used without permission, for ``fair use" only

The Secret of Mitigated Crimes

by Domagoj Horvat
Feral Tribune, 7/3/95, Split, Croatia

Mokronoge Case:Two years after a brutal murder of 9 muslim civilians the three men charged with the crimes are finally free

The District Court in Zagreb recently released from custody Ivan Bakovic, a.k.a. Ikach, from Tomislavgrad, one of the three persons charged with participating in a murder of 9 people in the Duvno valley village Mokronoge, in the neighboring country Bosnia-Hercegovina. The crime happened on 8/10/93, around midnight, in a forest not far from the house of the Baslaga family; the members of the Baslaga family (Dika, Subra, Husein, Emira and Emir) and the Tiko family (Ibrahim, Muharem and Mustafa) as well as Simha Duliman were killed from a fire arm. Their massacred bodies were found the following morning. The indictment by the District State Prosecutor of the Republic of Croatia (RC) states that the premeditated crime was committed by the soldiers from the HVO (Croatian Defense Council, Bosnian Croat militia) base in helidrom near Mostar, namely forementioned Ivan Bakovic, Albert Tomic, a.k.a. Poglavnik from Dugo Selo, and Petar Majic from Sisak [eastern Croatia], born in Konjic [central Bosnia-Hercegovina] and without a nickname. It is also said that another person, so far unidentified, certain Ivan, took part in the crime as a driver (?) of the charged trio.

The indictment says that the murderers, just before midnight, stopped their car, driven by mysterious "Ivan", nearby the Baslagic's house at the edge of the village. It is claimed that they were armed with a semiautomatic rifle (Bakovic), a machine gun (Tomic) and a Kalasnikov (Majic) and dressed in the HVO military uniforms. They entered the house and encountered the Baslagics. They forced, while swearing and threatening to "kill them like rabbits", nine people out of the house and dragged them 1/2 km toward a forest at the end of the village. They ordered the victims to lie face down on the ground and then shot them. None of the victims survived.

Bullet cartriges fired from the Bakovic's and Tomic's weapons were found at the scene of the massacre. Court experts say that at least 102 bullets were fired at the victims. Besides bullet wounds they noticed several "cut wounds on dead bodies". Routine HVO military police patrol also passed through the village that night. They arrived after a call from a civilian policeman, who heard shots from infantry weapons and a bomb explosion around midnight. Military policeman Miro Bakovic was in the military patrol; he later became a defense witness and stated that "the military patrol did not notice anything suspicious."

Until now, the most important prosecution witness has been little Amela Baslagic. It is known how she survived, but no one knows why. Allegedly her elder sister begged the men in uniform to let Amela go to sleep to a room on an upper floor. Until now, no one has explained why the murderers spared little Amela. One can say it was a miracle, but it doesn't prove anything. Anyway, the girl is alive and, as stated in an investigation document recognized in Bakovic her brother Emir's (he was killed that night) school friend. "He was in uniform and had a gun, like a machine gun," said Amela.

A warrant was issued a day after the murder by the HVO military police; indictment is based on the data collected by the Ministry of Defense of the RC. Although both domestic and "foreign" military institutions were involved in a pursuit, the second accused, Albert Tomic, is still on the run and is being tried in absentia, while the rest of the team is defending themselves from freedom: the third accused, Mojic, for example, has been free for more than a year!

Merciful Indictment

The release of the accused and their defense from freedom was based on the "quality" of the murders, the category which had been introduced by the Public Prosecutor's Office [Drzavno Odvjetnistvo]. Namely, the indictment is based on 9 "plain" murders, which legally assumes a series of mitigating circumstances. When a murder is deemed to be "plain" a release from custody is mandatory. The accused Bakovic and Majic were released following that logic. Besides the opportunity for the defense from freedom, the maximum punishment for several "plain" murders is a 15 year jail term. Between idle counting of the possible years in jail and the actual motive for that decision gapes (ir)responsibility in the administration of justice. The Deputy State Prosecutor, Radovan Santek, thinks, however, that everything was done properly. In other words, the Public Prosecutor's Office was simply forced by law to do as it did. Public still does not know why the Public Prosecutor's Office representative decided for a "plain" murder when he had legal option to call the things with their real name - "qualified" murder; for which there is enough evidence and which is, besides, the only suitable name for the merciless massacre which happened that night. Because the legal term "qualified" denotes "a cruel and perfidious" murder, "a premeditated attempt to endanger safety of another person" and motives of "greed, reckless revenge or other especially low motives." The elements of a "qualified" murder are numerous in this case - except for "greed". The horror of what happened that night, certainly exceeds the category of a "plain" murder and deserves a suitable legal treatment, which is in this case absent.

However, besides internal "legal difficulties", the external are also present. It would not be improbable and for a first time that the Croatian justice system bends backward and "follows orders" in order to hide the real intentions. Clearly, in a wider context the judicial mishmash was fabricated because of a state or private interests. That isn't all that important anymore; what is important is that the mishmash was "mixed up" against the interests of the judiciary and justice.

Vow of Silence

Careful thinking might lead us to the understanding of why the judiciary again allowed itself to be castrated. If we follow the fact that unlike a "plain" murder, a "qualified" murder encompasses war crimes, we may be on a right path. This time pressure was applied on the judiciary to avoid the disclosure of a fact that the accused are, regardless of HVO uniforms and their place of birth, citizens of the RC and, until recently, soldiers in the Croatian Army [HV, Hrvatska Vojska], whose soldiers were not supposed to be on the territory of another state, nor were they supposed to commit war crimes.

Apparently, this is the main reason why recently the whole case, after being a public matter for more than a year and being greeted with numerous newspaper articles in its first phase, became a secret affair. The case proceedings thus became secret and everyone involved, from the judicial council, defense attorney, prosecutor to the judges, is supposed to keep silent about the case, based on the professional code of conduct. After the Public Prosecutor had turned a massacre into a "plain" crime, the procedure of closing the main hearing to public is legitimate and is based on Article 278 of the criminal code: " The council (judicial, auth. remark) can at any time, officially or at a suggestion of the parties involved, exclude public from the main hearing in order to keep a secret (...) protect morality (...) or protect other specific interests of a social community [society, state?] (author's emphasis).

Justice in Custody

It is surprising that the case was not secret from the start. Also surprising is a manic eagerness with which the Tomislavgrad military and political nomenclatura [authorities] found the culprits and the heart rending outrage over the crimes as well as generous "guarantees for the safety of the Muslims remaining on that territory." Those days, an elegiac atmosphere crept into all the Duvno valley hearts. Zagreb daily, Vecernji List, for example, 2 days after the murders wrote how "a sad news that 9 persons of muslim nationality have been killed, reverberated among the inhabitants of Tomislavgrad." All that at a time when Smiljko Sagolj was at the top of popularity with his antimuslim hysteria.

So much sincere compassion and heart rending pain in only one day for "some Muslims" (Sagolj), only to make the case secret. What has changed after an orgy of "filantropic" chanting of "We shall punish the offenders!" (Mijo Tokic, the president of HVO Tomislavgrad) - we can only guess. That it is possible to act according to the laws and justice in cases like this one, is suggested by , according to the significance, almost identical case on the muslim side; their extremists killed two Catholic priests in Fojnica [central Bosnia] last year. The criminals were quickly caught and sentenced. It is interesting that a judge (a Croat) after a while added a few years to the original sentence.

On the other side, in democratic Croatia, the whole case of reckless slaughter is viewed from all possible vantage points except for the most important one - the judicial point of view. The way the things are right now, the future resolution of this case will remain a secret for us.

Translated on 8/6/95