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Aleksovski Or Republic Of Croatia Case

Tribunal Update 104: Last Week in The Hague (30 November - 5 December, 1998)

Last week's hearing focused more on the Republic of Croatia's attitude towards the Tribunal and the degree of its co-operation with it in the past, than on the accused himself and the "exceptional circumstances" on which the Defence's request was based.

The Defence and the Prosecution presented such diametrically opposing stands on this, that Presiding Judge Almiro Rodrigues at one point asked, Orsat Miljanic, a senior Croatian diplomat based at the Hague "which Croatia he was representing," the one described by Prosecutor Grant Niemann, or the one as it was presented by defence counsel, Goran Mikulicic? The First Secretary, who attended the hearing upon the court's invitation - opted for the "Defence's" Croatia. However, judging by the decision, he failed to convince the Trial Chamber.

The trial of Zlatko Aleksovski, accused of crimes against Muslim civilians detained in 1993 in the Kaonik camp near Busovaca has entered the final phase, but was interrupted by a dispute over the acceptability of certain evidence materials. The Appeal Chamber will rule on this following the Prosecutor's appeal.

As it is not certain when the decision will be made, the Defence demanded the provisional release of Aleksovski, justifying this with the length of his detention; the medical condition of the accused; the claim that he will not represent a danger for the victims or witnesses in the Kaonik case and on the basis of guarantees made by the Croatian authorities.

Defence counsel Mikulicic insisted that Croatia was one of the first countries in the world that passed a law on co-operation with the Tribunal; that it arrested and extradited those accused who were on her territory (Aleksovski and Skopljak); that it enabled voluntary surrender of its citizen General Blaskic and that it contributed to the surrender of a bigger group of accused Bosnian Croats in October 1997 (Kordic, Cerkez and the rest).

If Aleksovski is provisionally released, Mikulicic said, and Orsat confirmed, the authorities of Croatia will undertake all measures in accordance with its laws to ensure his return to the continuation of the trial. A temporary revocation of the passport, as well as stepped-up police supervision over Aleksovski, were mentioned in that context.

Prosecution Neimann, however, does not believe Croatia, and, has an entirely different perception of its authorities' relations with the Tribunal. In the written answer to the Defence's request, the Prosecutor pointed this out in a very direct and unambiguous way. The Prosecutor says: "Given the repeated, strenuous and public efforts by the Government of the Republic of Croatia to avoid the legal jurisdiction of this Tribunal, IT WOULD BE THE HEIGHT OF FOLLY [emphasis by Tribunal Update] for this Trial Chamber to now invest its faith in Croatian Government assurances..."

Last week, in the oral justification of such a stand, Prosecutor Niemann said that Croatia - as it denies the Tribunal the right to issue legally binding orders to states - may or may not do what it is promising, i.e. ensure police supervision over Aleksovski. The court would, in that case, depend on the "good will" of those authorities, in which the Prosecutor does not believe on the basis of his previous experience.

Even though most of the hearing was taken up by examination of whether the Croatian authorities can be believed or not, this issue is not mentioned in the Trial Chamber's decision. After a short deliberation, the judges only stated that the defence did not prove the existence of "exceptional circumstances" that would enable the provisional release in accordance with Rule 65B of Rules of Procedure and Evidence, and that Aleksovski will stay in the UN Detention Unit until the end of the trial.

Whether he will stay after that, will depend on the verdict.

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