Hungarian court acquits “most wanted” Nazi war crimes criminal

Hungarian court acquits “most wanted” Nazi war crimes criminal

By Polly Johnson
Senior Desk Officer, Europe

BUDAPEST, Hungary – Lawyers for Sandor Kepiro, a war crimes suspect who was acquitted on Monday by a Hungarian court on the grounds of insufficient evidence, said on Thursday that they would appeal the court’s ruling because it does not go far enough in clearing Kepiro. The same day, prosecutors said they would appeal the ruling because they found the verdict “unfounded” and “inconsistent.”

Sandor Kepiro was accused of orchestrating the massacre of thirty Jews during the Nova Sad Massacre in 1942 (Photo Courtesy of AFP).
Sandor Kepiro was accused of orchestrating the massacre of thirty Jews during the Nova Sad Massacre in 1942 (Photo Courtesy of AFP).

Kepiro, 97, is believed to have been responsible for ordering the execution of over thirty Jews and Serbs in Novi Sad in January 1942.

The defense wants the court’s ruling to be based on its assertion that Kepiro did not commit the crimes of which he is accused, rather than on insufficient evidence.

Prosecutor Zsolt Falvai announced his decision to file an appeal immediately after hearing Judge Bela Varga read the verdict.

Prosecutors had originally asked for a prison sentence for Kepiro, arguing that he was directly responsible for the deaths of thirty-six Jews and Serbs in Novi Sad. An estimated 1,200 Jews and Serbs were massacred during a three-day period in 1942, a period that became known as the “Novi Sad Massacre.”

Though Kepiro was convicted in 1944 in Hungary, his conviction was later overturned by the government. He fled to Argentina, only to be tracked down by Nazi hunter and head of the Simon Wisenthal Center’s Israel office Efrain Zuroff.

The judge cited the prosecution’s reliance on old testimony and old verdicts as a basis for Kepiro’s acquittal.

Despite joyful reactions in the courtroom, Jewish groups and Jews across Serbia were disappointed at the verdict.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which assisted in bringing Kepiro to court, described the verdict as “outrageous,” and “an insult to the victims, an insult to the Jewish community, to the Serbian community, and [ ] a very sad day for Hungary.”

The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants group, based in New York, also expressed dismay at the verdict.

“Hungary has turned its back on history in failing to come to grips with its collaborationist policies with the Nazi regime during World War II,” the group’s vice president said in a statement, calling the decision “a betrayal by Hungarian judicial authorities of the demands of justice and memory.”

In related news, it was reported on Saturday in a German newspaper that John Demjanjuk, who was convicted this year for his role in the murders of thousands of Jews at the Sobibor Nazi death camp, may be prosecuted for similar crimes at another camp.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – APNewsBreak: Defense appeals acquittal in Hungary war-crimes trial – 20 July 2011

European Jewish Press – Prosecutor to appeal Hungarian Nazi war crimes verdict, Simon Wiesenthal Centre speaks of an ‘outrageous miscarriage of justice’ – 20 July 2011

Bloomberg – Hungary Prosecutor to Appeal Nazi-Era War Crime Ruling, MTI Says – 19 July 2011

Jerusalem Post – Officer suspected of complicity in ’42 massacre acquitted – 19 July 2011

RTT News – Hungarian Court Acquits Nazi War Crimes Suspect – 19 July 2011

Jerusalem Post – ‘John Demjanjuk could face more death camp charges’ – 16 July 2011


By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

HOMS, Syria–The focal point of the uprisings against President Bashar al-Assad has turned fatal for civilians. Syrian troops and armed factions have spawned fear and turmoil on the streets of the city of Homs. Witnesses said that armed forces opened fire on 18 July 2011 outside the Khaled Bin al-Waleed mosque during funeral services for people killed in the past 24 hours. A local resident described these factions as “death squads.”

