Youth Initiative for Human Rights condemns the promotion of ’The Gate of Tuzla – a Staged Tragedy’, a novel by Ilija Branković, organised by the Ministry of Defence on Tuesday, November 5th in the congress hall of the Serbian Army Hall in Belgrade.

Sadly, after the Book Fair (of war criminals) in Belgrade and a several years’ long campaign by the Večernje Novosti, and now the Defence Ministry rejecting the findings from the Novak Đukić’s verdict, the denying of the crimes at the Gate comes as no surprise, but rather confirms the fact that Serbia is a safehouse for the fugitives from justice such as Novak Đukić.

As a reminder, on 12th June 1009, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina had sentenced Novak Đukić to 25 years’ imprisonment for war crimes against civilians under Article 173 of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was pronounced guilty because on 25th May 1995, as the commander of Tactical Group Ozren, he ordered the launch of an artillery attack on Tuzla, which was at the time a UN safety zone as declared by the UN Resolution no. 824 of May 6th 1993. A projectile hit the part of the city centre called the Gate (Kapija) and killed 71 people, mainly around 20 years of age, and wounded about 100 people. The average age of those killed was 23, and the youngest victim was but two years old. 

In February 2014, he was released from prison following the Constitutional Court of BiH overturning the verdict of 25 years in prison due to a misapplication of the law. In June 2014, the Court of BiH reduced Đukić’s sentence to 20 years, and several days later, his defence lawyer informed the Court of BiH that his client was undergoing medical treatment in Serbia. The BiH arrest warrant for Đukić was released in October 2014 because he did not respond to a summons, after which Serbia was requested to take over the verdict.

Since February 2016, the War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade has lead the proceedings for the recognition and enforcement of a final judgment of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) against Novak Djukic. Along with the proceedings, Đukić’s defence counsel has continuously released information about his alleged innocence to Serbian public. To dismiss the final verdict, the defence used the results of an experiment conducted at the training ground of the Serbian Armed Forces in Nikinci near Ruma, where it was concluded in extrajudicial proceedings and in the presence of experts hired exclusively by Đukić that he and the Army of Republika Srpska were not guilty of the massacre of civilians in Tuzla.

According to the Humanitarian Law Center’s data, the trial began in February 2016 and during 2017 none of the four scheduled sessions of the panel was held because the convicted Novak Đukić did not attend the court, justifying his absence with health reasons, i.e. frequent hospitalisations at the Military Medical Academy. During 2018, only one session was scheduled, which was not held because Novak Đukić did not attend, as he was undergoing hospital treatment. Expertise determined in early 2018 that Novak Đukić was temporarily incapacitated for trial, and that a new expert examination would take place in a year’s time. 

However, on March 4, 2019, Novak Đukić made a statement to Večernje Novosti that “he deserves to have his name on the Tuzla Monument”. Also, this statement by Đukić was only a part of the article of Večernje Novosti’s journalist Dragan Vujičić “Exclusive: Seven Islamic Terrorists’ Deadly Attack in Tuzla”, which argues that ’seven Islamic terrorists’ were responsible for the death of 71 people at the Gate. Let us remind you of the fact that the Republika Srpska Radio Television, which had conveyed this text, was fined by the Communications Regulatory Agency of BiH (CRA) with 12,000 convertible marks.

The CRA determined that there had been a breach of ’fairness and impartiality’ as well as ’protection of privacy’ as regulated by the Code on Audiovisual Media Services and Radio Media Services, as it is said in the decision to impose sanctions for an article citing the Belgrade-based Večernje Novosti, in which it was stated that it was a hidden explosive that had detonated at the Gate and not artillery fire. In a piece aired in May this year by RTRS it was also claimed that Novak Đukić, the war commander of the Tactical group ’Ozren’ of the Army of Republika Srpska, was innocent.

Having in mind that Novak Đukić attended the November 5th promotion of the book ’The Gate of Tuzla – a Staged Tragedy’ by Ilija Branković in the Army Hall, while being ’judicially incapacitated’ to face the justice of the authorities of BiH as well as of those in Serbia, we are asking state authorities of the Republic of Serbia how they are not ashamed to mock the victims of the crime at the Gate.