International Criminal Tribunal

The competence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) covers all cases of war crimes committed in the territory of the former SFRY, regardless of the victims' or perpetrators' citizenship.

The Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) has a professional, continued, constructive and interactive co-operation with the ICTY.

In November 2003, the OWCP initiated professional co-operation with the ICTY investigators. The OWCP efforts have resulted in the existing high level of co-operation with the ICTY investigators. As professional and expert bodies working towards the same goal, namely the prosecution of war criminals, the Offices of the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor and the ICTY Prosecutor exchange data, documents and witness statements collected throughout their investigations.

In this way, the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor has obtained extensive information/evidence, which provides a good starting point, not only for its investigative efforts, but also for substantial clarification of certain events that took place in Kosovo. Specifically, the ICTY investigators, being close to the sites of incidents, had access to relevant information/materials at the time of their investigations, and were therefore able to collect evidence and interrogate first-hand witnesses of the crimes. Owing to its co-operation with the UNMIK judicial authorities, the OWCP officials are now able to directly examine witnesses of Albanian nationality in Kosovo.

Co-operation with the Hague Tribunal has resulted in the following:

  • Transfer of the case addressing the 1992 Zvornik events from the ICTY to the OWCP competence;
  • Motion by ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte for the transfer of two ICTY cases - namely the case against the Vukovar Troika (Mrkšic, Šljivancanin and Radic), and that against Vladimir Kovacevic aka Rambo, accused of the 1991 Dubrivnik shelling - to the OWCP competence;
  • Numerous actions undertaken upon requests for assistance; and
  • As of 19 July 2006, permanent OWCP access to the ICTY databases.

Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT)

Full implementation of cooperation between the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) started in 2014. In the framework of his first working visit to the region in his capacity as MICT Chief Prosecutor, Justice Hassan Bubacar Jallow met the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor and his team. At a meeting held on 8 September 2014, the two Prosecutors outlined the scope of their cooperation in the context of the new Mechanism's envisaged role, namely successful completion of all outstanding ICTY cases, and gradual takeover of the ICTY functions - a process that should coincide with the completion of the remaining ICTY cases.

The Memorandum on Understanding, concluded between Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukčević and MICT Chief Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow on 8 September 2014, provides for the OWCP cooperation with the MICT.

The MICT Chief Prosecutor was also a participant of the international conference entitled The Palić Process - Regional Cooperation, Achievements and Commitments, Ten Years Later. The conference was organized under the OWCP auspices in Palić from 1 to 3 December 2014.

EU Delegation to Serbia

The EU Delegation to Serbia monitors and supports the OWCP activities aimed at the enhancement of regional cooperation. Particular EU attention and support are given to the implementation of the Protocol on Cooperation with the BH Prosecutor in Prosecuting Persons Suspected of War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and Genocide, signed in Brussels on 31 January 2013. The EU Delegation has been involved in the monitoring of war crimes trials through its support to the OSCE Serbia's monitoring project. 

The OWCP has adopted the EU Expert Mission's recommendation to design and implement - without undue delay and at the soonest possible time in 2015 - its prosecutorial strategy in line with the following principles:

  • OWCP impartiality and independence;

  • Focused investigation and prosecution;

  • Investigation against and prosecution of the most responsible perpetrators;

  • Prosecution of lower-ranking perpetrators responsible for particularly serious and high profile cases;

  • Focus on victims' interests;

  • Protection of witnesses;

  • Investigation and, as applicable, prosecution of offences under article 304 of the Criminal Procedure Code, as well as of any breaches of protective measures;

  • Compliance with the criteria established through the domestic and - as applicable - international court practices in this area;

  • Determination of case prioritization criteria (criminal offence; suspect's role; number of victims; crime location; evidence; availability of responsible individuals; maximum effectiveness in terms of prevention/deterrence);

  • Short-term estimations and, as needed, adjustments/corrections.

OWCP needs calling for the EU assistance:

Expert mission: EU expert support would preciously contribute to the implementation of the War Crimes Prosecution Strategy. While the OWCP and OSCE Mission are jointly engaged on defining the case prioritization criteria, the EU expert support would be most welcome given that the Strategy implementation should coincide with the process of Serbia's accession to the EU.

