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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)

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


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.

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