The Bosnian state court handed down a first-instance verdict on Tuesday acquitting Djordje Ristanic, the former head of the war presidency in Brcko, of involvement in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at persecuting Bosniaks and Croats through murders, detentions, torture and forcible disappearances between April and December 1992.
Ristanic, who was not in court for the verdict, was acquitted of 11 counts of crimes against humanity.
The court determined that almost all the prosecution witnesses who testified said that in late April 1992 in Brcko, the demolition of bridges was followed by shelling, arrests, looting and detentions – an attack that exclusively targeted civilians.
According to the indictment, non-Serbs were detained at various locations, beaten up, tortured, raped and killed. Some of them are still listed as missing.
But presiding judge Saban Maksumic said the prosecution had not proved, beyond reasonable doubt, that the defendant’s actions formed part of a widespread and systematic attack.
Maksumic added that there was no evidence that Ristanic could have foreseen what happened or that he exercised control over the direct perpetrators.
He explained that although the war presidency was led by Ristanic, the fact that he held the position during the period in which the crimes were committed was not sufficient in itself to associate the defendant with the attack.
Maksumic also said that the goal of the joint criminal enterprise was not clearly set, nor was it specified what the plan was.
“The prosecution did not present concrete evidence which would point to a conclusion that there was a joint plan and agreement between the defendant and other members of the joint criminal enterprise,” he said.
The prosecution assumed, considering the scale of the crimes committed, that there must have been a joint criminal enterprise and that, considering his position, Ristanic must have participated in it, Maksumic continued.
However, the judge added: “Evidence indicates that Ristanic, as president of the war presidency, did not have control over the events in Brcko” during the period of time in which the crimes were committed.
The verdict can be appealed.