SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia’s state war crimes court said on Tuesday it had freed 10 convicted war criminals and would give them new trials after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled their legal rights had been violated.
The move, which cast doubt over a series of war crimes convictions in Bosnia, angered survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in Bosnia’s war, for which six of the accused were jailed for genocide for up to 33 years.
But the Strasbourg-based ECHR ruled in July in favor of two men who had appealed against their prison terms, saying they were tried under a more stringent criminal code than the one in force when the crimes were committed.
Ten other war crimes convicts then complained on the same grounds to the Bosnian Constitutional Court, which overturned their verdicts, returned their cases to the war crimes tribunal and ordered it to deliver new verdicts within three months.
In a statement, the war crimes court said the 10 freed prisoners would no longer be classified as convicts but rather as war crimes indictees as they undergo retrials.
The court was set up in 2005 to reduce the workload of the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague, where the Bosnian Serb wartime military commander, General Ratko Mladic, and political leader Radovan Karadzic are on trial on charges including genocide in Srebrenica.
The 1995 mass killing of thousands of Muslim men and boys by separatist Bosnian Serb forces is regarded as the worst atrocity committed on European soil since World War Two.
Munira Subasic, head of the Mothers of Srebrenica group, said the Sarajevo war crimes court’s decision was humiliating and that families of Srebrenica victims would appeal to the ECHR in Strasbourg.
“This ruling is shameful. We will no longer respond to the (Bosnian) court as witnesses and go through that painful experience once again,” Subasic told Reuters.
The Bosnian war crimes court and the prosecutor’s office have been criticized by Bosnian Serb leaders for not trying more non-Serbs for war crimes. They have even threatened a referendum challenging the need for the two institutions.
Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Mark Heinrich