A Proposal to Compensate the Acquitted and Promote Reconciliation in the Balkans

by Alex Fielding, @alexpfielding on twitter

In light of the ongoing Seselj drama following the disqualification of Judge Harhoff for his pro-conviction bias (see my earlier post here and recent developments here) and the controversial acquittals of Momcilo Perisic, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac by the ICTY Appeals Chamber, and those of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic at trial, I keep coming back to the question of compensation for acquitted persons for the years spent in detention. While this may not, on its face, be a popular proposition for human rights activists and a general public whose primary concern is ‘ending impunity’, consider the following figures.

Momcilo Perisic, Photo: ICTY

According to my calculations, Momcilo Perisic, former Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army, spent approximately 4 years, 5 months and 10 days in detention prior to his acquittal on appeal on 28 February 2013 (note that these figures are NOT including the periods of provisional release from the ICTY’s detention facility in The Hague, which in Perisic’s case amounted to an additional 3.5 years).

Ante Gotovina, former Colonel General of the Croatian Army and Commander of ‘Operation Storm’, spent approximately 6 years, 11 months and 12 days in detention prior to his acquittal on appeal on 16 November 2012.  His co-accused Mladen Markac, former Operational Commander of the Croatian Special Police, spent 5 years, 7 months and 12 days in detention prior to his acquittal on appeal.

Ante Gotovina & Mladen Markac, Photo: Guardian

Ante Gotovina & Mladen Markac, Photo: Guardian

Including time spent on provisional release (I couldn’t find the relevant detention figures that do NOT include provisional release), it took 10 years from the time Jovica Stanisic, former Chief of the Serbian State Security Service, was sent to the ICTY to his acquittal at trial on 30 May 2013.  His co-accused Franko Simatovic, member of the Serbian State Security Service, waited 9 years, 11 months and 19 days for his acquittal at trial. Both men have been released pending the Prosecution’s appeal. They have also submitted arguments on appeal to the effect that the trial judgment was tainted by the bias of one of the sitting judges on the case, Judge Harhoff, but more on this later.

Vojislav Seselj, former President of the Serbian Radical Party, has already spent 10 years, 8 months and 25 days in detention (although 4 years and 9 months were a result of his three convictions for contempt of court) as he awaits a trial judgment that may be fatally flawed. Closing arguments wrapped up in March 2012 and the judgment had been scheduled for delivery on 30 October 2013 but then Judge Harhoff was disqualified for bias on 28 August 2013. Since there was no reserve judge in this case, the acting President of the ICTY Judge Agius controversially appointed Judge Niang to replace Judge Harhoff on 31 October 2013, even though he was not present during the entirety of the trial itself.

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