Development of adequate training schemes in line with the needs perceived, including the 'transversal' training programmes for the OWCP representatives, defence lawyers and judges;

Support to the enhancement of cooperation between the OWCP and police (i.e. Protection Unit and War Crimes Identification Unit) through training programmes developed on the basis of the EU experience in the relevant area.

Support to the Witness Assistance/Support Unit in line with the prosecutorial investigation concept, which implies extensive engagement of the OWCP temporal, material and human resources in witness support programmes aimed at obtaining maximum evidence/information relevant to particular cases.

The OWCP is trying to secure software programmes for the storage and effective search of data/evidence. All OWCP case files will be electronically scanned and grouped according to categories and prosecuting priorities.

Improvement of judicial communication and PR strategies is indispensable for the creation of a desired judicial system based on the criteria of responsibility - in terms of institutions and individuals - for the quality, fairness, operational effectiveness and appropriate utilization of the public resources allocated.

Participation in the development of the action plan in the framework of preperations for Chapter 23 - Judiciary and fundamental rights

In its screening report for Chapter 23 - Judiciary and fundamental rights, the European Commission gave the Republic of Serbia's judiciary five recommendations relevant to the war crimes area.

The report specifies that particular attention needs to be given to the effects realized through war crimes trials. This implies the evasion of impunity by ensuring that all charges, after being fully investigated, are prosecuted and sanctioned as appropriate.

It is important to secure the following: proportionality of judgments and equal treatment for all suspects, including in cases of high-ranking army officers allegedly involved in war crimes; stronger safety measures for witnesses and informants; upgraded support services for witnesses and informants; higher level of confidentiality in investigations, including in witness/informant testimonies.

The OWCP and Ministry of Justice have closely cooperated in the designing of activities that should respond to the aforementioned EC recommendations. 

Envisaged by the Serbian Government's Action Plan are some of the major activities that should affect the OWCP performance in the future. These are the following:

  • Strengthening of the OWCP capacities through the recruitment of new deputy prosecutors and assistant prosecutors;

  • Creation of the OWCP Strategy in the light of the ICTY Completion Strategy;

  • Prescription of the case selection criteria and creation of a list of priority/major war crimes cases;

  • Ensuring full access to and search of the ICTY/MICT databases, and analysis of documents retrieved;

  • OWCP cooperation with the ICTY/MICT on concrete cases with a view to obtaining general and specific knowledge related to particular cases, as well as access to the ICTY/MICT expertise and strategies in the utilization of evidence collected;

  • Development of training schemes in the areas of international humanitarian law and criminal investigations in compliance with the new Act on Participants in War Crimes Proceedings.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor has active cooperation with the UNDP Offices in Belgrade and Sarajevo, in the framework of a regional project entitled Enhancement of Regional Cooperation in the Prosecution of War Crimes and Search for Missing Persons.

EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX)

The EU Council has extended the EULEX Mission's mandate in Kosovo. The Mission will therefore speed up the transfer of its operations to other EU and local bodies, and focus its efforts on the development of Kosovo institutions. 

As the Autonomous Province of Kosovo-Metohija (KM) is virtually beyond the OWCP jurisdiction, this Office cannot undertake independent activities related to the investigation/prosecution of war crimes. Likewise, the OWCP has no access to the sites of such crimes, potential perpetrators, witnessees and victims, nor can it directly obtain data/documents relevant to its cases. In such circumstances, the OWCP has - ever since its inception - worked together with the UNMIK authorities. As of 2009, in compliance with the transfer of competence, cooperation has continued with EULEX, specifically with its Special Prosecutor's Office, War Crimes Investigation Unit and Department of Forensic Medicine (DFM). 

Mutual assistance includes a range of activities at all stages of proceedings: provision of relevant data/documentation; collection of evidence; examination of witnesses; crime scene investigations; etc. Further to the other party's request or for the purposes of a case addressed thereby, the party which has access to certain evidence undertakes relevant activities, whereupon it informs the requesting party about its findings and provides the materials sought. In some cases, evidentiary activities are carried out in the presence of both Offices' representatives, namely the competent OWCP deputy prosecutor and his/her EULEX counterpart. This is commonly the case with the examination of witnesses residing in the KM territory. Up to this point, several dozen witnesses have been interviewed through this mechanism.

