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Public Prosecutor v. M.P. et al.

Court District Court in Zadar, Croatia (Hrvatska)
Case number K. 74/96
Decision title Verdict
Decision date 24 April 1997
  • Public Prosecutor
  • M.P. (Momčilo Perišić)
  • M.P. (Milić Potpara)
  • I.B. (Ilija Branković)
  • S.V. (Stojan Vučković)
  • N.G. (Nikola Germanac)
  • S.C. (Spasoje Čojić)
  • D.G. (Duško Gojković)
  • P.T. (Predrag Tasić)
  • Z.B. (Željko Batinić)
  • S.D. (Saša ðurović)
  • S.G. (Senaid Grba)
  • M.R. (Mile Rudić)
  • D.J. (Dragomir Jokić)
  • J.M. (Jovan Milivojević)
  • M.B. (Miroslav Bobić)
  • B.P. (Božo Perić)
  • A.L. (Aleksandar Lazarević)
  • M.M. (Mirko Marčeta)
  • N.F. (Nebojša Filipović)
Categories Crimes against humanity, War crimes
Keywords Law of armed conflict; former Yugoslavia; war crimes; command responsibility; crimes against humanity; Zadar; siege
Other countries involved
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
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The Zadar County Court of Croatia, in its verdict of 24 April 1997, convicted in absentia 19 officers of the so-called Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) for the siege of the city of Zadar, which caused the death of at least 30 civilians and the destruction of significant parts of the city – including facilities and objects of large economic and cultural significance – without any military necessity to do so. The officers were found guilty of war crimes against civilians and crimes against humanity, and sentenced to prison sentences that ranged – depending on their military rank and degree of control over the campaign and, specifically, the targeting of unlawful targets – from ten to 20 years. However, as they had left Croatia before the initial indictment, the convicted persons have not yet been caught.

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Procedural history

The District State Council of Zadar, by verdict no. KT - 49/92 dated 2 October 1996, brought charges against M.P. and the 18 other persons for war crimes against civilians. The suggestion for bringing charges against the accused while they were still at large was accepted, and by the extra-judiciary procedure of the Council of the Court (no. Kv 217/96), dated 10 October 1996, it was decided that the case could be heard. All the accused had officially appointed defence attorneys. Upon the accomplished process the representative of the general prosecutor requested the Court to find all the accused guilty, and to prosecute them according to the law.

At the moment of the verdict, all accused were still at large (as they had fled the country); hence, they could not be interrogated during the investigative procedure.

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Related developments

Perišić was member of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition government at the time of the verdict (he later became deputy prime minister), and Serbia refused to extradite him. He was arrested on 15 March 2002 by Serbian military authorities on suspicion of espionage and collaboration with the CIA, but was released soon after (although he was forced to resign from office). However, in February 2005, the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted him for his responsibility as superior for war crimes – other than those in the current case – and crimes against humanity (including murder and persecution) committed by Serbian troops, inter alia, during the Srebrenica massacre and the siege of Sarajevo. Perišić surrendered to the Tribunal in May 2005. On 6 September 2011, he was found guilty for most of the charges and the Tribunal sentenced him to 27 years’ imprisonment; however, in appeal, Perišić was ultimately acquitted on 28 February 2013 because it could not be established beyond a reasonable doubt that he had had, in fact, effective control over the (para)military forces responsible for the crimes committed.

Lazarević was arrested by the border police of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) on 29 October 2013, when he tried to cross the border with Serbia. He was then extradited to Croatia; on 2 April 2014, his retrial before the Split County court commenced.

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Legally relevant facts

During the armed conflict between Yugoslavia and the Republic of Croatia (1991-1995), the Yugoslav army, inter alia, besieged the city of Zadar. Missiles and anti-aircraft missiles were fired at civilian buildings, killing at least 30 civilians and destroying significant parts of the city. The accused in the current case, who were all members of the Yugoslav army, were believed to have been involved in these allegedly unlawful attacks.

