Warcrimes court cuts Serb's massacre sentence

8th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The international war crimes court on Wednesday cut seven years from the jail sentence of a Serbian ex-army officer related to the 1991 killing of about 200 people in Vukovar, Croatia.

The International Criminal Court overturned Veselin Sljivancanin's conviction for the murder of people who had taken refuge in a hospital during Croatia's independence war, but imposed a higher sentence for a torture conviction.

Sljivancanin, 57, was convicted of torture in September 2007 and sentenced to five years in jail.

In May 2009 this was increased to 17 years in jail on appeal when he was also convicted of murder.

Judge Theodor Meron quashed the second conviction after new evidence was presented to the court, in a first for The Hague-based court established in 1993.

"The Appeals Chamber vacates the additional conviction for murder," Meron said.

He imposed a new sentence of 10 years for torture, saying the initial five-year sentence "did not adequately reflect the level of gravity of these crimes".

The charges relate to the massacre of about 200 Croat and non-Serb men who were among hundreds of people who had taken refuge at a hospital when Vukovar came under siege by Serb forces at the start of the 1991-1995 war.

The 200 were taken from the hospital and meant to be exchanged with Serbian prisoners of war.

They were however locked into a hangar at Ovcara, close to the town, and beaten and killed by Serb paramilitary forces and self-defence units in November 1991.

Their bodies were thrown into a mass grave. It was the worst massacre of the conflict.

Vukovar was besieged for three months, during which more than 1,100 people died and the town virtually razed, making it one of the deadliest incidents of the war. It fell in November 1991.

Sljivancanin's defence presented as new evidence testimony from a former Yugoslav People's Army general that partially exonerated him.

Ex-general Miodrag Panic told the court on June 3 that Sljivancanin had not received an order to remove the Yugoslav People's Army troops who had been in charge of guarding the men who were later taken away and killed.

In reaction to the new jail term for torture, defence lawyer Novak Lukic told AFP, "Ten years is maybe a little bit big."

And in Croatia, the ruling provoked anger among Vukovar survivors.

"For crimes that he had committed in Vukovar, notably at Ovcara, he should have been jailed for life. I'm outraged," Vesna Bosanac, current and wartime head of the Vukovar hospital, said quoted by HINA news agency.

"The Hague(-based) tribunal has showed again that it is not just a tribunal," she added.

Danijel Rehak, the head of an association of Croatian detainees in Serb wartime camps, said that the "shock of families whose beloved ones were killed at Ovcara is unimaginable."

Rehak stressed that the court "made a crucial mistake by accepting a statement of a JNA officer to whom Sljivancanin was a commander. I cannot understand that."

President Ivo Josipovic warned in a statement that "regardless of Sljivancanin's sentence... those who have ordered crimes in Vukovar have not been punished yet."

Josipovic said he expected "that although now already late, those who have ordered horrible crimes in Vukovar and other massacre sites will be justly punished eventually."

© 2010 AFP

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