Serb national and Australian citizen (who migrated to Australia at the age of 14) Dragan Vasiljkovic, 60, also known as Captain Dragan, who has lived in Australia under the name of Daniel Snedden, is a man wanted by Croatia on charges of war crimes committed during the 1990’s war. On Friday 15 May 2015 Dragan Vasiljkovic had finally, after close to a decade of utilising every legal avenue available to him, run out of all legal options to fight extradition to Croatia – the High Court of Australia denied Vasiljkovic the leave to appeal the orders for extradition that were confirmed last year.
In denying him a High Court appeal on Friday May 15, Justice Kenneth Hayne of High Court of Australia Melbourne Registry, said an appeal “would not enjoy sufficient chance of success“.
Vasiljkovic’s lawyers say his final hope now is a change of heart by the Australian government. There’s not much chance of that for the government had made decisions to extradite Vasiljkovic to Croatia before and the ABC news reports that the Australian government had issued a statement this week indicating it will be following through with extradition.
Vasiljkovic, who was arrested by Australian police in Sydney in January 2006, was charged with war crimes, including commanding troops that tortured and killed prisoners of war, commanding an assault on the Croatian town of Glina which saw civilians killed, and breaching the Geneva Convention during an assault northeast of Benkovac when civil buildings were damaged and ruined, Croatians were forced to leave their homes, their property robbed and civilians (among them was a foreign journalist) were wounded and killed; led a paramilitary unit that terrorised the local Croatian population and is alleged to have tortured prisoners of war in a medieval fortress near the town of Knin…
Denying the allegations against him, he had been fighting extradition while in prison in Australia, pending the outcomes of extradition to Croatia legal battles, saying that he will not be protected under the Geneva Convention if brought before a Croatian court; that he would not have a fair trial in Croatia.
Vasiljkovic’s Australian lawyers will reportedly be seeking that if extradited (which is a certainty as far as I can see) years spent in prison in Australia be counted in any sentencing discount in Croatia and that he will be safe if deported to stand trial in the capital city of Zagreb.
One thing he can count on is safety and fair trial for it is in the interest of his alleged victims that justice is done and Croatian judiciary is well aware of that. Furthermore, Croatian courts have had ample opportunities to deliver just verdicts and conduct fair trials in numbers of similar cases over the past decade or so.
It’s been reported that Vasiljkovic’s criminal rampage did not stop in Croatia, against Croats – he had Bosniaks in his sights too. In evidence, in 2009, before a defamation case Vasiljkovic (Snedden) had launched against The Australian newspaper (and lost the case), a Bosnian woman accused him of repeatedly raping her in Zvornik (close to Srebrenica), northern Bosnia, in 1992. The woman, who travelled to Sydney in April 2009 to testify in the NSW Supreme Court along with several Croatian men allegedly imprisoned and tortured by Vasiljkovic, identified him in court as the ”Captain Dragan” who repeatedly raped her and watched as other soldiers did so also.
In this landmark civil judgment, The Australian newspaper had in 2009 successfully defended the defamation action brought against it by Vasiljkovic – under the name Daniel Snedden – after the publication of an article in 2005 that detailed the horrors he was said to have committed in the former Yugoslavia (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina) during the so-called Balkans conflict.
Nationwide News, publisher of The Australian newspaper, ran a de facto war crimes hearing in which it proved, on the balance of probabilities, the substantive truth of matters contained in the allegedly defamatory newspaper article.
Judge Megan Latham found December 18, 2009, Nationwide News had proven a raft of allegations made against Vasiljkovic, including that he repeatedly raped a woman in Zvornik, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1992; that he had admitted committing a massacre in July 1991 to a journalist from London’s The Times; and that he had personally committed the war crime of torture as well as condoning such crimes by troops under his command.
“The systematic abuse, humiliation and deprivation visited upon those whom the plaintiff (Vasiljkovic) sought to punish and subdue at the Knin fortress, the old hospital prison and the Sremska Mitrovica prison, was consistent with (his) stated aim to drive out non-Serbs from the Krajina,” Justice Latham found in her judgment.
It was in his reactions to this defamation case and its findings that Graeme Blewitt, the former deputy chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, said he was confident a fair trial could be conducted in Croatia given the number of similar cases heard in recent years.
According to The Australian, former war crimes prosecutors welcomed the 2009 defamation case verdict and demanded the Australian government find a way to prosecute Vasiljkovic should his extradition to Croatia not proceed.
But extradition will proceed. We no longer need to fret for justice and keep asking: will he or won’t he face the court to answer to the charges of atrocities in Croatia. Vasiljkovic was a most active paramilitary campaigner for the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina that terrorised, murdered, raped, tortured, ethnically cleansed, and pillaged a large section of Croatia, liberated in August 1995 in Operation Storm. Until a court verdict on alleged war crimes Captain Dragan remains a notorious figure of the 1990’s bloody and criminal attempts at extending the borders for “Greater Serbia” into Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)