Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

The Aleksovski Trial: The Prosecution Ends its Case

Tribunal Update 69: Last Week in The Hague (23-28 March 1998)

Last week, as many as 11 witnesses appeared before the court, even though the work day was shortened (9 a.m. to 1.30 p.m.) due to the medical condition of the accused.

There was no announcement regarding the nature of his health problems, but on 6 March, on the last day of the previous round of the trial, the accused fell ill after one of the witnesses asked him where the bones of his 21-year-old son had been buried (see "Tribunal Update" 66). The witness' son had gone missing during the detention in Kaonik.

The indictment charges Aleksovski with unlawful treatment of Bosnian Muslim detainees, which is qualified as a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and a violation of the laws and customs of war.

The issue of using detainees as human shields was particularly prominent last week, following a number of testimonies by former inmates about the difficult and inhumane conditions in the Kaonik camp; the physical and psychological abuse of detainees; and, in particular, trench digging and other forced labor.

Six former Kaonik detainees testified about being used as human shield. At the end of January 1993, they were part of a group of 15 Muslims, with whose "help" the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) soldiers managed to seize two Muslim villages without fighting. The story of the six protected witnesses coincides in all important details, and, looks, approximately, as follows.

In the morning hours of 26 January, Aleksovski's deputy, Marko Krilic, summoned 20 detainees. The HVO soldiers then tied them in three groups of 5, while the remaining five were returned to their cells. The detainees were then boarded on a bus and taken to the Muslim village of Skradno.

Before the bridge, some several hundred meters away from the village, they were taken off the bus and ordered to form three lines. The detainees were then told to start walking toward the other side of the bridge; the HVO soldiers followed behind them. Once they crossed the bridge, they were ordered to stop, and an envoy was sent to the village to negotiate its surrender.

After the villagers agreed to surrender, the HVO bused their human shield to another location. At the entrance to the village of Strane, "HVO soldiers shot over our heads and we were ordered not to [duck]. Somebody shot at us from the forest also," said witness "O."

Then, using a megaphone, the soldiers called on the defenders of the village to surrender, and the latter eventually complied. After that, the human shields were returned to the camp, from where they were taken to dig trenches on the front lines the very next day.

Last week's witness "K", a professional soldier in the Muslim-dominated Bosnian Army, described the Croat-Muslim conflict in Central Bosnia as "trench warfare." He indicated the Lasva Valley frontlines on the maps and said that both sides had been strongly entrenched and that the front lines changed very little during the conflict.

According to "K", soldiers themselves dug trenches for the Bosnian Army, while the reports he was receiving indicated that the HVO was forcing prisoners of war and detained civilians to dig the trenches on their side.

Daniel Damon, a British freelance journalist who was reporting for Sky TV on the wars in Croatia and Bosnia in 1991 and 1992, was also among last week's witnesses. At the end of 1992, he was shooting a reportage about the training of the HVO forces in Central Bosnia; he described them as a "well trained, properly organized military formation, not a rag tag army."

On that occasion, he met HVO Commander Tihomir Blaskic, whose trial is underway, as well as one of Bosnian Croat political leaders, Dario Kordic, who is awaiting the beginning of his trial. Kordic enabled Damon to go to Kaonik and film detained citizens of Arabic countries, to whom Kordic referred to as the "mujahedin."

One of the detained Arabs testified last week as a protected witness "T".

He is a Syrian who had come to Yugoslavia to study medicine in 1983. When the war began, "T" left Zagreb for Travnik and reported to the Bosnian Army as a nurse. But after a week, he realized that he was not cut out for that job, so he began working as a translator and teacher of Arabic.

At the end of May 1993, he decided to return to Syria, packed his things, and set out with a Croat acquaintance by car toward the Adriatic coast. They were stopped at the first HVO checkpoint. When it was established that he was from Syria, he was ordered to get out of the car and take out his luggage. Since they found the Koran and other religious books in the bags, "T" was arrested and taken to Kaonik. He was beaten with rifle butts along the entire way.

Immediately upon his arrival at Kaonik, four huge HVO soldiers entered his cell and started beating him mercilessly. After they left, the camp commander, the accused Aleksovski, entered the cell escorted by one guard. He asked "T" to guess whether that guard was a Croat or a Muslim and then said that the guard's name was Djemo (a typical Muslim name).

According to "T", Aleksovski then insulted him, said profanities about his religion, and kicked him in the chest with his army boots. When "T" fell to the ground, Aleksovski ordered Djemo to jump onto the detainee's back, which he did. "T" is the first witness to state before the court that he was beaten by Aleksovski himself.

Two of last week's witnesses claimed that they had been beaten in the presence of the accused. According to witness "M", Aleksovski used to call the beating of detainees "dance party." Arrested as a Bosnian Army soldier at the age of 19, witness "M" had gone through so many "parties" that, as he described, his "whole body was black and blue, down to the ankles and up to the neck."

Protected witness "L" described how he was beaten in cell 6 by two HVO soldiers named Zarko and Miro. When Zarko got tired, he decided to take a break. But, at that point, allegedly, Aleksovski entered the cell, and seeing him "resting" exclaimed: "What are your waiting for? Why don't you do the same as Miro!" Zarko obliged.

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