A new report by the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center criticised the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office of being “extremely inefficient,” voicing concern that more than one half of last year’s court hearings in war crime trials were postponed due to COVID-19.
At the same time, Serbian officials have consistently promoted war criminals and misrepresented the history of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, says the report.
The Humanitarian Law Center’s annual report on Serbian War Crimes trials says that “the negative trend of raising a small number of indictments against a small number of suspects continued” last year; it also said that the bulk of the cases had not originated at the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office, but had instead been taken over from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Over the course of 2021, just seven indictments were filed, charging nine people. Four of the indictments originated with the Bosnian prosecution.
“Given that the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office has a prosecutor and 12 deputies, raising only three indictments throughout the year as a result of its own investigations can be considered extremely inefficient,” reads the Humanitarian Law Center’s report.
“It is very worrying that for the third year in a row, the TRZ has a larger number of deputy prosecutors than the total number of indictments filed in a year,” the report continues.
In practice, these means that cases opened against high-ranking officers such as Rajko Kusic, Branko Basara and Nedeljko Anicic, all former commanders in the Bosnian Serb Army or Sanski Most Territorial Defence force, “were not indictments resulting from independent investigations by the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office, but indictments from proceedings ceded from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the result of the work of other prosecutor’s offices.”
Moreover, in cases that have gone to trial, it is common for trials to have been “postponed several times because judges, defendants and witnesses fell ill or were isolated” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Humanitarian Law Center’s report also warns that the practice of revisionism of the Yugoslav Wars has continued in Serbia. In public life, it has become more common to ignore or minimise court-established facts, lionise war criminals, and provide public spaces and state resources for the publishing of books by convicted war criminals and film and TV productions.
In March 2021, for example, convicted war criminals Nikola Sainovic and Vladimir Lazarevic appeared on the state broadcaster Radio-Television Serbia programme to mark the anniversary of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Later that year, the Serbian Defence Ministry organised the screening of a film to commemorate Yugoslav Army 125th Motorised Brigade in spite of claims the group was involved in war crimes during the Kosovo conflict.