Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 85: Last Week in The Hague (13-15 July 1998)

Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 85: Last Week in The Hague (13-15 July 1998)

Wednesday, 4 May, 2005

Dr Colin Kaiser, advisor for cultural heritage with UNESCO and current representative of that organisation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, appeared before the court as an expert-witness for the prosecution. Kaiser testified about the same topic in July 1996, in a hearing called on the basis of Rule 61 (Rules of Procedure and Evidence) and dedicated to the indictments against political and military leaders of the Bosnian Serbs: Dr Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic.

One of the characteristics of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia was, according to Kaiser, that religious and cultural objects, as "symbols of ethnic identity" were turned into war aims. The obligation of military commanders, according to The Hague Convention on Cultural Heritage, is to ensure the protection of objects of religious and cultural heritage during war operations.

As the commander of the HVO forces in the Operative zone central Bosnia, General (at the time colonel) Blaskic obviously did not live up to that obligation: on the territory under the control of the forces under his command, not one single minaret has remained, except for the one in Stari Vitez, the Muslim enclave that held up under the HVO siege. All other minarets have been destroyed, not in war operations, but "on cold", most often with explosives. According to Kaiser's statistics, 69 percent of Muslim religious and educational institutions have been damaged to a lesser or greater extent in the area.

During the cross-examination, Kaiser confirmed that in the same area several Catholic religious objects have been damaged or desecrated, pointing out that there is incomparably less damage to Catholic objects than to Muslim ones. A majority of those attacks on Catholic churches and monasteries appeared to be in retribution for the earlier Croat actions against Muslim religious objects, Kaiser said.

The destruction of mosques and religious schools, sent "a very strong message to Bosnian Muslims: we do not want to live with you any longer, we want to erase you out of our chronology and history of the country, and out of our memory", Kaiser maintained. The testimony of this expert-witness inspired Trial Chamber I (Claude Jorda, presiding, and Judges Fouad Riad and Mohamed Shahabuddeen) to ask a large number of questions about the importance of history, culture and religion for national identification, as well as about "ritualistic vandalism", i.e. the "ritualistic character" of the war in Bosnia, directed at the destruction of symbols of enemy ethnic group.

Kaiser suggested that the war did not begin that way or as a result of such concerns, but that it became so with time. He also said: "Those who started the war had their (political, economic, territorial) motives, which have nothing to do with that, but they knew how to mobilise such energy in their peoples, so that the war in the end turned into that (the ritualistic destruction of symbols)."

The Blaskic trial continues this week, and the prosecution is expected to finish the presentation of evidence at the end of July. After this the defence will have 60 working days at its disposal for the presentation of its case, and it intends, as we have learnt, to summon between 90 and 100 witnesses.

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