ZAGREB, January 31, 2018 – The Constitutional Court has rejected a complaint by wartime assistant interior minister Tomislav Merčep who in 2016 was convicted of war crimes committed at the start of the war in Croatia in the early 1990s.
Zagreb County Court in May 2016 sentenced Merčep to five and a half years for failing, in his capacity as a police unit commander, to prevent members of his unit from killing Serb civilians. In February 2017, the Supreme Court increased the prison term to seven years.
Merčep’s attorney asked the Constitutional Court to quash both sentences and order a new trial at Zagreb County Court, noting that his client’s constitutional right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence had been violated and complaining of the poor quality of treatment his client received in the prison hospital.
In his constitutional complaint Merčep, among other things, noted that during the trial it was “determined beyond doubt” that he had not been appointed to command any unit within the Interior Ministry and that in order to “apply the principle of command responsibility” it was necessary for the superior to have had effective control over persons who committed the crimes, “in the sense that they had the opportunity to prevent and punish the commission of those violations.”
The Constitutional Court recalls in its ruling that a constitutional complaint is not an ordinary or extraordinary legal remedy. “It is a special instrument of constitutional law designed to protect constitutional rights in individual cases. As such, it is not sufficient to refer in a constitutional complaint to breaches resulting from alleged unlawful actions by a particular court. Legal protection in these cases is provided by ordinary and specialised courts,” the Constitutional Court said explaining its decision.
Merčep was remanded in Zagreb’s Remetinec Prison after the announcement of the trial court judgement on May 12, 2016. He had claimed he was innocent from the start, denying he had commanded the unit that was named after him. He was initially charged with ordering the crimes alleged, but the indictment was later modified and he was charged with failure to prevent his subordinates from committing the crimes.
The indictment says that Merčep’s unit unlawfully arrested 52 persons in the Kutina, Pakrac and Zagreb areas, killing 43 of them. Three are still unaccounted for, while six survived torture and abuse.