SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A Bosnian court on Tuesday released 10 Bosnian Serb war crimes convicts, including six jailed for genocide, because it applied the wrong criminal code during their trials.
Those six were sentenced to 28 to 33 years for having participated in the killing of more than 1,000 Muslim men in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The others received sentences of up to 29 years for war crimes against civilians during the Bosnia war.
Some 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys were killed within a week after Serb forces conquered the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica in what became known as the as the worst massacre on European soil since the Nazi era.
Families of the victims said they were outraged by the move, claiming it "defies reason." Munira Subasic, who lost 22 family members in the Srebrenica executions, said she had previously been threatened because she testified in the trials.
"I feel like a victim again," she said. "I don't know where the released criminals now are. They could be standing behind my back as we speak." The European human rights court in Strasbourg ruled this summer that judges in Bosnia initially violated the men's human rights by applying the harsher criminal code adopted in 2003 rather than the code in force when the crimes were committed.
Court spokeswoman Manuela Hodzic said Tuesday the original verdicts still stand and only the appeals procedure will be repeated, in some cases as soon as December. The ruling followed an appeal by two other war crimes convicts whose retrial has since been ordered by Bosnia's war crimes court. They argued they might have received lighter sentences if the court tried them under the 1976 criminal code that was in force when they committed the crimes. It remains unclear how many more convicts could see their sentences suspended on the same grounds.
Criminal law and transitional justice expert Goran Simic said Bosnia was now paying the price for "setting an unheard-of and inacceptable legal precedent" by opting for the retroactive application of law.
"We must admit that we erred institutionally over the past 10 years because we created a legal framework that had been unacceptable from the point of view of European standards," Simic said.
Radul Radovanovic and Sabina Niksic contributed to this report.