated testifying before the court.
30 cases of war crimes trials that were monitored before specialized courts in 2016, were marked by seldom scheduled major hearings, lengthy procedures, frequent repetitions, inaccessibility of the defendant, and low prison sentences.
Non-legally binding verdicts were passed in 13 cases against 26 defendants. In relation to 21 defendants, nine convictions were issued while five defendants were acquitted of the charges in four cases.
Also, the interest of the public, particularly the media, for war crimes trials before the national courts, as well as before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and in the neighboring states, is rapidly declining, and moreover, there is a lack of understanding of the purpose of war crimes trials. Instead of acknowledging victims’ suffering and distancing from crime, we witness the continuation of widespread denial of crimes, and refusal of acceptance of facts established by final judgments
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