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The Hague, 6 September 2011
Tribunal convicts Momčilo Perišić for crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia
Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia today convicted Momčilo Perišić, a former Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army, for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and sentenced him to 27 years of imprisonment.
Perišić, the most senior officer and Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) from 26 August 1993 to 24 November 1998, was found guilty by majority in the Trial Chamber, Judge Moloto dissenting, of aiding and abetting murders, inhumane acts, persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, and attacks on civilians in Sarajevo and Srebrenica. He was also found guilty, by majority of Judges, Judge Moloto dissenting, of failing to punish his subordinates for their crimes of murder, attacks on civilians and injuring and wounding civilians during the rocket attacks on Zagreb on 2 and 3 May 1995. Perišić was unanimously acquitted of charges of aiding and abetting extermination as a crime against humanity in Srebrenica and of command responsibility in relation to crimes in Sarajevo and Srebrenica.
Today’s judgment is the first handed down by the Tribunal in a case against an official of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Trial Chamber found that General Perišić oversaw the Yugoslav Army’s provision of extensive logistical assistance to the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) and the Army of Serbian Krajina (SVK), the self proclaimed Croatian Serb entity, which notably included vast quantities of infantry and artillery ammunition, fuel, spare parts, training and technical assistance. Such assistance “became more centralised, structured and coordinated during General Perišić’s tenure” - Judge Bakone Justice Moloto, Presiding, said reading the Judgment.
General Perišić also proposed and implemented the idea to create Personnel Centres to maintain the status of military officers of the Yugoslav Army for those who serve in the VRS (30th Personnel Centre) and SVK (40th Personnel Centre).
In relation to the crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Judgment states that “the VRS regularly made no distinction between civilian and military targets. In fact, it targeted Bosnian Muslim civilians as a matter of course”. It further adds that “the crimes charged in this case were not perpetrated by rogue soldiers acting independently. Rather, they were part of a lengthy campaign overseen by top VRS officers on the Yugoslav Army’s payroll, including General Mladić.” Besides General Mladić, members of the 30th Personnel Centre included high-ranking officers who have been convicted by the Tribunal’s Trial and Appeals Chambers for crimes in Sarajevo (Stanislav Galić and Dragomir Milošević), and for crimes in Srebrenica (namely Milan Gvero, Radivoje Miletić, Ljubiša Beara, Radislav Krstić, Vujadin Popović, Vinko Pandurević, and Dragan Obrenović).
In the finding of the Majority, “General Perišić was alerted to the fact that the VRS was conducting a campaign of sniping and shelling against civilians during its siege of Sarajevo”, a campaign that lasted from September 1992 to November 1995 and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the wounding of thousands of others, which the Majority found to constitute murder as a war crime and crime against humanity, and inhumane acts and attacks of civilians as war crimes. General Perišić was receiving information from a variety of sources concerning the VRS’s criminal behavior and discriminatory intent against Muslims, including from the Yugoslav Army’s own monitoring of international community and international media and from diplomatic reports.
“General Perišić knew that it was highly probable that the VRS would forcibly transfer Bosnian Muslims and commit killings and other abuses with discriminatory intent once Srebrenica had fallen under VRS control” – reads the part of the judgment on Perišić’s aiding an abetting of murders, inhumane acts (inflicting serious injuries, wounding, forcible transfer) and persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds as crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Srebrenica in July 1995.
The Trial Chamber, however, could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that General Perišić could reasonably have foreseen, based on his knowledge of the VRS’s prior conduct, that the VRS would engage in the systematic extermination of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica, and acquitted him of aiding and abetting extermination as crime against humanity in Srebrenica.
The VRS largely depended on logistical and personnel assistance overseen by General Perišić in order to conduct its operations in Sarajevo and Srebrenica. Since such operations encompassed systematic crimes against civilians, General Perišić’s actions had a substantial effect on these crimes that amounted to aiding and abetting them. “General Perišić repeatedly exercised his authority to provide logistical and personnel assistance that made it possible for the VRS to wage a war while he had knowledge that the VRS’s operations encompassed grave and systematic crimes against Muslim civilians” – the Trial Chamber, by Majority, concluded.
In reaching its conclusions, the Trial Chamber relied upon witness testimonies as well as other numerous sources of information, such as material delivery forms, personnel files, internal military reports, communication records, and minutes of the Supreme Defence Council featuring discussions between General Perišić, Slobodan Milošević, Zoran Lilić and other top officials.
While Momčilo Perišić was found criminally responsible for aiding and abetting murder, inhumane acts, attacks on civilians and persecution on political, racial or religious grounds in Sarajevo and Srebrenica, he was found not guilty as superior pursuant to Article 7(3) of the Statue in relation to these crimes and extermination. The evidence did not establish beyond reasonable doubt that there was a requisite superior-subordinate relationship between him and perpetrators of the crimes committed in Sarajevo and Srebrenica. «Even though General Perišić had a collaborative relationship with Mladić and substantially aided his operations, the evidence does not establish that he exercised effective control over him or any other Yugoslav Army officer serving in the VRS through the 30th Personnel Centre” – presiding Judge Moloto said.
Momčilo Perišić was also found guilty, on the basis of command responsibility, of crimes committed by the Army of Serbian Krajina firing rockets on the city of Zagreb, on 2 May 1995, that killed 5 people and injured 146, and again on 3 May, which killed two persons and injured 54. Unlike his relationship with officers serving in VRS, Perišić is found to have exercised effective control over Yugoslav Army officers serving through 40th Personnel Centre in the SVK as he initiated disciplinary proceedings against them and had the ability to issue command orders to senior SVK officers who considered them binding. The Trial Chamber, by Majority, therefore, found him guilty for failing to take necessary and reasonable measures to punish his subordinates in the SVK who perpetrated the two unlawful rocket attacks on Zagreb, although he was immediately notified of both the attacks.
In evaluating the sentence of 27 years of imprisonment for General Perišić, the Trial Judgment emphasized that “the Army of Republika Srpska’s crimes lasted over a long period of time and that the victims were numerous and particularly vulnerable and that General Perišić kept providing assistance to the VRS for months after being informed of the massacre in Srebrenica”.
Perišić is entitled to credit for 1,078 days he has spent in custody. Both the Prosecution and the defense have the right to appeal.
The Indictment against Momčilo Perišić was raised on 24 February 2005 and he surrendered on 7 March 2005. His trial began on 2 October 2008 and concluded with closing arguments on 31 March 2011. The Trial Chamber heard over 100 witnesses and admitted in evidence 3,794 exhibits.
Since its establishment, the Tribunal has indicted 161 persons for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001. Proceedings against 126 have been concluded. Proceedings are currently ongoing for 35 Accused.
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International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
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