Extradition Lawyers Association

Nezirovic (25 February 2015)

Nezirovic v. Holt, No. 14–6468, 2015 WL 777540 (4th Cir. 2015)

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that (1) ex post facto principles did not bar retroactive application of the Torture Act’s indefinite statute of limitations; and (2) the allegations of war crimes did not constitute political offenses exempt from extradition. Following the collapse of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the subsequent emergence of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Almaz Nezirovic served as a member of the Croatian Defense Council (“HVO”), a paramilitary group that deemed itself “the supreme defense body of the Croat people in Herzeg-Bosnia.” While stationed as a guard at the Rabic internment camp in Bosnia Herzegovina in the early 1990s, Nezirovic allegedly engaged in the “individual and group torture and inhuman treatment of civilians of Serb nationality” detained at Rabic. The Bosnian authorities requested Nezirovic’s extradition from the U.S. in 2012 for these alleged acts. Nezirovic contended that (i) he was not subject to the indefinite limitations period in the United States Torture Act, and (ii) his alleged offenses fell under the “political offense exception” in the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nezirovic argued that the indefinite limitations period in the United States Torture Act could not be applied in his case, as the act only became effective two years after his alleged conduct occurred. He suggested that the five-year statute of limitations applicable to the crime of assault should be applied instead. The Court of Appeals held that the United States Torture Act could be applied retroactively, as the courts look to the law in place at the time the extradition request was made, not at the time the offenses were allegedly committed. Further, the Court ruled that the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution has “no relation to crimes committed without the jurisdiction of the United States against the laws of a foreign country.” The Court of Appeals also concluded the alleged torture of civilians could not be considered a political offense. The original justification for the political offense exception was the protection of the “inalienable right to resist and abolish tyrannical governments,” and therefore it does not cover crimes against citizens. Further, the Court’s ruling aligns with the Department of State’s view that the political offense exception “is not applicable to violent attacks on civilians.”