Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The start of the trial of Sefer Halilovic, former chief of staff of the Bosnian army, was supposed to start in September, but it has been postponed for six months because his lead counsel resigned in order to run for political office in Bosnia’s recent elections.
Halilovic, who is charged with the massacre of 33 Croat civilians in Grabovica in 1993, appointed a new counsel, Sarajevo lawyer, Ahmed Hodzic. At a pre-trial hearing on July 15, Hodzic, who was the top military prosecutor for the Yugoslav army before the war, told the court that he needed more time to prepare Halilovic’s defence.
Among the reasons he listed were that the case had been poorly prepared by his predecessor, his legal assistant recently quit and the tribunal has not yet given him the money to take on a co-counsel who would be more familiar with tribunal procedures. "It is impossible for me to go ahead with the trial in the next six to eight months and give Mr Halilovic a fair defense," he said.
The trial chamber granted his request, but the presiding judge, Richard May, said this matter was of great concern to him.
Several other trials, including that of Momcilo Krajisnik, have been postponed due to defence attorneys’ ill-preparedness.
ASHDOWN’S BLACKLIST ANGERS BOSNIAN SERB LEADERSHIP
When Paddy Ashdown, the international community’s High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina belatedly followed the example of United States and the European Union in clamping down on the network that supports war crimes suspects, he was hoping to help further the cause of justice.
Instead, he seems to have created a serious rift between the government of Republika Srpska, RS, and his administration.
Last week, Ashdown announced that he was freezing the personal and business assets of Radovan Karadzic's family members, a Bosnian Serb businessman, Zvonko Bajagic, a former general, Bogdan Subotic, an active Bosnian Serb army general, Dragan Lalovic, as well as businessmen Milenko Vracar, Slavko Roguljic, Jovan Djogo and Zarko Nikolic.
He also demanded that Dragomir Vasic and Djoja Arsenovic, members of Karadzic's Serb Democratic Party, SDS, and deputies in the RS national assembly, be removed from office.
“This will help limit the freedom of movement of war crimes suspects and help us close in on his supporters,” Ashdown said.
Much of the leadership in RS, however, begged to differ.
“OHR’s decision does not contribute to the stabilisation of the situation in BiH, because the High Representative makes decisions that violate basic human and civil rights,” said Dragan Cavic, the RS president.
“My alleged support for Karadzic is made up in order to remove all respected people from the political scene,” said Dragomir Vasic, one SDS member of the national assembly that was forced out of office.
According to recent developments in The Hague, however, it seems Vasic, who was chief of police in Zvornik during the attack in Srebrenica in July 1995, may be worried about more than his support for Karadzic.
In a written statement he made as part of his guilty plea before the tribunal in The Hague, one of the Bosnian Serb army officers charged with genocide in Srebrenica, Momir Nikolic, said Vasic took part in a meeting with Generals Ratko Mladic, Radislav Krstic and Lt. Colonel Vujadin Popovic on the morning of July 13, 1995 in the Bratunac brigade headquarters as Serb troops were preparing to execute some 7,000 Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica.
Everyone at the meeting, with the exception of Vasic, has been indicted by the tribunal.
Gordana Katana is an IWPR contributor in Banja Luka and Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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