Bosnia-Herzegovina wants Susnjar to face accusations he was part of a Bosnian Serb paramilitary group that massacred 59 Bosnian Muslims in the city of Visegrad in June 1992.
The group’s leader, Milan Lukic, was given a life sentence by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague in 2009.
Witnesses say Susnjar personally locked the people – most of them women, children or elderly – inside a house and set it on fire. All but eight of them perished.
He was arrested in the Paris region in April 2014 and has already faced several hearings.
“The court of appeal has asked the Bosnian legal system to provide various information about their legal system, about the charges Susnjar would face if he were extradited, about the penalty he would incur,” says Simon Foreman, the French lawyer representing Bosnia-Herzegovina in the case.
Prosecutors argued that France could only extradite him under common law principles, because crimes against humanity were not punishable offenses in France when they happened.
“We said the prosecutor’s argument – that it was only a common law crime, because of the non-retroactivity principle, and because crimes against humanity were only incorporated in French law in 1994 – goes against European law and international law,” Foreman explains. “Both very clearly state the non-retroactivity principle does not apply to crimes against humanity, which have always been crimes under international law, and certainly since 1945.”
The court’s ruling in favour of extradition on international principles was a relief to victims, who had called on the court and on French President François Hollande not to set precedent they feared would allow war criminals to find a safe haven in France.
“It’s a great day for us, for truth, and for justice,” says Bakira Hesecic, president of the Bosnian group Women Victims of War, who was in France to hear the ruling. “We hope that during the trial in Bosnia, Susnjar will reveal the location of the remains of the victims that he burned in the house, so that their families can give them a proper burial.”
But Susnjar’s lawyer Olivier Morice, who has previously argued that his client has been confused with another man of the same name, said he would take the case to France’s Cassation Court.
“Mr. Susnjar believes the appeal court gave into pressure from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that is intolerable,” Morice says, arguing the ruling did not follow procedures of the criminal code.
“At the time, what was then Yugoslavia had no laws to punish this type of incident, and so he cannot be tried for these offences today,” Morice argues. “My client maintains he cannot be held responsible for these crimes, that it is a case of mistaken identity, and that he is not concerned in any way.”
The judge that ruled in favour of the extradition, Jean Bartholin, suggested the higher court could reverse the order, as it had a different interpretation of the case.
The Cassation Court has previously reversed extradition rulings for suspects wanted in Kigali for their alleged participation in genocide in 1994, on the ground that the crime was not a punishable offence in Rwanda until after the genocide.