Serbian loses appeal against UN war crimes tribunal decision to transfer case

28 March 2007

The United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia today dismissed the appeal of a former Serbian military commander indicted over his role in the 1991 attacks against the world-renowned historical district of the Croatian city, Dubrovnik, after he had contested the decision to refer his case to Serbian authorities.

The United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia today dismissed the appeal of a former Serbian military commander indicted over his role in the 1991 attacks against the world-renowned historical district of the Croatian city, Dubrovnik, after he had contested the decision to refer his case to Serbian authorities.

The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), sitting in The Hague, ruled that the Tribunal’s referral bench was correct last November to transfer the case of Vladimir Kovacevic to Serbia.

Mr. Kovacevic, 46, was indicted in 2003 on six counts of violating the laws or customs of war, including murder, cruel treatment and unlawful attacks on civilian objects.

Those charges relate to the attacks on the extensive shelling of Dubrovnik’s Old Town district, which has World Heritage List protection, in late 1991, during which Yugoslav National Army forces killed or wounded numerous civilians.

An analysis by the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments and the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which manages the World Heritage List, found that more than 68 per cent of buildings in the Old Town were damaged by projectiles during the attacks. A separate study estimated the cost of restoring the Old Town at almost $10 million.

Mr. Kovacevic, also known as “Rambo,” was provisionally released to Serbia in June 2004 and last year the Tribunal ruled that, given his poor mental health, he was unfit to enter a plea or stand trial.

The referral bench concluded that Serbia has the mechanisms in place for Mr. Kovacevic’s health to be monitored and for proceedings against him to resume should he become fit to stand trial.

Under the ruling the ICTY Registrar has to transfer all material relating to Mr. Kovacevic’s indictment to Serbia within 30 days, and the Prosecutor then has to file regular reports to the Tribunal on the progress being made by Serbian prosecutors.

ICTY prosecutors also have to ensure that the case is being monitored appropriately by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

In their unsuccessful appeal, defence lawyers had argued that the Tribunal had not given sufficient weight to earlier submissions about Mr. Kovacevic’s mental health and had erred in identifying the applicable Serbian laws.

So far the ICTY has transferred nine accused to Bosnia and Herzegovina for trial and referred one case involving two accused to Croatia. Mr. Kovacevic is the first case to be referred to Serbia.