A funeral service for policemen in Homs. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)
A funeral service for policemen in Homs. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Homs is located about 100 miles north from Damascus and rests in one of the country’s poorest regions. The sectarian violence indicates a precarious turn in the protests that have lasted since March, increasing tensions between different portions of Syria’s diverse religious makeup. The majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims, while President al-Assad and his ruling clan are Alawites.

Syrian rights activist Rami Abdulrahman, director of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights offered these words on 18 July 2011 to describe the situation.

“Thirteen civilians were killed yesterday and today in several parts of Homs when the army opened fire as it carried out an operation in the city. These clashes are a dangerous development that undermines the revolution and serves the interests of its enemies who want it to turn into a civil war.”

A Homs resident spoke to a Reuters correspondent via telephone on 19 July 2011 and described the situation.

“There are troops and armored vehicles in every neighborhood. The irregular forces with them are death squads. They have been firing indiscriminately since dawn with rifles and machine guns. No one can leave their homes.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 30 civilians lost their lives in Homs during riots. Bodies of the minority Alawite sect, which President al-Assad is a member, were found mutilated.

In totality, activists are reporting that the Syrian government’s onslaught on pro-democracy and anti-regime protests have claimed the lives of some 1,400 civilians. Thousands more are imprisoned for their participation while some 350 security forces personnel have died since the protests began.

Due to restrictions on international journalists reporting in Syria, the specific details of these events cannot independently be confirmed or verified. But human rights groups and activists have tried their best to relay an accurate depiction of what is really happening on the ground.

The international community already well on its way in applying diplomatic pressure on al-Assad. Qatar, a previously major backer of al-Assad, recently closed its embassy in Damascus.

The EU has imposed travel bans and engaged asset freezes on some 34 Syrian individuals and entities. But after a meeting in Brussels of EU foreign ministers, the Hague is ready to take things a step further and expressed these sentiments.

“Until the unacceptable violence against civilian population is halted…the EU will pursue and carry forward its currently policy, including through sanctions.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera-‘Death squads’ on streets of Homs-19 July 2011

BBC-Syrian troops ‘kill mourners in Homs assault’-19 July 2011

CNN-Activists: Syrian forces shoot at funeral procession-19 July 2011

New York Times-At Funerals for Protesters, More Syrians Are Fatally Shot-19 July 2011

Policy Brief: Open Statement on Atrocities in South Kordofan

Originally published by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
July 20, 2011

United Nations (UN) member states must uphold their responsibility to protect and take immediate action to protect populations from atrocities being perpetrated daily by Sudanese government security forces, and allied paramilitary forces and militias in South Kordofan. Since 5 June the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) has unleashed a barrage of indiscriminate aerial bombardment targeting civilians. With reports of mass graves and at least 73,000 people displaced, this is not the time for states to ‘wait and see’ how things transpire. With each passing day the situation becomes more complex and intractable and the plight of civilians more dire.

The Sudanese government has, as in Darfur, tried to hide the horrific consequences of its actions by restricting the access of the UN, media and independent monitors to the region. Yet credible reports indicate that the government is actively perpetrating atrocities against its own people. What began as an SAF operation ostensibly to disarm the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), a rebel group that fought alongside its southern counter-part against the SAF during Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war, has escalated rapidly. In addition to daily aerial bombardment, the SAF and the Popular Defence Forces, an allied paramilitary force, have conducted house-to-house searches and imposed road blocks. This has been part of a deliberate strategy to target individuals for extra-judicial execution, abduction, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture on the basis of his or her ethnicity and perceived support for the SPLA-N and its political arm, the SPLM-N. There are also reports that the SPLA-N has carried out extra-judicial killings.

The Nuba have borne the brunt of such targeting. They are marginalized and discriminated against by the Sudanese government on the grounds that they are not ‘Arab,’ and that many Nuba supported anti-government movements during the 1983-2005 civil war. Experts have labeled the government’s brutal actions against the Nuba during the early 1990’s, genocide. Once again the Nuba are the victims of mass atrocities. A leaked report by the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS) argues that crimes perpetrated since the outbreak of fighting may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes – crimes that states unanimously committed to protect populations from by endorsing the responsibility to protect at the 2005 World Summit.

