At the Hague branch of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (Mechanism), a Trial Chamber composed of Judge Burton Hall (Presiding) of the Bahamas, Judge Joseph Masanche of Tanzania, and Judge Seon Ki Park of South Korea, concluded hearing witness testimony in the trial of Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović. As the Presiding Judge said in his closing remarks, this is a milestone in particular in the context of a pandemic.
The final five Defence witnesses were heard from 1 September to 8 October 2020 in a modified courtroom with enhanced safety measures.
Judge Hall announced that final requests for the admissions of documentary evidence would be due on 2 November 2020, final trial briefs would be due on 26 February 2021, and closing arguments will be heard in the last week of March 2021. The trial judgement is expected in the first half of 2021.
Originally, the evidence presentation was expected to conclude in June 2020, but it was interrupted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which limited movement in the Netherlands and Serbia. The Mechanism adopted numerous safety protocols to ensure the continuation of its cases, and Judges, staff, and counsel worked remotely, to the extent possible, until conditions were safe to resume in-court hearings.
This is the first retrial held before the Mechanism. Stanišić, formerly Deputy Chief and Chief of the State Security Service (DB) of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia, and Simatović, formerly employed in the Second Administration of the Serbian DB, were charged before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) with having directed, organised, equipped, trained, armed, and financed special units of the DB and other Serb forces, which were involved in the commission of murder, persecution, deportation, and forcible transfer of non-Serb civilians from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1991 and 1995.
On 30 May 2013, an ICTY Trial Chamber found that Stanišić and Simatović could not be held criminally responsible for these crimes and acquitted both accused of all charges. Following the appeals proceedings, on 15 December 2015, the ICTY Appeals Chamber quashed the ICTY Trial Chamber’s decision and ordered a retrial and the immediate detention of the accused.
The retrial commenced before the Mechanism on 13 June 2017 with the Prosecution’s opening statement. The Prosecution case was closed on 21 February 2019. A total of 51 witnesses were heard in court for the Prosecution. The Defence case commenced on 18 June 2019, and 29 witnesses were heard in court for both accused.