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Croatian Trials in Absentia for War Crimes ‘Cause Concerns’

Two-thirds of the war crimes trials in Croatia involve defendants who are not in the country and are being prosecuted in their absence, raising concerns about judicial fairness, NGO Documenta said in a new report.

In 2022, there were 61 war crimes cases in the Croatian courts, but in 41 of them the defendants were being trial in absentia as they mostly live in Serbia, the Croatian NGO Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past, said at the launch on Wednesday of its annual report on the monitoring of war crimes trials.

“For years, the weakness of regional cooperation and the impossibility of proceedings in the presence of the defendant has been a concern,” the head of Documenta, Vesna Terselic, said at the launch event at the House of Human Rights in the Croatian capital Zagreb.

The report focuses on the problems of trials in absentia, the lack of international cooperation and the insufficient transparency of Croatian judicial institutions.

Terselic said that after more than 30 years since the beginning of the 1990s wars, new investigations are being opened and the number of trials is large, but inadequately run and often not transparent.

She said it is increasingly difficult to get information from the judicial authorities about ongoing trials, as well as about trials that have finished.

She said that even though the State Attorney’s Office is working to improve its database and has announced that part of the database will be available to the public, this has not happened.

She also pointed out the problem of anonymisation of verdicts, when defendants are only identified by initials. This means that even the judgments published on the Supreme Court’s website are difficult for the general public and the media to fully understand.

She noted that after Croatia’s accession to the European Union, there has been a stagnation in the quality of prosecutions and trials, while state attorney’s offices and courts lack the capacities to review and investigate unsolved war crimes cases.

Veselinka Kastratovic, a researcher and legal adviser for Documenta, noted that nearly three decades after the war in Croatia ended, it is becoming harder to locate the remaining missing persons.

“The more time goes on, as with experiences after the World War Two, the more difficult the work on processing, researching, and searching for the missing will become,” said Kastratovic.

She also argued for better cooperation between the war crimes prosecutor’s offices in Croatia and Serbia to ensure better-quality indictments, arguing that it is important to stop politicising the victims and regarding them as “‘our’ victims and ‘theirs’”.

Source : BalkanInsight