Vjekoslav Zugaj


One of the legal bases of the post-war revolutionary legislature was the Military Courts Act.(59) This Act specifies the "Orders from the Headquarters of the People's Liberation Army and Partisan Units of Yugoslavia dated 8 February 1944 re. the establishment of the Corps and the Corps's Military District Headquarters by which military courts for district commands, national liberation brigades and units are abolished. The military court authority will be taken over by the Military Courts of the local military districts and the Military High Court."

Article 10 of this Military Courts Act specifies the members of the court according to which "the members of the Council of the Corps's Military Court and their deputies are appointed by the Corps's Headquarters." It should be noted that no legal education was required from the members although their opinion and judgement determined the destiny of thousands of accused persons and future prisoners. The following Article of this Act sounds like a real paradox: "Each Court Council shall have its Secretary who should, if possible, be a professional judge or a graduated lawyer. He shall be appointed by the Military Court among persons that proved their loyalty in the war of national liberation. The Secretary shall help with administration, keep minutes, drove up drafts of court decisions and have an advisory role in the Council".

The advisory role of the jurist in the Council and his task of keeping minutes prove that the revolutionary legal system applied by the authorities of that time was only trying to establish some kind of provisory legality for future sentences.

In the articles that follow, possible criminals of war are determined over such a wide range that they involve different classes of civilians and military officers, showing that almost every person that was not directly part of the triumphant political or military structures supported by the new authorities could practically be subject to this revolutionary legislature.

The Article 13 states that war criminals are: "all initiators, organisers, order- issuing authorities, co-operators and direct executors of mass slaughter, torture, forced emigration, as well as persons who took the population into concentration and labour camps and those who set fire to and destroyed national property; all individual owners of estates or enterprises in Yugoslavia and other countries, who inhumanely exploited people from labour camps, high-ranking officials of the terrorist machinery and terrorist armed formations of the occupying forces and home collaborators; those who carried out the mobilisation of our people for the enemy army."

The next Article defines the term "national enemy" and according to it, the term applies to "all active Ustashas, Chetniks and members of all other armed formations under the command of the enemy and their organisers and collaborators; all those working for the enemy and their organisers and collaborators; all those working for the enemy in any form - as spies, informers, couriers, agitators and similar, who forced people to surrender; all those who betrayed the War of National Liberation collaborating with the occupier; all those who incite disloyalty or act against the interests of the national authorities; all those who destroy the national army or help or helped the occupier in any way; all those involved in serious cases of killing or plundering".

It was probably then that the authorities decided to apply the revolutionary legislature comprehensively, in order to fulfill the expectations of numerous members of the Communist party who also required adequate financial compensation after the war. This is the only motive that could explain the accusations, imprisoning and killing of "all the owners of estates and enterprises".

This assumption is confirmed by the provisions specified in Article 17 stating that the confiscation of the prisoners' property is regulated "in accordance with the current law on confiscation".

Further analysis of the text leads us to the conclusion that all legal. standards were lost because unusual and inappropriate terminology is used in the articles that follow such as: "after the discussion the Council decides whether the sentence should be passed or not".

The whole legal procedure was highly compromised and reduced to unnecessary and cruel retaliation against the defeated, as is finally proved by the provisions of Article 27, according to which "when determining the truth related to the action and guilt of the accused, the court is not bound to provide any evidence and it can bring the verdict based on its own free judgement".


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