ECHR: Croatia breached war crimes convict’s right to reasonable length of trial

NEWS 23.09.202120:01
Strasbourg, Europski sud za ljudska prava, ESLJP

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has established that in the case of war crimes convict Milenko Vidak, a former Serb paramilitary, Croatia violated his right to the reasonable length of court proceedings, the Strasbourg-based court reported on Thursday.

The Court finds that “the length of the proceedings in the present case was excessive and failed to meet the ‘reasonable time’ requirement.”

Media outlets reported that Vidak, who hails from the Croatian town of Sunja, fled to Serbia during the 1995 Operation Storm, and was in hiding in Turkey later.

The ECHR recalls that on 19 May 1999 an investigating judge of the Sisak County Court opened an investigation in respect of the applicant on suspicion of murder. On 30 March 2009 the judge opened an investigation against the applicant on suspicion of a war crime against the civilian population and ordered his detention.

“On 12 July 2009 the applicant was arrested in Turkey on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the Croatian authorities. On 15 July 2009 the Turkish authorities informed their Croatian counterparts of the applicant’s arrest, by a diplomatic note indicating that he had been arrested for murder.”

On 20 July 2009 the Ministry of Justice requested the Turkish authorities to extradite the applicant to Croatia for the offences of murder and a war crime against the civilian population, and he was extradited to Zagreb in February 2010

On 4 December 2020 the County Court delivered a judgment whereby it found Vidak guilty of having committed a war crime against the civilian population and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment. The applicant appealed and those proceedings are currently pending before the Supreme Court, says the ECHR.

This European court finds that the entire criminal proceedings since the applicant’s extradition were of excessive length, although it accepted the explanation from Zagreb that some delays were caused by necessary explanations about the validity of the extradition request.

Croatia is also ordered by the court to pay 4,200 euros to Vidak in respect of non-pecuniary damage, and an additional 833 euros in respect of costs and expenses.