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"Safe house" project report on perspectives of the Amnesty law in Yugoslavia

(This report is compiled of excerpts from talks that Bojan Toncic, a journalist of Belgrade daily "Danas" conducted with various experts and concerned persons in Belgrade.)

Yugoslav public was recently shocked with the information that father of the soldier who died in the war, killed the man who brought to his son a draft call. That is how the duty of people who were delivering draft calls during the war, with more or less responsibility, got another dimension.

Amnesty is the central issue, without any doubts for thousands of young people who went abroad before the war started, or are still somewhere in their hometowns, hiding in fear from imprisonment. Lawyers authorized by parents every day find out that charges are raised against their clients, but even a statement from military courts that potential "deserter" is not in danger does not mean that they will not face investigation soon. Even in the proceedings which are started after the abolition of the state of war, the war mix of Criminal Procedure Law and regulations of FRY Government will be applied. For evading "draft calls" by failing to register a new residence for example, this combination of regulations threatens with even 20 years of imprisonment, which is a replacement for death penalty.

Biljana Kovacevic Vuco, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights says that "international community missed to force FR Yugoslavia into the obligation of introducing the Act of amnesty while making and adopting resolution of security council of United Nations number 1244, which was unexpected and unacceptable". Kovacevic also reminds that in 1996 Yugoslavia brought the Act of Amnesty and pardoned all those who did not respond to the draft calls during war from 1991-1995, committing to the obligation from the Dayton peace agreement.

On the other hand general Milos Gojkovic, president of the Supreme Military Court says "We do not have other fatherland. My attitude towards amnesty is that it will be a step in wrong direction, because some people did not do their patriotic and constitutional obligation and some were killed. It will be unjust, especially for innocent victims who were killed during aggression. Never before it was more necessary to defend the country than it was then when we were attacked without any reasons, only because we were not willing to accept occupation of our country. On one hand we could be human enough to forgive those who did not do what they should have done, but on the other hand it will be inhuman to the others who did their patriotic duty."

Colonel Ratko Korlat, president of the Military court in Belgrade, announced that this court deals with 2400 charges and 1900 cases under investigation.

However, lawyer Jovan Buturovic, retired judge of Supreme Military Court, stresses that these numbers represent figures only for the area covered by the First Army and that the largest number of cases were opened in Montenegro (Second Army) and in south Serbia (Third Army) where there was a massive mobilization. Non government organizations usually claim that there are from 23000 till 27000 of these cases.

Buturovic says that "such an number of court cases opens the problem for prosecution, because it opens the way for the selective approach and at the same time it gives the space for corruption and abuse. In most cases the accused were in situation to get "lawyer on duty", who were not serious defenders. Many of lawyers get to the lists of official defenders because of ideological loyalty" describes Buturovic.

In an interview twenty three years old student from Belgrade who insisted to be anonymous, said that "for him war is still not over. School year will begin for me only when I realize that no one is chasing me and that I can walk streets freely not afraid of "draft calls". I think about illegal escape from the country, but this could be very risky. So for the moment my destiny is a cellar in my home and I have to keep my calmness, although I am losing patience - says our interviewee who is even frightened to see a doctor, despite his deep depression.

Among his cases, lawyer Branko Stanic distinguishes the case of Boban Simonovic, twenty seven year old craftsman from Resnik, who has been convicted to a year-long prison term for "not responding to the draft call and avoiding the military service". Simonovic responded to a mobilization call with 15 days of delay, and Military Court of Belgrade military district refused to consider Boban's defense in which he stated that he learned about the call-up from his severely ill father only a week after the call came, and that afterwards he has been unsuccessfully trying to find his unit which was constantly changing its position. Supreme military court confirmed the verdict of the first degree court, stating that this punishment was proportional to the social danger of committed act and to the degree of criminal responsibility.

Request for amnesty for the people who refused to take part in the war involves also those sentenced during previous wars for the same "crime" and before convicted members of some religious communities. The regime parties consider these "traitors" very precious for their rhetoric of "patriotiosm".

Part of the opposition put itself in an ambivalent position, as Draskovic's Serbian renewal movement who is talking in favor of amnesty, but not missing any opportunity to accuse Zoran Dindic as a deserter. Despite very clear attitude towards the last war as meaningless and admitting war crimes committed in the name of Serbian people (speeches of Milan St. Protic and Vuk Obradovic for example), the Alliance for Change (the broadest opposition coalition that is organizing the current protests) does not pose a demand for the amnesty for the people who rejected to take a part in it. It seems that opposition is flirting with pieces of war tradition among Serbs, even though citizens protests all over Serbia, especially in towns which had the highest rate of mobilized and victims such as Vranje, Leskovac or Kraljevo, clearly showed that Milosevic is not blamed for defeats anymore, but for decisions to get involved in all these fratricidal wars.

Goran Vesic, an official of the Democratic party, sentenced to two years for draft evasion describes military judiciary as a parallel legal system without any control of the civil jurisdiction. Vesic also stresses that "there is a completely different situation in Montenegro, for their government has never accepted the state of war, nor the sentences related to it. Both the independent media and the Montenegrian government television consider that this problem needs to be solved in the context of redefinition of the relationship within the Yugoslav federation. There were some drastic sentences in Montenegro too, but the citizens are not in fear that they will be arrested for their military offences by the civil police, and military police is not able to do it" concludes Goran Vesic.


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