Today marks three decades since the war crime in which twenty passengers were taken off a train at the station in Štrpci and murdered.
The Human Rights Action (HRA), the Centre for Civic Education and the Montenegrin Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights once again call for the prosecution of orderers and all direct perpetrators of the crime, for a thorough search for the remains of the victims, for Montenegro to provide social protection to the families of victims by amending the law, and for new generations to be educated about this case. Unfortunately, after the change of the long-standing coalition headed by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), the new governments of Prime Ministers Zdravko Krivokapić and Dritan Abazović (URA) also did nothing to help the victims’ families.
The crime was committed by members of the Army of the Republic of Srpska, who stopped a train traveling on the regular Belgrade-Bar route at the Štrpci railway station, on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and took out and then robbed and killed 20 passengers. Of these, 18 were Bosniaks, one was a Croat, while one remains unknown to this day.
The following persons were murdered: Esad Kapetanović, Ilijaz Ličina, Fehim Bakija, Šećo Softić, Rifat Husović, Halil Zupčević, Senad Đečević, Jusuf Rastoder, Ismet Babačić, Tomo Buzov, Adem Alomerović, Muhedin Hanić, Safet Preljević, Džafer Topuzović, Rasim Ćorić, Fikret Memović, Fevzija Zeković, Nijazim Kajević, Zvjezdan Zuličić as well as one unknown person. The oldest was 59 years old, and the youngest was only 16. Of the twenty, eight were from Montenegro.
In memory of the victims of the kidnapping in Štrpci, their relatives, friends and other citizens will lay flowers today at 10 a.m. at the memorial on Pobrežje in Podgorica, and at 1 p.m. in Bijelo Polje.
The kidnapped passengers were taken to a school in the village of Prelovo near Višegrad, where they were robbed, beaten and then transferred to the village of Mušići, near Višegradska Banja, where they were killed. So far, the remains of only four people have been found on the shores of Lake Perućac near Višegrad, in 2009 and 2010.
Nebojša Ranisavljević and Mićo Jovičić, members of the intervention company of the Višegrad Brigade of the Army of the Republic of Srpska named “Avengers”, have been finally sentenced for this crime. In the meantime, 12 more members of the same unit were sentenced to different sentences before the courts in Belgrade and Sarajevo.
Ranisavljević was sentenced to 15 years in prison before the High Court in Bijelo Polje in 2003, while Jovicčić made a plea agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH in 2016, based on which he was sentenced to five years in prison. Their commander, Milan Lukić, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Hague Tribunal for war crimes in Višegrad, but he was not prosecuted for the crime committed in Štrpci. He was indicted for this crime in Bosnia and Herzegovina only in December 2019, while the same never happened in Montenegro, which was the first to try Ranisavljević.
No other investigation was initiated in Montenegro regarding this crime, although in his testimony Ranisavljević also mentioned a “Montenegrin”, a “drunken Slovenian”, Milan “Čačko”, Aco Šimšić, Željko Marjanović, Bogdan Šekarić Vidaković, Tanović, Goran (a Roma person) and Mitar “Chetnik” as other participants in the action, against whom criminal charges were filed in 1998 by lawyers Dragan Prelević and Aleksandar Cvejić, who were hired by the Humanitarian Law Fund from Belgrade to represent the victims’ families.
So far, none of the orderers or those who knew that the crime was going to be committed but did nothing to prevent it have been tried before any court. In the criminal proceedings against Ranisavljević in Montenegro, it was established that the kidnapping in Štrpci was planned and that the General Director of the Railway Transport Company (ŽTP) of Belgrade, Milomir Minić, was informed about it in advance. He in turn informed the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Serbia, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia, the State Security Service of Serbia and the Yugoslav Army. Šefko Alomerović, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights from Sandžak, publicly testified that he saw Vladimir Matović, press advisor of the President of Yugoslavia Dobrica Ćosić, at the railway station in Belgrade before the train left, talking to the man who helped the kidnappers.
In May 2002, attorney Velija Murić filed a criminal report against 14 persons from the top of the government of the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Republic of Serbia, the Yugoslav Army and the Belgrade Railway Transport Company. The then Federal State Prosecutor’s Office sent the report to the competent Republic Prosecutor’s Office of Montenegro, which never contacted Murić again regarding that matter.
Family members of the victims of this crime do not enjoy the status of civilian victims of war in Montenegro because, unlike in Bosnia and Herzegovina, under the Law on Veterans and Disability Protection (“Official Gazette of the Republic of Montenegro”, no. 69/03 and “Official Gazette of Montenegro”, nos. 21/08, 73 /10, 40/11, 1/15 and 52/16), this protection applies only to the family members of a surviving victim – a civilian invalid of war, and not to the family members of civilian victims. We appeal once again to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare to initiate changes to the existing Law to introduce civilian victims of war and family members of civilian victims of war as special categories that enjoy protection.
The Law also does not regulate the issues of civilians that went missing during the war. In 2011, Montenegro ratified the UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. However, enforced disappearance has yet to be criminalised in the Criminal Code as a separate criminal offence. Unlike e.g. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, Montenegro does not have a Law on Missing Persons.
In May of last year, MPs Suada Zoronjić (URA) and Adnan Striković (SDP) submitted to the Parliament of Montenegro a draft Resolution on the crime committed in Štrpci, in which, among other things, it was appealed to the Government to provide permanent social care for the families of the victims in Montenegro. However, this proposal has not been placed on the agenda to date.
Selected testimonies about the passengers’ abduction from the train in Štrpci were published in the Human Rights Action’s book “Against Forgetting”. It contains statements of a man who objected when his young companion was being taken away, a relative of a kidnapped passenger who spoke with Milan Lukić, and a woman who witnessed the abduction of her husband, conductor and dispatcher at the station in Štrpci. At the end of the book, there is also the testimony of the convicted perpetrator Nebojša Ranisavljević, who explained in detail how the crime was committed.
Tea Gorjanc Prelević, Executive Director of the NGO Human Rights Action
Daliborka Uljarević, Executive Director of the NGO Centre for Civic Education
Velija Murić, President of the Montenegrin Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights