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Blaskic Trial: On Orders to 'Prevent or Punish' War Crimes

Tribunal Update 127: Last Week in The Hague (24-29 May, 1999)
By IWPR

last week's demonstration of how the Tribunal determines responsibility for


failure to prevent or punish, as given by Prosecutor Gregory Kehoe at the


grand finale of the cross-examination of General Tihomir Blaskic.


The former commander of the Bosnian Croat Defense Council (HVO) in central


Bosnia is equally attributed with "command responsibility" for acts


committed by his subordinates.


Last week Kehoe pointed out that nobody was arrested, charged with or


sentenced for the massacre in the village of Ahmici, he this week continued


with other crimes committed by forces under Blaskic's command in Central


Bosnia. Furthermore, it turned out that nobody was ever arrested, charged


with or sentenced for the explosion of a lorry-bomb in the Muslim section


of the town of Vitez, on 18 April 1993, in which several civilians were


killed.


Although this happened some 400 meters from Blaskic's own headquarters, and


many witnesses pointed out that Bosnian Croat inhabitants of Vitez were


forewarned of the explosion, Blaskic maintains that he knew nothing of the


plot. He said instead that when the bomb exploded he had believed that his


headquarters had taken a direct hit by a shell, adding that he had only


subsequently learned about the explosion from members of the special


military police unit, the "Vitezovi" ('Knights').


Blaskic said that he ordered his security advisor to carry out an


investigation, and that he requested the same from the late commander of


"Vitezovi," Darko Kraljevic. But, he said, they never reported the results


of the investigation, and he never received the names of the culprits - and


thus could not punish anybody.


The Prosecutor asked for written evidence of the order for investigation,


to which Blaskic replied that he had issued a verbal command. The Defence


objected that it was up to the Prosecutor to prove that Blaskic did not


order an investigation. Presiding Judge Claude Jorda of France retorted


that the Prosecutor's insistence was "not illegitimate," but assuaged the


Defence, saying that "judges will not take the worst possible conclusion


from the lack of written evidence."


Blaskic could not say either whether anyone was punished for using Muslim


prisoners of war as "human shields" in front of his headquarters in Vitez,


or for forcing prisoners of war to dig trenches at front-lines.


Prosecutor Kehoe concluded that defendant in fact encouraged his


subordinates to commit crimes with his laissez-faire attitude. By the end


of the week, Prosecutor Kehoe concluded his cross-examination and the


Defence started its direct examination of the Defence witnesses, which due


to a one week break - is set to continue on 7 June. Blaskic will


subsequently have to answer to the Judges' questions.