At the core of this commitment is the responsibility to prevent crimes before they occur. Few situations have had as much early warning of imminent mass atrocities as South Kordofan or such a glaring failure to heed these warnings. Now is the time to take action to ensure that this mistake is not repeated. The risk of future crimes against humanity and war crimes is all too clear. The government’s actions over the past seven weeks have shown that, as with Darfur and the 1983-2005 civil war, it views the commission of mass atrocities as a legitimate counter-insurgency tactic. Furthermore, peaceful means of resolving differences, most notably through a 28 June framework agreement between the government and the SPLM-N to address political and security issues in the state, have been rejected by Sudanese President al-Bashir. This raises serious concerns that the government will continue to perpetrate atrocities against the Nuba as a means of destroying the SPLA-N and SPLM-N. That the current governor of South Kordofan is wanted by the International Criminal Court for atrocities perpetrated in Darfur, does not bode well for the Nuba. Nor does the reliance on paramilitaries and militias who may be motivated by ethnic and religious ideology and a desire to seize land. The SAF’s use of paramilitaries and militias adds another explosive ingredient as it is harder to deter and reign them in, thus making a political solution even more difficult.

The UN Security Council, key countries such as China and the Gulf States, as well as the guarantors of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) for the South, including the African Union (AU) and the Arab League, have a critical role to play going forward. The failure to fully implement the provisions of the CPA, including the holding of popular consultations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, helped fuel the current crisis. The guarantors must not allow their attention to be diverted now that the South has gained independence. Instead they must re-double their efforts to identify measures likely to bring a peaceful resolution to the crisis in South Kordofan and use every source of leverage to halt mass atrocities.

The Security Council’s 15 July issuing of ‘elements to the press,’ a minimal expression of the Council’s opinion that does not form part of the official UN record, was a first step but is insufficient absent sustained engagement. The Council’s inability to agree on a Presidential Statement drafted five weeks ago, or to consider a resolution, despite the disturbing findings of the recently leaked UNMIS report, sends a clear message to the Sudanese government that the Council is divided and that there will be no consequences for its heinous actions.
That there is division about issuing a more weighty condemnation is indefensible. Bombs rain down on civilians, individuals are targeted because of their ethnicity, and unknown horrors are being inflicted on populations in parts of South Kordofan that have been closed off to the rest of the world. The situation risks destabilizing the region, including the fragile newly independent South Sudan, and is a clear threat to international peace and security.

The desire to reward the Sudanese government for allowing the South independence cannot come at the price of lives lost in South Kordofan. At this moment, the Council must be guided by the lessons of the past. The strategy of compartmentalizing the various conflicts within Sudan has proved ineffective in preventing atrocities. The Sudanese government is repeating familiar patterns of behavior: it is trying to hide the true horrors of its crimes by denying outside monitors, the UN and humanitarian agencies access to the most vulnerable of populations; it is being relentless in its commission of atrocities as part of its counterinsurgency; it is relying on militias, often motivated by extremist ideologies to do so; and it is providing piecemeal concessions in negotiations to resolve crises, only to subsequently reject any agreements reached. Finally, what little protection was provided by UNMIS through their presence and by bearing witness to unfolding atrocities in its vicinity ended on 8 July and the mission is currently withdrawing from South Kordofan, at the behest of the Sudanese government. Concerted international efforts, including demarches from all five permanent members of the Council and a personal request from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convince Khartoum to allow them to stay have unsurprisingly failed.

