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

ANALYSIS: Kosovo Victims Gagged

Milosevic's alleged victims will in the future only be allowed to testify or speak in public about subjects he's interested in and which he deems relevant.
By Mirko Klarin

"But you did not ask me about what I survived!" Thus spoke an astonished Sadik Januzi, when Judge Richard May - after only 35 minutes of questioning - thanked him for his appearance and told him he was free to go. Januzi, an 80-year-old farmer from the Kosovo village of Broje, had come to the trial of Slobodan Milosevic to testify about a massacre in the village of Izbica on March 28, 1999, which he luckily survived.


In April that year, as a refugee in Albania he had told his story to the prosecution investigators. They had written down his statement and in January 2002 the illiterate old man, in accordance with Rule 92bis of the tribunal procedure, confirmed to a tribunal official that the statement read out to him was the one he gave the investigators.


Last week, he was one of a dozen witnesses whose written statements were included in the evidence and who came to The Hague for cross-examination by Milosevic and the attorneys appointed as amici curiae (friends of the court). The prosecution cannot examine such witnesses but may present a brief summary of their written statements before the cross-examination begins.


The court heard in the summary read by prosecutor Dirk Ryneveld, that on March 27, 1999 about 5,000 people, mostly refugees who had fled Serbian shelling of their homes, had gathered at a meadow near Izbica. The next day Serbian forces entered the village, separated the men from the women and children and ordered the latter to move off in the direction of Albania. Two old disabled women were burned alive.


The Serbs divided the men into two groups, each of about 70 people. One was taken towards the local stream, while the other, older men aged 40 to 96 was taken uphill. Januzi was in the latter group, which was escorted by a dozen soldiers.


Januzi's statement said that after the Serbs suddenly called them to a halt, he heard the order, "Fire!" Machine gun fire followed and he fell to the ground, uninjured and was covered by the bodies of three men who had been shot dead. Concealed by the corpses, he heard the soldiers checking if everyone was dead and shooting any that showed signs of life. Then, he heard one say, "Let's go, our job here is finished".


Milosevic, not surprisingly, quizzed the witness about everything except the massacre. Irritated by the fact that he "knew nothing" of KLA activities in the Izbica area, Milosevic gave up the cross-examination after only 20 minutes.


One of the amici curiae, Belgrade attorney Branislav Tapuskovic, who was equally uninterested in the events in Izbica, then asked questions. Although the witness reminded him that he was "the only person who survived the massacre" and invited him "to concentrate on that fact", it was to no avail. Judge May offered some comfort to the disappointed witness, insisting that the judges had got his statement, had read it and knew what had happened to him.


But what of the public? While the witnesses without doubt feel they have the right to recount their ordeals in public, and in front of the person they hold responsible for what they and their families endured, the public also has the right to hear first-hand accounts of victims or eye-witnesses. This is how they learn what happened. The need was even greater in this particular case, given the fact that the Milosevic propaganda machine made an example of the Izbica events, using it to claim "stories of mass graves" of Kosovo Albanians were "NATO propaganda".


The Izbica case first came to light in April 1999 at a NATO war briefing, when the public was shown air-reconnaissance photographs of a long line of fresh graves near the village. A few days later, Serbian television showed footage - allegedly of the same area, claiming there were no graves. A so-called Albanian shepherd from Izbica said on camera that no massacre had taken place.


Januzi s testimony was an opportunity to settle this controversy in public, not only in the court files. If the prosecution finds no other survivors to testify orally about what happened in Izbica, the truth will probably remain disputed until the final court decision, and possibly beyond it.


Januzi was not the only witness in the trial to be denied the chance to recount his sufferings in public. Much the same happened to all of last week's witnesses whom Milosevic and the amici curiae questioned. Milosevic has no interest in that part of their written statements. His cross-examination invariably focused on the KLA, on the consequences of NATO bombardment, and on rebutting claims that Kosovo Albanians had faced discrimination in Serbia.


Faced with the strict time limit that the trial chamber has now imposed, and its request for the prosecution to complete presenting evidence for all three Milosevic indictments by April 10, 2003, the prosecution last week announced they would save time by presenting all the testimonies of victims and witnesses of specific crimes as written statements.


Geoffrey Nice, the prosecution team coordinator, said priority for oral testimonies would go to "international witnesses", "insiders" and to "linkage witnesses" who could connect Milosevic to events or phenomena relevant to the indictment.


Since the appeals chamber late last week turned down a prosecution request for the right to appeal against the imposed deadline, the latter now has no choice but to make extensive use of written statements by victims or witnesses to specific crimes.


It means that in future the victims of the crimes Milosevic is accused of in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia will - for the main part - only be allowed to speak before the court and the public on topics that the defendant himself is interested in, and which he deems relevant. Written statements about their sufferings will, of course, be included in the court file and will be taken into account in the final judgement. But as Sadik Januzi found out last week, their story will be kept from the public.


Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor at the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.


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