The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia’s appeals chamber said on February 28 2013 that it had acquitted and ordered the release of Momčilo Perišić, former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army, who in September 2011 had been found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.
“The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, composed of Judges Theodor Meron, presiding, Carmel Agius, Liu Daqun, Arlette Ramaroson, and Andrésia Vaz, today reversed by majority, Judge Liu partially dissenting, Momčilo Perišić’s convictions for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war,” a statement by the ICTY said.
During the period relevant to his convictions, Perišić served as the Chief of the General Staff of the VJ, a position that made him the VJ’s most senior officer.
On September 6 2011, Trial Chamber I, Judge Moloto dissenting, found Perišić guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war committed between August 1993 and November 1995 in the Bosnian towns of Sarajevo and Srebrenica. The Trial Chamber, Judge Moloto dissenting, also found Perišić guilty as a superior for failing to punish crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war committed in the Croatian town of Zagreb on 2 and 3 May 1995. Perišić was sentenced to 27 years of imprisonment.
“The Appeals Chamber, Judge Liu dissenting, found that the Trial Chamber committed an error of law when it held that specific direction is not an element of aiding and abetting liability. The majority further found that evidence on the record does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Perišić specifically directed assistance towards crimes committed by the Army of the Republika Srpska (VRS) in Sarajevo and Srebrenica,” the ICTY said.
“The majority underscored that the Trial Chamber did not find that the VRS was a criminal organisation; instead, the majority characterised the VRS as an army fighting a war. In this context, the majority concluded that while Mr. Perišić implemented the Yugoslav Supreme Defence Council’s (SDC) policy of providing support to the VRS through the Yugoslav Army (VJ), evidence on the record does not prove that this policy was directed at criminal activities as opposed to legitimate war efforts.”
Similarly, the statement said, the majority concluded that evidence on the record does not establish that Perišić’s implementation of the SDC’s policy channelled aid towards VRS crimes, or that Perišić took actions outside of implementing the SDC’s policy to aid or abet such crimes.
The majority noted that, absent a finding of specific direction, Perišić could not be held liable as an aider and abettor, and on this basis reversed his convictions relating to VRS crimes in Bosnia.
The Appeals Chamber unanimously found that the Trial Chamber committed an error of law by failing to address evidence relevant to Perišić’s effective control over members of the Serbian Army of the Krajina (SVK) who committed crimes during the shelling of Zagreb.
“The Appeals Chamber further found that evidence on the record does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Perišić possessed effective control over these SVK soldiers at the time of Zagreb’s shelling.”
In particular, the Appeals Chamber noted evidence that Perišić instructed that the shelling of Zagreb cease, but that this instruction was not followed.
“The Appeals Chamber also observed that there is no conclusive evidence that at the time of Zagreb’s shelling, Mr. Perišić was able to issue orders to or discipline soldiers serving in the SVK.”
The Appeals Chamber noted that, absent a finding of effective control, Perišić could not be held liable as a superior, and on this basis reversed Perišić’s convictions relating to SVK crimes in Croatia.
Perišić surrendered to the Tribunal on March 7 2005.
(Photo: Julian Nitzsche)