Now is the time for decisive action. Council members should request an emergency briefing by senior UN and AU officials, including former South African President Mbeki, who negotiated the 28 June agreement. Those members supporting a stronger response should use the opportunity to engage with fellow members who oppose taking further steps and find a way for the Council to speak with one voice. That voice should strongly condemn the commission of mass atrocities, demand an immediate halt in aerial bombardments, call on both sides to cease their hostilities, allow for humanitarian access, and establish a human rights fact-finding mission. The AU and Arab League should similarly call for the creation of a fact-finding mission and use their relationship with the Sudanese government to urge the parties to grant such a mission much needed access. They should, as with the UNSC, outline that there will be consequences for the Sudanese government and actors responsible for perpetrating and inciting mass atrocity crimes should they fail to halt their actions. This should include the enactment of further targeted economic sanctions.

The leaked UNMIS report cannot be more clear, “the International Community cannot afford to remain silent in the face of such deliberate attacks by the Government of Sudan against its own people. If the current conduct of the SAF, especially the aerial bombardments, does not stop, it will dissipate the Nuban population in South Kordofan.” The time for warnings has passed. Atrocities are being perpetrated. Failure to act today will be a repeat of previous mistakes and will see more lives unnecessarily lost.

For more information, please visit the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

Serbia arrests last war crimes suspect

By Polly Johnson
Senior Desk Officer, Europe

BELGRADE, Serbia – Goran Hadzic, the last Serbian war crimes fugitive, was arrested Wednesday after seven years on the run. Serbian secret police arrested him in a forest north of Belgrade and close to his family home.

Hadzic faces charges of war crimes stemming from his role following Yugoslavias break up (Photo Courtesy of Huffington Post/AP).
Hadzic faces charges of war crimes stemming from his role in the early 1990s wars following the break up of Yugoslavia. (Photo Courtesy of Huffington Post/AP).

Hadzic, now 53, faces fourteen counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes and was indicted in 2004 for his role in the wars following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. He has been accused of ethnic cleansing that led to the killings of hundreds of Croats and other non-Serbs and the deportations of tens of thousands. Specifically, he was responsible for the massacre of nearly three hundred men in Vukovar in 1991 and for the deportation of twenty thousand people from the town after it was captured.

Serbian President Boris Tadic called a news conference to announce Hadzic’s arrest, proclaiming, “With this, Serbia has now concluded its most difficult chapter in the cooperation with The Hague tribunal.”

Hadzic was the last fugitive of the 161 people indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The arrest is significant for Serbia and comes two months after the arrest of General Ratko Mladic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb army who is currently awaiting trial in The Hague. Mladic was responsible for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre that left more than eight thousand Bosnians dead.

The European Union (EU) welcomed Hadzic’s arrest, noting that the arrest has paved the way for Serbia’s entry into the EU.

“This arrest sends a positive signal to the European Union and to Serbia’s neighbors, but most of all on the rule of law in Serbia itself,” EU leaders said in a joint statement.

The EU will present a progress report on Serbia, which is expected to show that Serbia has met its candidacy requirements. The process takes several years.

ICTY prosecutor Serge Brammertz said of the arrest, “Hadzic’s transfer into the Tribunal’s custody is a long awaited development for the victims of the crimes charged against him. It is also an important milestone in the Tribunal’s history. Eighteen years after the Tribunal’s creation, we can now say that no indicted person has successfully evaded the Tribunal’s judicial process. This is a precedent of enduring significance, not only for this Tribunal, but also for international criminal justice more generally.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Serbia holds Croatia war crimes suspect Goran Hadzic – 20 July 2011

Belfast Telegraph – War crimes arrest could help EU bid – 20 July 2011

CNN – Last Yugoslav war crimes suspect at large is captured – 20 July 2011

Huffington Post – Goran Hadzic, Last Balkan War Crimes Fugitive, Arrested In Serbia – 20 July 2011

New York Times – Serbia Arrests Last War Crimes Fugitive – 20 July 2011

Telegraph – War crimes suspect Goran Hadzic finally captured after investigation into stolen Modigliani painting – 20 July 2011