by Ivica MARIJACIC
We recall that case these days when some political parties demand a revision of the Clemency Law asserting that it is too generous towards Serbs who participated in the aggression against the Republic of Croatia, and allows their unhindered return to the regions in which Croats are still under impression of war horrors; consequently, their encounters with such returnees result in incidents, most of which are fortunately, for now, only verbal.
What is the actual legal situation of Serbs whose names have appeared on arrest warrants and can they really return without fear of being bothered by anyone to Croatia, as Liberals from Obrovac claim? The final version of the Clemency Law, enacted on September 27 1996, defines the persons to whom the amnesty applies: "This law gives general amnesty to persons who have committed criminal acts in the aggression, armed rebellion or armed clashes and in connection with the aggression, armed rebellion and armed clashes in the Republic of Croatia. The clemency also applies to the execution of final sentences issued to the individuals who have committed crimes from part one of this article. The clemency also applies to the acts committed in the period between August 17 1990 and August 23 1996." Article 2 of the General Clemency law states that all legal procedures, including investigations, against persons who have committed crimes from article 1 will be terminated and new proceedings shall not be initiated.
It is especially important to quote article 3 of the Celmency Law, which specifies who is excepted from the amnesty granted by that law:
"Persons who have committed the most serious violations of humanitarian law which have the character of war crimes, such as genocide, war crimes against civilian population, war crimes against wounded and sick, organization and incitement of genocide and war crimes, illegal killing and wounding of the enemy, destruction of cultural heritage, establishment of slavery etc. will be exempted from this amnesty."
That is the Clemency law from 1996. The liberals from Obrovac have demanded from the Government and the Parliament to revise this law in order to prevent the return of escaped Serbs for whom the authorities have issued warrants and who participated in the armed aggression against Croatia.
However, from the legal point of view a Serb for whom a still valid warrant has been issued can return to Croatia, but he shall be immediately captured and arrested, we learned at the County Court in Zadar. If the liberals from Obrovac, following the situation in the field, really noticed persons for whom they believe to be on arrest warrants, most of them are very likely Serbs whose actions fall under the Clemency Law. Persons against whom the legal proceedings have been stopped because of the aforementioned Clemency Law can freely walk through Croatia, since at the moment when the court ordered that the proceedings against them be stopped, the arrest warrants became void. More specifically, using the example of the County Court in Zadar, the situation is as follows:
The County Court in Zadar has stopped legal proceedings against 6238 Serbs based on the General Clemency Law. An arrest warrant had been issued against all of them, but it became void as soon as the proceedings were stopped. All of them were active members of the former Serb paramilitary formations which attacked Croatia, destroyed towns and villages. But their participation in the armed aggression was not sufficient for punishment. Out of the mentioned number, indictments were issued in as many as 3613 cases, while the remaining 2625 were still under investigation. With the approval of the state attorney's office all legal proceedings against them were stopped and the arrest warrants immediately became void.
A mass return of Serbs to Croatia, therefore also of those who do not hide their participation in the armed aggression against Croatia, is absolutely legal and allowed, based on the current law. From the political point of view, that fact provokes frustration of the Croatian population, and some of the political parties believe that this also devalues the Homeland War and the results of the liberation struggle against the aggression. However, when the Liberal Party from Obrovac demands that the General Clemency Law be revised and such individuals be banned from returning, then that is the question of legal procedure that should be initiated by the Parliament or the Government. However, even if such an initiative is adopted, and really results in a revision of the law, it is questionable whether these changes could be applied retroactively. Since, persons that were already amnestied for their participation in the aggression can only with difficulty be again tried for the same thing.
There are cases in the Obrovac and Benkovac regions that Croats recognize Serb returnees as those who burned their houses, which provokes arguments and even dangerous inter-ethnic conflicts. It frequently happens that the Serb returnees aware of recent political changes in Croatia, consciously provoke Croats, stating that some sort of their time has arrived. If in specific cases Serb returnees really burned Croat houses, they should be tried and in that case the Clemency Law cannot apply to them. But that is up to the court to decide. if the court has acquitted someone, based on the Clemency Law, that means that it had no evidence that that person had set houses on fire or committed another crime.
The Clemency Law was enacted by the HDZ authorities. Political-psychological consequences of that law are these days becoming increasingly pronounced, so that even those parties that may not have been expected to do so are calling for the changes of the law. However, that change will be difficult to come by since the new authorities are continuing with HDZ's tradition. While HDZ allowed the aggressors (for whom there is no evidence of involvement in war crimes) to return to Croatia, the new authorities are with the proposed Law About Reconstruction allowing them to build or reconstruct their homes. The Liberal Party, the mother party of the organization in Obrovac, is a part of these authorities, so that the outrage because of generosity towards aggressors cannot apply only to the previous but also the present authorities.