Victims of alleged Serbian war crimes turn to ECtHR too late says ECtHR

Victims of alleged Serbian war crimes turn to ECtHR too late says ECtHR
On 19 October 2017 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decided by majority that the relatives of men who died in or in the way to Serbian detention camps in 1995 had left it too late to lodge their complaint about the Serbian failure to investigate these deaths  and declared the case inadmissible


1995 Victims were either murdered or died as a result of torture and lack of medical assistance during their transportation to the camps or while interned in them.

September 2011 – July 2014 On behalf of the victims’ relatives, the Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) lodges a criminal complaint with the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of Serbia (OWCP) against more than fifty individuals for alleged war crimes, and subsequently appeals the OWCP’s refusal to bring criminal proceedings.  In July 2014 the Constitutional Court rejects the appeal for formal procedural reasons.

2014 HLC files two applications with the ECtHR against Serbia; one for the failure to investigate cases of torture of detainees and one for failure to investigate cases of deaths of detainees. In conformity with Article 35 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the applications where filed after domestic remedies had been exhausted and timely, within the six month time limit.

October 2016 ECtHR decides that the complaint about the failure to investigate cases of torture of the detained victims, was submitted too late.

19 October 1017 The ECtHR finds that the application to adjudicate the alleged failure to investigate the deaths of the detained victims falls outside six month limit of Article 35 (1) (4) of ECHR and declares the case inadmissible.

The Court considers that the fact that no official investigation took place in Serbia in the aftermath of the events, following the ratification date or the OWCP’s creation, while the deaths in question occurred in the presence of State authorities, should have made clear to the applicants that the Serbian authorities had no intention to effectively investigate the alleged crimes. The Court finds that applicants should have been aware that the OWCP approached the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) as an internal armed conflict in which Serbia did not participate. As a result, the OWCP refused to investigate the crimes that took place in the territory of Serbia during the war in BiH, as it did not consider them as war crimes. So when the applicants submitted the criminal complaint to the OWCP in 2011, they should have realized that this move would be ineffective since there was no realistic prospect of an effective investigation being provided in the future by the OWCP.

This given, the Court concludes that the relatives should have realized that domestic proceedings would lead nowhere and thus should have lodged their application to the ECHR sooner. With this decision, the Court transferred the responsibility for the inactivity of war crimes prosecutions from the state to the victims themselves.

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