Such cooperation has yielded good results in many cases addressed before the Belgrade Higher Court's War Crimes Department, as well as in those heard before the Mixed/International Councils in KM.

In view of the gradual transfer of competence from EULEX to the local authorities, it was necessary to define the modalities and forms of cooperation with the KM judicial authorities. Thus, pursuant to its Conclusion of 07 March 2013, the Serbian Government adopted the Procedures of Mutual Legal Assistance, as anticipated by the Technical IBM Implementation Protocol. The Procedures are intended to facilitate the handling of requests for mutual legal assistance between Serbia and provisional KM institutions. Pursuant to the Procedures, mutual legal assistance can only take general forms (provision of of acts/documents; exchange of information; performance of procedural activities).

According to the Procedures, which have become effective this year, EULEX is expected to act as a mediator: it should facilitate communication between the OWCP and provisional KM authorities through the transmission of requests for mutual legal assistance and replies to the same.

Full cooperation with EULEX was realized in the course of the identification and examination of mass gravesites in Batajnica, Petrovo Selo, Perućac and Raška. Joint efforts of the OWCP and EULEX teams started as early as at the investigative stage, which included the location of a mass grave at the site of a quarry, interviews with witnesses, site assessment/recording and collection of samples. A good example of cooperatuion was the identification and examination of a grave at the Rudnica quarry, with death remains of 53 victims. Substantial support to that operation was provided by the Department of Forensic Medicine (DFM), whose equipment allowed for easier and faster gravesite identification. In subsequence, the DFM and OWCP teams - including forensic experts, antropologists and pathologists - worked together on the site examination. The remains recovered were sent to the ICMP Office in Tuzla for DNA analyses, and subsequently delivered to the victims' families. The handover was carried out in the presence of the Serbian Commission on Missing Persons, OWCP and EULEX representatives.

Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE ODIHR)

The War Crimes Justice Project is a four-million-Euro project funded by the European Union and implemented by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE ODIHR) in partnership with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the OSCE Mission to Serbia and other OSCE field operations in the region.

The Project was implemented in the period from May 2010 to October 2011.

Organization For Security And Cooperation In Europe (OSCE)

One of the priorities of the OSCE Mission to Serbia and Montenegro is providing support to the capacity building of the national judicial and police institutions in conducting proceedings against war crimes perpetrators. Commitment to this goal resulted in the Memorandum on Cooperation, concluded in May 2004 between the OSCE Mission and the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Serbia.

The OSCE Mission encourages the establishment and work of specialized judicial institutions, giving particular support to the War Crimes Prosecutor's Office headed by an independent, Parliament-elected Prosecutor, such institutions being considered a prereqisite of addressing war crimes in accordance with international standards, as well as an additional guarantee of judicial independence in dealing with these delicate matters.

Monitoring of war crimes trials: Since early 2003, the OSCE observers have been involved in the regular monitoring of all war crimes trials held before courts in Serbia, thereby ensuring their compliance with the internationally recognized rules. In performing this activity within its mandate, the OSCE Mission relies on its regular communication with the Prosecutor's Office.

Regional cooperation: The OSCE Mission has initiated a number of activities directed towards the improvement of regional judicial cooperation in war crimes proceedings within the triangle embracing Serbia/Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The most important among these activities are regional meetings attended by high representatives of judicial institutions and competent ministries, aimed at looking into various forms of cooperation in war crimes proceedings, such as the advancement of the existing mechanisms regarding inter-state cooperation, access to witnesses, provision of evidence, exchange of professional tips and judicial experience. The first among these OSCE-organized meetings took place in November 2004 in Palic, whereas the process was continued by a regional conference held in June 2005 in the Brioni islands (Croatia).

The intensified regional contacts have contributed to the elaboration of concrete mechanisms for better cooperation, e.g. the Memorandum signed by the War Crimes Prosecutor and the Public Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia on one side, and State Prosecutors of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other; these regional contacts have also traced a path to an increasing cooperation among these countries' Prosecutor's Offices in dealing with concrete cases.

Enhancement of professional competence: Through their aquaintance with the standards of international humanitarian law, judicial practices of international criminal tribunals and investigation techniques, judges and prosecutors receive additional tips for their efficient dealing with war crimes cases in accordance with international standards. Among other participants, representatives of the War Crimes Prosecutor's Office attended a seminar on the application of command responsibility in war crimes trials, which was held in March 2004. Since December 2003, intending to enhance the professional competence of prosecutors, investigating judges and police officers in dealing with war crimes investigations and witness protection issues, the Mission has organized a number of courses, seminars, expert meetings and study visits, including those to the Hague Tribunal.

Informing the public: Owing to the donations provided by the Government of Holland, the OSCE Mission is conducting a project aimed at informing the Serbian public on war crimes trials before national courts, mandate and work of the Hague Tribunal, as well as of other issues related to facing the past and reaching the truth and justice through war crimes trials. The Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) is one of the key partners and beneficiaries of this project. The project framework has involved the broadening of the OWCP PR Service, organization of a number of lectures and round table meetings, as well as the realization of other activities intended to inform the public and create support for the sentencing of those responsible for the gravest atrocities committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. The OWCP web site has been created as part of such public-related activities.

Legislation: In the ormer part of 2003, the OSCE Mission provided expert assistance to the creation of The Act on the Organization and Competence of Government Authorities in War Crimes Proceedings, which served as a basis for the OWCP inception. Further amendments to this Act, as well as the draft Act on Government Authorities in Charge of Criminal Offences against International Humanitarian Law, were created by the working group assigned by the Serbian Ministry of Justice, whereas the Mission provided logistic and professional assistance.

EULEX Special Investigative Task Force

A significant part of the OWCP capacities has been engaged for the purposes of the international investigation conducted by the EU Special Investigative Task Force (SITF). Operating under the EULEX Mission's administration, the SITF was established in order to carry out independent investigation into war crimes, organized crime and thereto related cases, in accordance with the allegations contained in the 2011 report by Senator Dick Marty. 

Acting both upon SITF requests and on its own initiative, the OWCP coordinates interviews with witnesses, provides necessary information/documents, facilitates communication between the SITF and the Serbian Government's bodies/agencies. The OWCP and SITF periodically meet to define further course of cooperation. As needed, the meetings are attended by representatives of the Serbian Ministry of the Interior (MUP) and other relevant authorities.

In the light of the gradual transfer of EULEX competences to the local KM authorities, it was necessary to determine the procedures of cooperation with the KM judiciary. Consequently, pursuant to its conclusion of 07 March 2013, the Serbian Government adopted the Procedures of Mutual Legal Assistance as anticipated by the Technical Protocol of IBM Implementation, intended to facilitate responding to requests for mutual legal assistance with KM transitional institutions. The Procedures envisage mutual legal assistance only in terms of its general aspects (i.e. delivery of acts/documents; exchange of information; and performance of procedural actions).    

The EULEX role as anticipated by the Procedures is to act as a mediator in communication between the OWCP and KM provisional authorities, as well as to facilitate the processes of submitting requests for mutual legal assistance and responding to the same.

The U.S. Embassy

Through its Embassy in Belgrade, the U.S. Government supports the activities of this Prosecutor's Office, inter alia through substantial technical and material support granted on a number of occasions. The Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor and the U.S. Government representatives have direct cooperation in the Bytyqi Brothers case. During his visit to the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor on 29 September 2004, U.S. Ambassador Michael Polt expressed his support to its work.

Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Section, Department of Justice Canada

The Memorandum on Understanding of the Implementation and Promotion of Mutual Non-Coercive Assistance in Matters Related to War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and Genocide Investigations and Prosecutions between the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia and the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Section of the Department of Justice Canada was signed on 18 February 2010.

Embassy of the Netherlands

Cooperation between the Serbian Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor and the Netherlands Embassy is related to the implementation of the project Regional Liaison Officers. The project was initiated following the regional conference Palić II, held from 01 to 03 December 2014.  Envisaged as part of the project initiative, the Palić conference was financially supported by the Netherlands Embassy to Serbia.

The project implementation started on 15 January 2015 and is expected to last until 15 July 2016.