Momčilo Perišić, as colonel in the JNA and as commander of the Artillery School Centre in Zadar, along with Milić Potpara (colonel and his deputy) and Ilija Branković (lieutenant and acting head of the department for the regulations of targeting), selected the targets and gave orders concerning the kind of weapons used for hitting the targets. Orders were then given to StojanVučković (lieutenant and commander of the School for Reserve Officers) whose unit was located in Biljani Gornji (area of Debelo Brdo), Spasoje Čojić (lieutenant-colonel and deputy commander of the School of Reserve Officers), Božo Perić (captain first class and lecturer of war tactics, who calculated coordinates for targeting), Aleksandar Lazarević (captain and commander of the howitzer battery), Mirko Marčeta(lieutenant and platoon commander), and Nebojša Filipović(lieutenant and platoon commander), to shell the targets in Zadar and the close-by area. The orders were executed by firing at the whole area of the city, including the historic area of the city and its surroundings, with numerous highly destructive missiles. More specific events include Vučković’s phone call to Perišić that he had “an excellent target", marking target no.72 (the churches of St. Donat and St. Stosija) on his map of city targets, after which Perišić ordered gun fire targeting the churches. In addition, on 22 September 1991, in the early morning hours, Duško Gojković (lieutenant and commander of the unit accommodated in the army barracks "Ante Banina"), ordered the firing of 120 mm artillery shells on the city, the building of the Youth Holiday Association, factory "TIZ", and the residence area called Vruljica, killing at least two civilians while at the same time, Predrag Tasić (lieutenant of the same unit) personally opened gun fire against the sky scrapers close to the army barracks. Furthermore, at the end of September 1991, Željko Batinić and Saša ðurović (both colonels and commanders of 130 mm gun platoons) gave orders for shelling the city of Zadar and surroundings, and at the end of September and the beginning of October 1991, Senaid Grba (captain 1st class and commander of the howitzer battery (six 120 mm calibre howitzers)), together with Mile Rudić (lieutenant and platoon commander), gave orders for targeting civilian objects in Murvica, Brisevo, Islam Latinski and Zadar, after which the building of the Youth Holiday Association and some areas of the peninsula were hit. Moreover, in September 1991, Vučković gave orders – using the coordinates given by Dragomir Jokić (lieutenant, in command of the computer centre) – to target the Maslenica bridge, after which Jovan Milivojevićpersonally fired with the 130 mm howitzer cannon at the city of Zadar, hitting those selected targets. Lastly, in October 1991, Miroslav Bobić (captain and commander of the gun unit in Biljani Gornji) personally fired a 100 mm cannon at the church in Nadin after Jokić had confirmed the coordinates.

For these actions, all the accused had allegedly violated the laws of war, gave orders for attacks and personally executed several attacks against civilians and civilian settlements, randomly fired at civilians, destroyed civilian objects, all of which could not be justified by military necessity. Therefore, they were charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes (p. 3).

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Core legal questions

Has the law of war principle of military necessity been violated and, if this is the case, can any or all of the 19 defendants – all members of the JNA – be held criminally responsible for unjustifiable attacks on the city of Zadar, thereby committing war crimes and crimes against humanity?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

Hague Convention (IV), 1907:

  • Article 25 - Means of injuring the enemy, sieges, and bombardments

Geneva Convention (IV), 1949:

  • Article 3 - Conflicts not of an international character

Additional Protocol (II) to the Geneva Conventions, 1977:

  • Article 13 - Protection of the civilian population

  • Article 14 - Protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population
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Court's holding and analysis

As the defendants were not present during the trial, the District Court merely needed to assess the evidence before it. It found this evidence sufficient to come to the conclusion that the defendants had indeed intentionally targeted civilians and civilian objects (notable was Perišić’s promotion to General after the Zadar campaign; also, during the promotion event he gave a speech and accused all the Croats who refused to take part in the shelling of Zadar of being “ustashas” (members of a racist, fascist and anti-Serb movement that had allegedly committed genocide by killing Serbs, Jews and Roma people during WWII). Therefore, all 19 defendants were convicted for issuing and transmitting orders to subordinates to indiscriminately and repeatedly open fire with mortars, anti-aircraft machine guns, howitzers, and cannons, which were all directed at civilian facilities in all regions of Zadar and its surrounding area, although there was no operational or military necessity to do so. The combat operations resulted in the death of at least 30 civilians, and massive damage was inflicted on more than 120 civilian objects, as well as on facilities which were of great cultural, monumental and economic significance. 

The defendants were sentenced to the following prison sentences: Momčilo Perišić, Milić Potpara, Ilija Branković, Stojan Vučković, Nikola Germanac and Spasoje Čojić to 20 years in prison; Duško Gojković and Miroslav Bobić to 15 years; Senaid Grba, Mile Rudić and Aleksandar Lazarević to 14 years; Predrag Tasić, Željko Batinić, Saša ðurović, Dragomir Jokić and Božo Perić to 13 years; Mirko Marčeta and Nebojša Filipović to 12 years; and Jovan Milivojević to ten years in prison.

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

ICTY, Trial Chamber I, The Prosecutor v. Momčilo Perišić, Case No. IT-04-81-T, Judgment, 6 September 2011.

ICTY, Appeals Chamber, The Prosecutor v. Momčilo Perišić, Case No. IT-04-81-A, Judgment, 28 February 2013.

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Additional materials

‘Serbian deputy PM ‘detained’’, BBC News.

M. Simons, ‘Court on Crimes in Former Yugoslavia Hits Its Stride’, International New York Times, 15 May 2005.

Biweekly Report on War Crime Trials – Just before marking the Day of Remembrance, the Vukovar City Statute has been amended - the city is now declared a place of special reverence, Cyrillic script is “thrown out”’, Documenta, 15 November 2013.

Biweekly Report on War Crime Trials - Completed hearing in the trial by mutual genocide lawsuits between Croatia and Serbia’, Documenta, 18 April 2014.