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Bosnia & Herzegovina: UN experts raise alarm on imminent release of a man convicted of genocide

GENEVA (19 November 2014) – A group of United Nations human rights experts* today have raised the alarm over the potential imminent release of Mr. Milorad Trbic, who was convicted in 2009 by the Bosnian State Court of committing genocide in Srebrenica and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The experts’ call comes after the Bosnian Constitutional Court quashed the verdict and ordered a retrial, without questioning Mr. Trbic’s guilt. “There is a grave risk that the convicted criminal will flee to another jurisdiction, as happened recently in the case of war criminal Novak Đukić,” they warned.

The Constitutional Court has overruled over a dozen other convictions for war crimes and aiding genocide over the past year, following its highly questionable legal interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in Maktouf and Damjanović.  

“Each decision has led to a prisoner’s release pending retrial and retrials have led to much lower sentences,” they said. This is the first case that concerns someone convicted not for having aided but for having directly committed genocide, which makes the decision even more alarming.

The independent experts noted that the interests of justice clearly require that people convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious crimes, including torture and enforced disappearances, whose guilt is not in question, should not be released pending retrial and that punishment should be consistent with the gravity of the offence.

“Such decisions are a slap in the face for victims and pose serious challenges with regard to the protection of victims from violence, re-victimization and intimidation,” said the experts, who have previously engaged with the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina on these issues.

They also pointed out that “these decisions feed into a disturbing narrative propagated in some quarters that those convicted of war crimes and genocide have been unfairly targeted,” and warned that “this type of discourse seriously risks any prospects for reconciliation.”

“The release of convicted criminals undermines efforts made by the Bosnian State Court and the international community to achieve justice, especially in light of the wider failure by the Government to adopt and implement a comprehensive transitional justice strategy,” they said.

The experts called on the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to take all necessary steps to protect victims, ensure that their rights to truth and justice are respected and adopt a comprehensive transitional justice strategy as a matter of priority.

(*) The experts: Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Ariel Dulitzky, Chair-Rapporteur, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as ‘Special Procedures’, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system. ‘Special Procedures’ is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

Please read the Follow-up report to the recommendations made by the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances on its visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina (A/HRC/27/49.Add.2, pages 34 ff.) http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disappearances/Pages/Visits.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Bosnia and Herzegovina: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/BAIndex.aspx  

For more information and media requests, please contact Julia Raue (+41 22 917 9278 / jraue@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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