Jurisdiction (Criminal)

Author:International Law Group

German High Court holds that German courts have jurisdiction not only over crimes of genocide committed in Bosnia but also over other serious crimes committed during ethnic persecutions based on fourth Geneva Convention of 1949


In a case of first impression, the German High Court (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH), Third Criminal Chamber, has decided that German courts have jurisdiction not only over crimes of genocide, but also over violent crimes and deprivations of liberty that Serbs committed against Muslim civilians during the ethnic persecutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992.

The defendant in this case is a Bosnian Serb from Osmaci. He allegedly took part, on May 27-28, 1992, in the Serb-conducted persecutions of Muslims in the Osmaci area with the goal of driving them away or killing them. According to the charges, Serbs searched and looted the houses of Muslims, abducted women and children, and killed, seriously injured, or arrested the men. The persecution was part of the Bosnian Serb policy to take over the areas of Bosnia Herzegovina.

The defendant allegedly took an active role in the persecutions by arresting Muslim men and turning them over to the Bosnian military, and by seriously injuring five of them. He was also one of the guards at a makeshift prison for Muslim men and personally saw to the involuntary transport of 56 Muslim men.

A German court charged defendant with taking part in genocide and with 56 charges of deprivation of liberty, as well as five charges of aggravated assault. The Court convicted the accused and sentenced him to nine years in prison. The State Supreme Court in Dusseldorf upheld the judgment and the defendant sought review in Germany's High Court which affirms.

In the High Court's view, the State Supreme Court in Dusseldorf correctly assumed jurisdiction over the crimes committed in Bosnia Herzegovina. The criminal laws that apply in this case concern the individual rights of bodily integrity and liberty and therefore do not fall under the...

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