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Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Radovan Stankovic

Court Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Section I for War Crimes, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Case number X-KR-05/70
Decision title Verdict
Decision date 14 November 2006
  • Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Radovan Stankovic
Categories Crimes against humanity
Keywords crimes against humanity, torture, enslavement, imprisonment, rape, sexual violence
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Radovan Stankovic, member of a Serb battalion during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995), was initially indicted by the ICTY Prosecutor for his alleged involvement in crimes against humanity in 1996 and 1999. However, his case was ultimately referred to the Court in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2005.

He was charged with crimes against humanity, as he was accused of having set up a detention centre for (often underaged) women, having incited other soldiers to rape detainees, and having coerced several detainees into forced labour and sexual intercourse. The Court heavily relied on witness statements to determine that he was guilty of four of the six charges, stating that the statements were clear and consistent. Stankovic was sentenced to sixteen years' imprisonment on 14 November 2006.

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Procedural history

Radovan Stankovic was indicted by the ICTY prosecutor, together with seven others, on 26 June 1996 (amended on 7 October 1999 and 20 April 2001). After his  apprehension, an indictment charging him individually was filed on 3 March 2003 (amended on 8 December 2003). On 17 May 2005, the Referral Bench of the ICTY referred the case to the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). On 1 September 2005, the Appeals Chamber dismissed Stankovic's appeal against the referral.

The Court of BiH found Stankovic guilty for crimes against humanity (enslavement, imprisonment, torture, rape: Articles 172(1)(c), (e), (f) and (g) of the Criminal Code of BiH) by:

  1. Establishing a detention centre ("Karaman’s House"), detaining at least nine female persons and inciting soldiers to rape them.
  2. Compelling detainees to forced labour, inside and outside of the detention center.
  3. Repeatedly raping a detainee, compelling her to forced labour at several locations and having her witness him raping her under aged sister.
  4. Raping and abusing the under aged sister.
  5. Raping a detainee at another detention centre (abandoned by prosecution at main hearing, held on 27 October 2006).
  6. Forcibly taking a female patient from a hospital in Foča and raping her.
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Related developments

On appeal, the Appellate Panel confirmed the verdict, but considered a 20 year sentence, instead of the 16 years rendered by the Trial Panel, to be more appropriate and reflexive of the gravity of the crimes committed.

On 25 March 2007, Radovan Stankovic escaped from the Foča prison where he was serving his sentence. His brother Ranko was sentenced to two-year imprisonment for facilitating Radovan’s escape. Interpol issued a warrant for Radovan Stankovic’s arrest and he was apprehended on 21 January 2012. On 24 December 2012, he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for using force while escaping.

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Legally relevant facts

During the war in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (RBiH), Stankovic was a member of the Miljevina battalion in the period between April 1992 to February 1993. 

He was accused of having set up, together with others, a detention centre for women in August 1992 (‘Karaman’s House’ or ‘the Brothel’), where they forced several detainees into sexual intercourse and forced labour, under repeated insults and violence. Also, he was alleged to have incited other soldiers to rape and abuse the detainees, of having detained one of the detainees at more than one location until early November 1992, and of forcibly taking a female patient from a hospital in Foča and raping her in his apartment, after which he returned her to the hospital.

These acts were allegedly carried out as part of a widespread and systematic attack of the army of the Serb RBiH, police and paramilitary formations against the non-Serb population of the Foča Municipality.

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Core legal questions

The Court had to establish whether the conditions of Article 172(1), (c), (e), (f) and (g) of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CC BiH) had been fulfilled (p. 18, under para. 5). Thus, it had to establish:

  • Whether there was sufficient proof that Stankovic had committed the crimes as put forward in the indictment;
  • Whether a widespread or systematic attack targeting any civilian population existed;
  • Whether there was knowledge of such an attack by the perpetrator;
  • Whether the action of the perpetrator was part of the attack; and
  • Whether there was a nexus between the act of the accused and the attack against civilian population.
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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Articles 3, 4 and 172(1)(c), (e), (f) and (g) of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CC BiH).
  • Article 2.2 of the BiH Constitution.
  • Article 7(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights.
  • Artcle 15(1) and (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • Article 5 of the ICTY Statute.

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Court's holding and analysis

The Court referred to Kunarac et al. to establish the occurrence of a widespread and systematic attack against non-Serb civilian population in Foča. As a member of the Miljevina Battalion, present in the area, the Court considered Stankovic had been aware of the widespread and systematic attack and of his acts being part of the attack (p. 18). Regarding the charges set out in counts one to four, the Court established Stankovic’s guilt in enslaving, imprisoning, torturing and raping several women. He was also found guilty of inciting soldiers to rape these detainees (pp. 24-25). The Court based its judgment primarily on witness statements, both separately and holistically, which it considered ‘clear and convincing’ evidence of Stankovic's guilt (pp. 24-26; and 30). With regard to the sixth count (of raping a hospital patient), however, the Court found the testimonies to be too imprecise to be able to establish Stankovic’s guilt (pp. 35-36).

The Court considered the CC BiH, which was adopted after the crimes set out in the indictment were committed, could still be applied in the case without violating the prohibition of retroactive application. It considered that crimes against humanity constituted a criminal offence in the critical period, as it could be classified as a ‘general principle of international law’; moreover, the acts were also recognised as criminal under Yugoslavian (CC SFRY) law at the time they were committed (p. 34).

Stankovic was sentenced to sixteen years of imprisonment.

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Further analysis

The case of Radovan Stankovic was the first case to be referred to the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the ICTY. Within legal doctrine, the desirability of this development has been discussed. Stankovic’s escape was considered by many to be a setback for the endeavour to refer cases to courts of countries were the human rights violations occurred. A commentary on the ICTY jurisprudence regarding the atrocities at Foča has been provided by Matteo Fiori. Also, the fact that the trial was closed to the general public and the press gave rise to discussion.

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Instruments cited

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Additional materials

The Court provided a case information sheet, including press releases. The media commented on the case being referred to the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of BiH.  The fact that Stankovic has shown ‘courtroom defiance’, both at the ICTY and at the Court of BiH, caught media attention.