War criminal won early release

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Norwegian authorities, working in cooperation with the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, have released a convicted Serbian war criminal from a Norwegian prison after serving just nine years of a 17-year sentence. Dragan Obrenovic was convicted of taking part in the mass murder at Srebrenica in 1995.

Obrenovic, a senior Serbian officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army and Bosnian Serb Army, was sentenced in 2003 for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The tribunal ruled that Obrenovic had played a central role in the systematic executions of more than 8,000 Muslims in the small town of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Hercegovina.

The mass murders during the Balkan war were viewed as the worst in Europe since World War II. Obrenovic was tried and convicted in The Hague but sent to Norway in 2004 to serve his prison term under a special agreement with the United Nations.

Had applied for early release last year
It’s not unusual for convicted criminals to be released from prison in Norway after serving two-thirds of their sentence. That wouldn’t have occurred until August 15, according to legal  documents in this case, but an attorney for Obrenovic filed an application for early release on March 9 of last year. Obrenovic’s attorney argued that he should be eligible for release on probation under Norwegian release arrangements because he had served half his sentence by October 15, 2009.

Judge Patrick Robinson of the UN’s international tribunal in The Hague, wrote in a decision signed September 21, 2011 that Obrenovic’s crimes were “of a very high gravity,” including complicity in the mass murders “of thousands of Bosnian Muslim civilians” along with the “cruel and inhuman treatment” of many others, “including beatings of civilians in schools,” terrorizing civilians in Srebrenica and Potocari and “the destruction of personal property and effects” of civilians detained and murdered in the Zvornik area.”

Nonetheless, the judge ruled that the ICTY must “take into account the prisoner’s demonstration of rehabilitation.” Norwegian prison authorities, according to Robinson, reported that Obrenovic “had not breached any rules or regulations during his detention” and also had “reliably served as a kitchen assistant for several years, taking full responsibility for his duties and fulfilling his obligations very accurately.” There were no reports of concern submitted by the Norwegian authorities regarding Obrenovic’s “psychological condition,” according to Robinson.

Won release for ‘good behaviour’
The judge thus determined that Obrenovic’s “good behaviour … weighed in favour of his early release” and that he decided to grant it, because of “the exceptionally substantial cooperation that Mr Obrenovic has provided to the prosecution.” The judge noted that his colleagues “unanimously share my view that Mr Obrenovic should be granted early release.”

The date of his actual release, reportedly from a prison in Kongsvinger, was withheld, but the judge noted in his decision that it would be “eight months short” of having served two-thirds of his sentence. That suggests he was released in December.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported this week that a Justice Ministry spokesman confirmed that Obrenovic had been released and “sent out of Norway,” but wouldn’t say where he was sent.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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