The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Croatia did not violate Vladimir Milankovic’s rights when it convicted the police commander of war crimes against Serb civilians in the Sisak and Banovina area in 1991-92.

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Croatia Didn’t Wrongly Convict Wartime Police Chief: European Court

A destroyed car in Sisak in Croatia during the war in October 1991. Photo: EPA/PETER NORTHALL.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg announced on Tuesday that it has rejected Vladimir Milankovic’s complaint about the verdict convicting him of ordering illegal arrests and not punishing the detention and abuse of Serb civilians, which resulted in more than 20 deaths.

Milankovic complained that he should not have been convicted on the basis of command responsibility because at that time he was deputy commander of a local police department, not army troops.

He insisted that he could not have been responsible for all the fighters who were in the combat zone. He also argued that the concept of command responsibility had no legal basis in Croatian or international law at the time when the crimes were committed.

But the Strasbourg court’s ruling said that the European Convention on Human Rights “should so far as possible be interpreted in harmony with other rules of international law of which it forms part”, such are those of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

It said that the ICTY’s statute “refers in general terms to a ‘superior’ and therefore does not restrict its application only to military commanders… or make any distinction between international or non-international armed conflict”.

Milankovic was originally convicted and sentenced to eight years in jail at Osijek County Court in December 2013.

As police commander in the Sisak and Banovina area at the time, he was convicted of ordering the illegal arrests of Serb civilians and not punishing crimes against them, which included illegal detentions and mental and physical abuses which resulted in the deaths of 24 people between mid-July 1991 and mid-June 1992.

“From the evidence presented during the trial it has been proven that the accused had the command responsibility over the police unit involved in covering up and ordering the crimes and even personally took part in some of the brutal abuses,” judge Zvonko Vekic said at the time.

The trial drew widespread public attention in Croatia because of the killing of 19-year-old Ljubica Solar by a group led by Milankovic.

In 2014, the Croatian Supreme Court upheld Milankovic’s conviction.

“It is indisputable that the accused, Milankovic, had merit in the Homeland [1991-95] War and that he was decorated nine times… but it cannot justify the crimes that were committed,” the Supreme Court’s verdict said.

The European Court’s ruling said because of the “flagrant unlawful nature of the war crimes committed by the police units under his command”, Milankovic should have realised that he had command responsibility “whether those crimes were committed during international or internal conflict or by a military or non-military (police) commander”.

“That is especially so in the applicant’s case having regard to the fact that he was a police commander, and that persons carrying out a professional activity must proceed with a high degree of caution when pursuing their occupation and can be expected to take special care in assessing the risks that such activity entails,” the ruling continued.

It added that Milankovic “was a military‑academy‑educated officer who had thus known very well that his conduct could make him criminally liable”.

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