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Aleksovski Trial: The Defence Ends Its Case

Tribunal Update 91: Last Week in The Hague (24-29 August, 1998)
By IWPR ICTY

Without disputing that the detainees from camp (where Aleksovski was commander) were being taken to dig trenches, the defence tried to prove that at the time this was legal and legitimate "compulsory labour" for all able men who did not bear arms. Those who did not comply with summons for such labour risked certain sanctions (imprisonment of three to 15 days).

Not only Bosniaks were summoned, but also Croats, Serbs and Roma. A number of the last week's witnesses for the defence bore out that, although they were Croats, they were taken to dig trenches. One Serb from Vitez also confirmed this. Appearing as defence witness in the trial of a Bosnian Croat, he represented an exception to the rule of monoethnic witnesses in Hague Tribunal trials. He stated that he spent four months digging trenches and that he lost some 20 kilograms as a result of hard labour. The Serb witness was also an exception in declaring himself an atheist. All other witnesses for the defence did not miss the opportunity to state they were "Croats of the Roman Catholic religion".

Along with the attempt to prove that everyone dug the trenches, last week the defence disputed that the conflict in Central Bosnia was of international character, ruling out any presence of the Croatian Army (HV) in the area. None of last week's seven witnesses for the defence ever saw an HV soldier in Central Bosnia, they assured the court, nor did they ever hear that the HV was in the area. True, there were soldiers with no insignia, but the witnesses did not know who they were, nor where they came from.

Given that, according to the defence, the war in Central Bosnia was not an international conflict, the detainees of the Kaonik camp were not protected by the Geneva conventions, but "temporarily detained men capable of military service". According to the witnesses for the defence, they were detained for two reasons.

First of all, in order to prevent "their roaming in the rear" which could endanger the HVO. Second, they were detained for their own safety to prevent some "drunken Croats wanting to take revenge because of death of their family members". Asked by the prosecutor why the detainees were exposed to the risk of digging the trenches if they were detained for their own safety, one of last week's witnesses replied briefly: "Because of the wartime conditions."

During cross examination the prosecution insisted questioning whether they complied voluntarily with the compulsory labour summons as well as on the treatment they received while digging the trenches. The prosecutor asked whether they were beaten, threatened or maltreated in any way. The witnesses replied that, on the contrary, the military police guarded them and took care of their security.

On the other hand, numerous detainees from the Kaonik camp who appeared as witnesses in the preliminary proceedings of the trial maintained that they were forcibly taken to dig the trenches, were beaten and maltreated and that some detainees were wounded or even killed while digging the trenches.

The Aleksovski trial will resume in October.