skip navigation

Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Veiz Bjelić

Court Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Case number X-KR-07/430-1
Decision title Verdict
Decision date 28 March 2008
  • Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Veiz Bjelić
Categories Torture, War crimes
Keywords Torture; war crimes; war crimes against civilians; war crimes against prisoners of war; Štala prison; Vlasenica
back to top


Veiz Bjelić was born on 12 September 1949 in Vlasenica. In the period from June 1992 to 26 January 1993, he was a prison guard in the “Štala” prison where Serb civilians and members of the armed forces who no longer participated in the fighting, were detained. During that time, Bjelić repeatedly raped one female person and threatened to kill her if she would tell it to someone. He also led soldiers of the Territorial Defence of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina to enter the prison, where they subsequently abused Serb civilians both physically and mentally.

Bjelić was found guilty on 28 March 2003 and was sentenced to six years imprisonment.

back to top

Procedural history

On 22 November 2007, an indictment against Veiz Bjelić and Ferid Hodžić was issued. The alleged crimes included war crimes against civilians (killings, torture, inhumane treatment, rape) and war crimes against prisoners of war (murder, torture, inhumane treatment, causing of great suffering or serious injury to bodily integrity or health).

On 29 November 2007, the indictment was confirmed.

On 8 January 2008, a plea hearing was held and Bjelić and Hodžić pleaded not guilty.

On 12 March 2008, the trial commenced.

On 25 March 2008, Bjelić concluded a guilty plea agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bjelić pleaded guilty to all offences in the indictment. A sentence ranging between five and seven years was proposed in the agreement.

back to top

Legally relevant facts

Bjelić was a prison guard in the prison known as “Štala” in the period from June 1992 to 26 January 1993. In the Štala prison located in Rovaši in the Vlasenica municipality, Serb civilians and prisoners of war were detained for seven months in inhumane conditions, and were exposed to inhumane treatment by the soldiers of the Territorial Defence Force of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (RBiH). The soldiers of the RBiH Territorial Defence insulted and did beat the prisoners of war and Serb civilians, inflicted severe physical and mental pain on six persons, while one person died as a result of the injuries sustained.

Bjelić allegedly forced a person to a sexual intercourse, repeatedly raped one female person and then threatened to kill her if she would tell anyone about the rape. In addition, Bjelić aided and abetted soldiers of the RBiH Territorial Defence to physically and mentally abuse Serb civilians. Bjelić did not report these actions to his superior officer but rather restored everything into the previous state, knowing that the soldiers would return and inflict physical and mental pain on the civilians.

back to top

Core legal questions

Was Veiz Bjelić guilty of war crimes against prisoners of war and war crimes against prisoners of war?

Were the principles of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions applicable to the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

back to top

Specific legal rules and provisions

Geneva Convention (III), 1949:

  • Article 4(A) - Prisoners of war

  • Article 121 - Prisoners killed or injured in special circumstances

Geneva Convention (IV), 1949:

  • Article 3(1)(a) and (c) - Conflicts not of an international character

  • Article 27 - Treatment I. General observations

Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 1950, Council of Europe:

  • Article 7 - No punishment without law

Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2003:

  • Article 3 - Principle of Legality
  • Article 4 - Time Constraints Regarding Applicability

  • Article 39 - The Purpose of Punishment

  • Article 42 - Imprisonment

  • Article 49 - Reduction of Punishment

  • Article 50 - Limitations in Reduction of Punishments

  • Article 53 - Concurrence of Criminal Offences

  • Article 173(1)(c) and (e) - War Crimes against Civilians

  • Article 175(1)(a) - War Crimes against Prisoners of War

  • Article 180(1) - Individual Criminal Responsibility

Criminal Procedure Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2006:

  • Article 188(4) - Costs of Proceedings when the Accused is Found Guilty

  • Article 198(2) - Ruling on the Claims under Property Law

  • Article 231(4) - Plea Bargaining
back to top

Court's holding and analysis

On 28 March 2008, following a plea agreement, the Court of BiH ordered a separation of proceedings. The proceedings against Hodžić continued under case number X-KR-07/430, while the proceedings against Veiz Bjelić continued under case number X-KR-07/430-1.

After considering that the plea agreement was signed consciously and voluntarily, and that Bjelić fully understood the agreement and its consequences, the Court accepted the guilty plea agreement (pp. 4-5).

As Bjelić was charged with violations of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions (applicable to international armed conflicts with the exception of common Article 3), the Court discussed the application of their provisions to the internal armed conflict between the Territorial Defence of BiH and the army of the Serb Republic of BiH. The Court held that the ‘basic principles, including the fundamental obligations and prohibitions of the Geneva Conventions, have become part of international customary law applicable to internal armed conflicts’ and ‘were part of the law applicable to the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the period covered by the indictment’ (p. 7). According to the Court, these principles included the obligations and prohibitions contained in Article 121 of the Third Geneva Convention and Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention for violations Bjelić was charged with (p. 8).

With respect to the criminal offences, the Court was satisfied that the acts were committed in violation of international law (pp. 10-13), that they took place during an armed conflict (pp. 13-14), that the acts of Bjelić were connected to the armed conflict (pp. 14-15), and that Bjelić committed the criminal offences (pp. 15-18). After assessing the evidence, the Court concluded that Bjelić ‘acted with direct intent, knowingly and willingly’ and was criminally responsible for the offences (p. 19).

Therefore, the Court sentenced Bjelić to six years in prison.

back to top

Further analysis

Bureau Of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor, ‘2008 Human Rights Report: Bosnia and Herzegovina’, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2009.

back to top

Instruments cited

back to top

Additional materials

Case Information - Veiz Bjelić’, Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina.

‘Bosnia Muslim Pleads Guilty To Serb Crimes’, BalkanInsight, 26 March 2008.

Veiz Bjelić sentenced to compound sentence of 6 years of imprisonment’, Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, 28 March 2008.

Sud BiH: Veiz Bjelić osuđen na jedinstvenu kaznu zatvora u trajanju od šest godina’, Klix, 28 March 2008.

back to top

Social media links

‘Bjelic: Ending agony’, Justice Report, 28 March 2008.