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Acquittal Bids Dismissed in Srebrenica Trial

Court says prosecution has presented enough evidence to substantiate charges against accused.
Judges in the case of seven Bosnian Serb officials this week in The Hague dismissed motions for the acquittal of six of the accused halfway through the trial.

Vujadin Popovic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Ljubisa Beara, Vinko Pandurevic, Drago Nikolic, Radivoj Miletic and Milan Gvero are charged in relation to the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre and the forcible transfer of Bosnian Muslims out of Srebrenica and Zepa in central Bosnia during 1995.

As allowed under tribunal rules, the defence teams for six of the men requested their clients be acquitted on the grounds that the prosecution had not proven various charges against them. Popovic’s counsel made no submissions for acquittal at this point.

The trial chamber dismissed the defence argument that Nikolic, Pandurevic and Borovcanin did not join together for the purpose of committing genocide.

The indictment against the men alleges that they “were members of and knowingly participated in a Conspiracy and Joint Criminal Enterprise, the common purpose of which was to summarily execute and bury thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys aged 16 to 60 captured from the Srebrenica enclave” in 1995.

Presiding Judge Carmel Agius also rejected defence claims that what was undertaken by members of the Bosnian Serb military, VRS, and police, MUP, in 1995 was closer to an act of detention than a forcible transfer.

“The trial chamber finds that there is evidence of the involvement of various VRS/MUP units acting in a coordinated fashion to carry out separations, transportations, ambushes, detentions, executions, burials and re-burials of the able-bodied Muslim men,” ruled the court.

Coming to Gvero’s motion for acquittal, the trial chamber accepted the defence contention that there were legal arguments over what exactly constitutes “forcible transfer”.

Gvero’s lawyers claimed that forcible transfer could only apply to civilians and not members of the Bosnian army or military-aged men who left Srebrenica and Zepa after Serb troops arrived. However, Judge Agius stated that such issues relating to the charge of joint criminal enterprise would be ruled upon at the end of the trial.

The defence counsel for Miletic asked that he be acquitted on all counts. But the trial chamber said it was satisfied there was evidence that he too could have been involved in a joint criminal enterprise to remove members of the Bosnian army and Bosniak civilians from Zepa and Srebrenica.

At this stage of the trial, judges make no attempt to evaluate the strength of evidence or to weigh up contradictory sources. It was the trial chamber’s decision only that the prosecution had presented enough evidence to substantiate all the charges against the accused.

“The trial chamber has not identified with reference to any of the accused a count where there is no evidence capable of supporting a conviction,” concluded Judge Agius.

All parties will reconvene on May 22 before the trial continues with the presentation of the defence case.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR journalist in The Hague.

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