Aleksovski Trial

Tribunal Update 66: Last Week in The Hague (March 2-7, 1998)

Aleksovski Trial

Tribunal Update 66: Last Week in The Hague (March 2-7, 1998)

Saturday, 7 March, 1998

Zlatko Aleksovski, commander of the Kaonik camp in Central Bosnia, fell ill, fainted and forced the judges to interrupt the hearing when protected witness "J", a former detainee of the camp, requested the court's permission to ask the accused something at the end of his testimony.

While Presiding Judge Almiro Simoes Rodrigues was in two minds as to what to do, "J" put his question anyway. He asked Aleksovski to tell him where the bones of his son were, so that he could bury him appropriately.

Aleksovski's eyes filled with tears, and he nodded his head in the direction of the judges, as if he wanted to answer the witness's question. When he grabbed his head in his hands the defence approached him and asked for a break since the accused was feeling unwell.

After five minutes one of the defence team returned and informed the judges that the accused had fainted and was unable to proceed with the trial. The hearing was interrupted.

Witness "J" was detained in Kaonik together with his 21-year-old son. One day, his son was taken to dig the trenches and never returned.

Other detainees told "J" that as his son was digging in the vicinity of the front line his head was grazed by a bullet, but he did not appear to be seriously wounded. "J"'s son was taken to hospital, together with another wounded detainee, but nothing else was heard of them.

The same event was described by several of last week's ten witnesses. According to one of them, protected witness "H", the shots came from the positions of the Croat soldiers for whom the Muslim detainees were digging the trenches.

On other occasions, they were shot at or shelled from the Muslim, i.e. B-H Army, positions. Subjecting the detainees to such risks is in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Ironically, Aleksovski had boasted to a member of the European Community Monitoring Mission appearing as a witness that he not only "knew the Geneva Conventions, but had the book in which they were published."

According to two of last week's witnesses Aleksovski did occasionally behave in accordance with those conventions: seeing a sizeable bruise on the eye of the witness "I", Aleksovski asked him who had hit him. "I" had replied that he had been hit by a Croat soldier, but that he could not identify him, and Aleksovski did not insist.

Then another witness, one of the arrested Muslim leaders from Konjic, described how Aleksovski was "very angry" when he complained to him that soldiers had confiscated some of his personal belongings, and ordered that they be returned to him saying that the confiscation "ought not to have happened."

Last week, there was more talk about the physical and psychological mistreatment of inmates in the camp itself. Witness "F", one of wealthier Muslim citizens of Busovaca, described how he was called every night, taken from the cells to the corridor and beaten mercilessly for several hours.

Once they set fire to his 2-3 cm long beard, then his fur hat, and then they forced him to eat it. Another time they stripped him naked, put a knife under his throat, and forced him to dig his grave in an attempt to force him to tell them where he had hidden his gold and his money.

Such practices were not confined to the Kaonik camp. Several months ago, in the trial of three Muslims and one Croat accused of crimes in the Celebici camp, very similar testimony was heard from a wealthy Serb inmate.

Support our journalists