Another No Show for Stanisic

Proceedings against Serbian police officials postponed again due to suspect’s poor health.

Another No Show for Stanisic

Proceedings against Serbian police officials postponed again due to suspect’s poor health.

Saturday, 16 May, 2009
The war crimes trial of two former Serbian police officials has been further delayed after one of the defendants, who suffers from several long-term illnesses, once more failed to attend court.

Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic are charged at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, for responsibility for crimes, including murder, persecution, forced deportation and other inhumane acts.

Stanisic was head of the Serbian State Security, DB, between December 1991 and October 1998. Simatovic, also known as “Frenki”, was the commander of the DB’s special operations unit between 1991 and 1995.

According to the prosecution’s indictment, they are responsible for “the forcible and permanent removal of the majority of non-Serbs, principally Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina”.

Prosecutors allege that the two defendants provided logistical support for Serb paramilitary units – including Arkan’s Tigers, the Red Berets, the Scorpions and Martic’s militia – which committed crimes against non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia.

Stanisic and Simatovic have both pleaded not guilty to all charges against them.

The trial began on April 28 last year, but was suspended only two weeks later, on May 16, due to Stanisic’s poor health.

The defendant, who was suffering from osteoporosis, kidney stones, pouchitis and depression, was unable to attend court hearings or watch proceedings via a video link set up for him at the United Nations prison in The Hague where he was in custody. He had refused to give up his right to be present during trial hearings.

Stanisic was then granted provisional release from the UN detention unit on May 26, 2008, to allow him to receive medical attention and recuperate in Serbia.

Following treatment in Belgrade, Stanisic returned to The Hague last week as judges sought to restart the trial.

On the basis of medical reports from his doctors in Belgrade, judges had scheduled for the trial to start again on May 25, ruling that the defendant was able to participate in the proceedings.

However, as so often happened in the run up his trial last year, Stanisic again failed to attend a meeting between the parties in court this week.

“We were informed that Stanisic has claimed that he is too unwell to attend court or be present in a video link room [at the UN detention unit],” Dutch judge, Alphons Orie, told the parties on May 12.

According to Judge Orie, the reporting medical officer at the UN detention unit, Dr Michael Eekhof, had written to the judges informing them that Stanisic was not too ill to come to the proceedings.

Eekhof’s letter explained that the defendant had visited a gastroenterologist and had undergone an MRI scan the previous day and was going to see a neurologist later this week. Eekhof had not mentioned the defendant’s capacity to use the video link from the prison, said the judge.

According to Stanisic himself, he “cannot stand or walk for more than a few moments”, said Judge Orie.

Medical reports say his psychological condition has deteriorated and he now suffers from a herniated disc in his lower spine, said the judge.

Judge Orie informed the parties that he had also spoken with Dr Paulus Falke, the doctor who treats inmates at the UN prison, who had told him that he could not exclude the possibility that Stanisic was exaggerating his health problems in light of his pending trial.

Before this week’s hearing, Stanisic’s lawyers had asked for the restart of the trial to be delayed by four weeks due to their prior commitments in other cases before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Judge Orie said the chamber would make a decision on their request but regardless of their concern, pushed back the start date of the trial by two weeks “for a variety of reasons”. A pre-trial conference will now be held on June 2.

The judge also addressed administrative matters relating to the trial’s suspension for over a year.

He sought to clarify notice given by the judges’ order that evidence already entered would have to be reproduced before the court.

The prosecution had made its opening statement and presented one witness to the court before the trial was suspended.

“Witnesses heard or exhibits admitted at the initial commencement of trial proceedings in this case shall not be considered as evidence without presentation anew following recommencement of trial,” confirmed Judge Orie from the order given by judges.

“Everything that happened after the start of the trial is more or less annulled, doesn’t count and therefore has to be repeated.

“This does not affect any rulings that have been completed before the trial started.”

Judge Orie confirmed that Stanisic would not be granted further provisional release between the hearing and the scheduled start of the trial.

Only if further delays arose due to Stanisic’s ailments would judges then consider granting provisional release, he said.

While the court adjourned until June 2, Orie noted that further meetings between the parties might be necessary before then to discuss Stanisic’s poor health.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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