Mladic Comments Recalled
A member of the Hague tribunal’s prosecution staff took the stand as a witness this week to testify about statements which she heard former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic make in the courtroom earlier this year.
The witness, Dora Sokola, is a native of Croatia and currently works in the prosecutor’s office as a translator and analyst. She testified that prior to proceedings in the Mladic trial on February 18, a member of the prosecution team asked her to attend court to “listen to any utterances” made by the accused that might not be captured by the court’s recording equipment.
“Were you told the reason for that task?” asked prosecuting lawyer Maxine Marcus.
“The sensitivity and story the witness had to tell,” Sokola said.
The witness to whom Sokola referred appeared in court on February 18, subject to protective measures, and testified entirely in closed session.
Sokola said an “outburst” from Mladic occurred during a break between the first and second court sessions and was thus not recorded. She said that this happened before the judges entered the courtroom, but that many members of the prosecution team were present.
Mladic began speaking as he entered the courtroom and continued after he sat down, Sokola said. She noted down in English what he was saying, although he was speaking Serbian.
Sokola read out what she had heard Mladic say and noted down. Much of it was disjointed and made little sense without the context of the protected witness’s testimony.
According to Sokola’s notes, Mladic began by addressing his lawyer Branko Lukic by name, and then mentioned the “Muslim family” of a man named Mesa Selimovic whom he had “got out” of Mostar, a town in southeast Bosnia.
“I’m proud of that,” Mladic continued, according to Sokola’s record.
“What the fuck does a Muslim woman want?” Mladic then said, before telling his lawyer to question the witness about two different men and find out whether either of them had raped her. Then he said something about getting Macedonians out of Sarajevo.
During the cross-examination, one of Mladic’s defence lawyers, Miodrag Stojanovic, asked Sokola to clarify what her task was in the courtroom on that day in February.
“I was to follow any utterances made by Mr Mladic off the record at the time he was not being recorded, so during the breaks,” she said.
“Was it ever pointed out to you that communication between a defendant and his defence is privileged?” the lawyer asked.
“I was given a task and I did it,” Sokola replied.
Presiding Judge Alphons Orie then asked Sokola whether this point had been pointed out to her, and she said it had not.
“So may I conclude it was your task to follow whatever was being said outside the trial; that is, what was being said between defendant and his counsel, and what does not enter the transcript?” Stojanovic asked.
Sokola replied that her task was to follow what Mladic said, not what his lawyers said.
Stojanovic then inquired whether Sokola would have also taken note of statements Mladic made “about his family or private affairs to his defence counsel”.
“I believe so, yes,” Sokola said.
Stojanovic then went through Mladic’s statement word by word, beginning with Mladic allegedly claiming that he got the family of Mesa Selimovic out of Mostar.
“Is it correct that Mesa Selimovic is the name of a well known Yugoslav writer?” the lawyer asked.
Sokola confirmed that this was correct.
“Do you know that this writer passed away many years before the war? Are you sure that you heard Mr Mladic mention precisely that name, Mesa Selimovic?” Stojanovic asked.
“That is what I heard at the time, yes,” Sokola said.
The lawyer then asked whether between these sentences “there was an interruption or pause, or did all this happen in a flow, if you will?”
“There were pauses between these sentences, at which time also Mr Lukic and other members of the defence spoke to Mr Mladic,” Sokola said. She said she did not hear what was said by the defence lawyers.
Stojanovic asked whether Mladic was “red in the face” when he entered the courtroom that day.
“I don’t recall this at all,” Sokola said.
“Did he come across as a person who was upset, agitated?” the lawyer asked.
“Not particularly,” she replied.
When the prosecution had the opportunity to put additional questions to the witness, trial lawyer Marcus asked whether she had the “impression that the accused was trying to have a private conversation with his attorneys” when she heard him make the statements in question.
Stojanovic objected, and said the witness was being asked to speculate. Judge Orie disagreed, and said the witness was being asked for her impression.
“The impression I did get was that this was not meant to be a private conversation,” she said.
Prosecutors allege that Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, is responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.
He is also accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995. Mladic was arrested in Serbia in May 2011 after 16 years on the run.
The trial continues next week.
Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.