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Federal High Court of Germany

Translation of Press Release into English

Nr. 39 on 30 April 1999

Federal High Court makes basic ruling on genocide

Read in this document original German

The 3rd Criminal Court of the Federal High Court dealt for the first time with the legal question of whether deliberate killings, abuse and removal (expulsion, deportation) of persons comply to acts of genocide and if these acts can be sentenced by German courts. The case dealt with the actions of a Serb [Nikola Jorgic] in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992 within the realm of so-called ethnic cleansings committed against Bosnian Muslims.

This action was based on a sentencing made by the Supreme State Court (of Northrhine-Westphalia) in Duesseldorf on 26 September 1997. In this case, the accused, a Bosnian Serb from the Doboj region, was tried for genocide in eleven cases, three of which included the murder (homocide) of a total of 30 persons. The other eight cases involved grievious bodily harm and or unlawful detention. The accused was sentenced to four terms of life imprisonments and in the other eight cases to imprisonments of seven to nine years, which were then summed up to an additional life imprisonment. The Supreme State Court declared that the guilt of the accused weighed particularly heavy.

It was determined that the accused had been the leader of a paramilitary group located in the Doboj region of Bosnia-Herzegowina, which, in cooperation with the Serbian rulers, was involved in acts of terror against the Moslem population, in support of their policy of "ethnic cleansing". Apart from the arrests, abuse and placement of Moslems in camps, the Supreme State Court established in June of 1992 that the accused and one further person executed 22 citizens of Grabska (among them disabled and elderly), who had gathered out doors in fear of the fighting going on around them. Three other Moslems were then forced to carry the slain to a mass grave. A few days later the accused and his followers drove 40 to 50 men from the village of Sevarlije. They were brutally abused and six of them were shot. A seventh victim, who had only been injured in the shootings, died when he was burned with the other six victims in a stall. In September 1992, the accused put a tin pail on the head of a captive in the central jail of Doboj and hammered on it with a wooden club in such a way that the victim died of head wounds.

The 3rd Criminal Court of the Federal high Court rejected the appeal of the accused, because the State Supreme Court had rightfully assumed the jurisdiction of the German courts and because it had also affirmed the constitutent facts of 220a StGB (genocide) with its results. The prosecution at the international criminal court for the former Yugoslavia had previously rejected accepting the case. The Federal High Court accepted, on legal grounds, only one case, instead of eleven, of genocide involving the murder of 30 persons, with a life sentence. Additionally, it affirmed the particular weight of guilt, because in this case the content of injustice and guilt had not changed.

Furthermore, the court stated that genocide, according to the Genocide Convention from 9 December 1948 (joined by Germany [in 1954]) is a crime which all nations must prosecute. Therefore, it is the decision of the German law makers, that the prosecution of genocide is subordinate to global principles [of international law], and certainly not to be objected to if legitimate reasons exist for German legal actions.

Following reasons were given: the accused resided in Germany from May 1969 to the beginning of 1992 and after this date he was still even registered there; his German wife and his daughter, whom he visited a number of times after his crimes, still live in Germany, he was arrested in Germany after having entered on his own free will. The jurisdiction for the sentencing of genocide includes also the jurisdiction for the sentencing of murder in as much as the accused committed deliberate homicide in the perpetration of genocide.

Decision from 30 April 1999


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