Belgrade Higher Court, where war crime trials take place. Photo: BIRN.
The Humanitarian Law Centre said on Wednesday that the war crimes prosecutor’s office has rejected its complaint, filed last month, about the abduction of Mato and Ivica Abjanovic, two Croats from the Serbian village of Morovic in the northern Vojvodina region, during the war in 1991.
“The HLC considers the disappearance of Abjanovic brothers to be a crime against humanity, committed as part of a systematic attack on Vojvodina Croats,” the organisation said in a press release.
The HLC said that Croats in Vojvodina were, over an extended period of time from 1991 to 1995, exposed to organised pressures conducted with the knowledge of Serbian authorities.
But it said that the war crimes prosecutor’s office rejected the criminal complaint on the grounds that it violated the “principle of legality”, meaning that Serbian legislature did not recognise crimes against humanity as a felony at the time the crime was committed.
The HLC said it disagrees, saying that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights which Serbia ratified in 2004, say that the prinicple of legality is not breached if the crime was defined as such by national or international legislation.
It said that a crime against humanity was defined as a felony by the Charter of the International Military Tribunal. Also known as the Nuremberg Charter, this 1945 document defined the rules by which the Nuremberg trials for crimes during World War II were to be conducted.
In 1968 the UN General Assembly also adopted a Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, which the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, SFRJ ratified in 1970.
The Convention says that crimes against humanity are not subject to statutes of limitation, regardless of whether they violate the legislature of the country in which they are committed.
“Therefore, Serbia, as a successor of the SFRJ, is obliged to process a crime against humanity… that was committed in 1991,” the HLC said.
The war crimes prosecutor’s office did not reply to BIRN’s inquiry by the time of publication.