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Appeals Chamber Increases Sentence Against Šljivančanin, Upholds Mrkšić Sentence

Press Release
(Exclusively for the use of the media. Not an official document)

The Hague, 5 May 2009

Appeals Chamber Increases Sentence Against Šljivančanin, Upholds Mrkšić Sentence

Mrksic & Sljivancanin
Veselin Šljivančanin and Mile Mrkšić

The Appeals Chamber today found Veselin Šljivančanin, a former senior officer of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), guilty of aiding and abetting the murder of prisoners of war after the fall of the Croatian town of Vukovar and increased his sentence from 5 to 17 years’ imprisonment. His guilt for aiding and abetting torture was reaffirmed.

The Appeals Chamber also reaffirmed the guilt of his superior Mile Mrkšić of having aided and abetted the murder, torture of prisoners, as well as the inhumane conditions of detention at the hangar at Ovčara near Vukovar between 20 and 21 November 1991. His 20 year sentence was upheld.

Mrkšić was a JNA colonel at the time of the crimes and commander of the Guards Motorised Brigade and Operation Group South thus overseeing all Serb forces in the area including JNA, Territorial Defence (TO) and paramilitary forces. Šljivančanin was the head of the security organ of both the Guards Motorised Brigade and Operation Group South. After the fall of Vukovar, Sljivancanin was appointed by Mrkšić to evacuate the Vukovar hospital where several hundred people sought refuge. 

On 20 November 1991 the JNA loaded selected individuals from the hospital onto buses and transported them first to JNA barracks and then to a pig farm at Ovčara where they were subjected to severe beatings which lasted for hours.

In its judgement rendered in September 2007 the Trial Chamber found that that evening Mrkšić withdrew the JNA troops leaving the prisoners to the mercy of members of the TO and paramilitaries who then killed and buried at least 194 of them in a mass grave at Ovčara. JNA forces which he commanded had earlier established inhumane conditions of detention, and he failed to act effectively to ensure that the prisoners were properly protected.
Šljivančanin was found guilty of aiding and abetting torture because he failed to secure adequate JNA guards at Ovčara or to ensure that JNA guards at Ovčara under his authority acted to prevent the Serb forces from beating the prisoners.
The third accused, former JNA captain Miroslav Radić, was acquitted of all charges and no appeal was filed by the Prosecution.

The Prosecution brought four grounds of appeal against the Trial Judgement with regards to Mrkšić and Šljivančanin, one of which was allowed, two of which were granted in part and one of which was dismissed. All eleven counts of appeal filed by Mrkšić and all six filed by Šljivančanin were dismissed by the Appeals Chamber.

The Appeals Chamber found that the Trial Chamber erred in acquitting Šljivančanin of aiding and abetting the murder of 194 people at Ovčara farm. The judges found that “upon learning of the order to withdraw the JNA troops from Mr. Mrkšić … the only reasonable inference is that Mr. Šljivančanin was aware that the TOs and paramilitaries would likely kill the prisoners of war and that if he failed to act, his omission would assist in the murder of the prisoners”, Presiding Judge Theodor Meron said in the courtroom.

Judge Meron emphasised that the Appeals Chamber considered “…that Mr. Šljivančanin was under a duty to protect the prisoners of war held at Ovčara and that this responsibility included the obligation not to allow the transfer of custody of the prisoners of a war to anyone without first satisfying himself that they would not be harmed. Mr. Mrkšić’s order to withdraw the JNA troops did not relieve him of his position as an officer of the JNA”.

 Although Šljivančanin no longer had de jure authority over the troops deployed at Ovčara, the Appeals Chamber found that “…in certain circumstances an officer may be required, within the limits of his capacity to act, to go beyond his de jure authority to counteract an illegal order”.

In considering the adequacy of the five-year sentence imposed on Šljivančanin, the Appeals Chamber considered the gravity of the crimes and the consequences of torture upon the victims and their families.

“These crimes were characterised by extreme cruelty and brutality towards the prisoners of war, some of whom may have been previously injured as they had been taken from the Vukovar hospital,” said Judge Meron. 

The initial indictment against Mrkšić, Šljivančanin and Radić was issued on 7 November 1995. Mrkšić has been in the Tribunal’s custody since 15 May 2002 and Šljivančanin since 1 July 2003. Šljivančanin was granted provisional release starting 11 December 2007 until 4 May 2009. Credit will be given for the time already spent in detention. The two convicts will remain in the Tribunal’s Detention Unit pending the allocation of States in which sentences will be enforced.

Since its establishment the Tribunal has indicted 161 persons for serious violations of humanitarian law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001.  Proceedings against 119 have been concluded.


Summary of judgement:

English - http://www.icty.org/x/cases/mrksic/acjug/en/appeals_judgement_summary_090505.pdf

An information sheet providing a review of the case can be found at:

Courtroom proceedings can be followed on the Tribunal’s website www.icty.org.

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

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