War crimes court reverses convictions of Bosnians

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Three Bosnian Croats, who were sentenced for one of the worst massacres of the Bosnian War, had their convictions quashed on appeal after judges ruled that their trial had been "critically flawed".

Three Bosnian Croats, who were sentenced for one of the worst massacres of the Bosnian War, had their convictions quashed on appeal after judges ruled that their trial had been "critically flawed".

The International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague also reduced the sentences of two other Bosnian Croats who had been convicted of involvement in the 1993 massacres at Ahmi-ci, in which more than 100 Muslim civilians, including women and children, were slaughtered. The judgment was the first time convictions have been overturned on appeal, although war crimes suspects have been acquitted at trials before.

Relatives of the defendants, who watched from the public gallery, hugged each other and cried in joy when Patricia Wald, the presiding judge of the five-justice bench, announced the decision. The judgment was a severe setback for the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, who was in Yugoslavia yesterday pressing the governments of Serbia and Montenegro to surrender more wanted war crimes suspects from the Balkan wars.

The appeal judges called the indictments "too general and vague", and said the trial court had been "critically flawed" in its assessment of the evidence. Prosecutors built a weak case based on "unreliable witnesses", the ruling said.

The trial had ignored testimony of at least one witness that could have influenced the verdict, and failed to address discrepancies between witness statements. "In doing so, the trial chamber fell into error," the judgment said.

Graham Blewitt, the deputy prosecutor, described yesterday's developments as a "great surprise. We didn't anticipate that the decision would result in three of them being acquitted," he said. "I feel for the victims of Ahmici."

But the judgment may help to reassure some of the tribunal's critics about its procedures. Officials at the court said that the judges had examined a large quantity of new evidence, which became available only after the political climate changed in Croatia. Jim Landale, spokesman for the tribunal, said: "This proves that the safeguards one would expect in an appeal process are there."

The judges ordered the immediate release from detention of the brothers Zoran and Mirjan Kupreskic and their cousin, Vlatko Kupreskic. The two brothers have been in jail in The Hague since their surrender four years ago. The court also cut the 15-year sentence of Drago Josipovic to 12 years, and the 25-year sentence of Vladimir Santic to 18 years.

All the men had been convicted of crimes related to the Ahmici massacres. The savage blood-letting there marked the start of the Croat-Muslim War in Bosnia. The trial concluded in January 2000.

Comments