Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Briefly Noted

By Emir Suljagic and Stacy Sullivan in The Hague (TU 319, 03-10 July 2003)
By IWPR

When Zoran Lilic returned to the tribunal to finish his testimony against Slobodan Milosevic this week, the two former Yugoslav presidents had a lot to talk about.


Transcripts had just arrived in the prosecution's office that implicated the Serbian leadership in cutting a deal with French president Jacques Chirac for the release of two French pilots held hostage by Bosnian Serbs in exchange for getting the tribunal to leave General Ratko Mladic alone.


While the documents could be damning for Milosevic because they help show that he held considerable influence over the Bosnian Serb leadership, that seemed to be of little concern to the accused.


The only thing that Milosevic seemed to care about was that transcripts of telephone intercepts unfairly implicated his wife Mira Markovic in the deal.


The intercepts, which were provided to the prosecution by a third party, detail how Milosevic and Lilic pressured the Bosnian Serb leadership to release the French pilots so that Milosevic could negotiate the final details of the Dayton Peace Accord.


One of them shows that Mira Markovic phoned Mladic's secretary from her daughter's apartment in Belgrade to discuss the fate of the pilots. "My wife never intervened to discuss the fate of the pilots with Mladic's secretary!" Milosevic fumed. "This is just another drop in a sea of untruth."


He went on to say that it was "disgraceful" that such false documents were being produced in court and he demanded that the intercept be played because Lilic knew the voice of Milosevic's wife and could validate that it was not hers. He demanded that the tapes with his wife's voice on them be given to experts for analysis.


The prosecution said it did not have the actual tapes, only the transcripts, and that anyway it did not plan to introduce the documents as evidence, but had provided them to Milosevic in the interests of full disclosure, as required by tribunal procedures.


But even that did not seem to satisfy Milosevic, the ever-loyal husband. "My wife had no relations with these people!" he insisted.


KRAJISNIK SCANDAL DEEPENS


When Momcilo Krajisnik - the one-time Sarajevo businessman who became Radovan Karadzic's right-hand man during the war - appeared before tribunal judges for the start of his long-awaited trial in mid-May, he had some bad news to announce.


Although his attorneys had spent three years and nearly 1.5 million dollars of tribunal funds preparing his defence, he was not prepared to commence his trial because his lead counsel - a Serbian-American named Deyan Brashich - had been suspended from practicing law in the United States.


Krajisnik had retained two other attorneys whom the tribunal said were qualified to take over as lead counsel - Bosnian-Serb lawyer Goran Neskovic and another Serbian-American, Nikola Kostich - but he was reluctant to appoint either one of them to lead his defence.


The presiding judge in his trial, Alfonsus Orie, told Krajisnik his options were to appoint Neskovic or Kostich as his lead counsel, or else seek another attorney for the post.


However, he warned that the registrar was under no obligation to allow the appointment of a completely new lawyer, as so much time and money had already been spent preparing for the trial.


Judge Orie also said that it was extremely important that the trial got under way before the August recess when the tribunal will suspend proceedings for a month, and gave Krajisnik a week to make his decision. That was on May 13. Eight weeks have passed since then, and no decision has been announced.


When questioned about when the trial would start and who would represent Krajisnik, tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier said that he did not know. However, several tribunal insiders have told IWPR that the case - which involves the highest-ranking member of the Bosnian-Serb leadership in tribunal custody - would probably not get going until December or January.


Just how much more money would be spent preparing the defence before then remains unknown, but in the words of one tribunal official, "You can bet it's a hefty sum."


HALILOVIC PROSECUTION WITNESS DEALS BLOW TO CASE


The trial of Sefer Halilovic, former Chief of Staff of the Bosnian army, has not started yet, but the first witness gave a deposition in the case this week nonetheless.


Halilovic was indicted by the tribunal under command responsibility for the massacre of 33 civilians in Grabovica, a Croat village in Herzegovina, in September 1993.


He surrendered voluntarily in September 2001, and was released three months later pending the start of his trial, the date of which has not yet been determined.


However, the prosecution requested that one of its key witnesses - Bosnian Army brigadier Vehbija Karic - be permitted to testify ahead of time due to ill-health. The trial chamber granted the prosecution's request, and this week, Karic testified via video link from Sarajevo.


To the prosecution's dismay, Karic's testimony seemed to undermine their case that Halilovic planned the operation, hand-picked the units involved in it, and failed to investigate their massacre of Croat residents of Grabovica.


In spite of earlier statements to the contrary, Karic, who was in Grabovica at the time as part of an inspection team, said that Halilovic played only a coordinating role and had no authority to issue orders to any units involved in the massacre. He added that Halilovic, who was away when the crimes were committed, subsequently ordered his team members to inform the army's general staff about the killings, and fully co-operate with the police investigation that was to follow.


His testimony seemed to differ so much from his earlier statements that the prosecutor - implying that someone might have intimidated him - asked Karic if anyone had spoken to him about his testimony since he first addressed to the prosecution.


Karic denied that anyone had spoken to him, though the prosecution seemed unconvinced and no doubt regretted asking for the special measures that enabled the witness to testify.


SREBRENICA ANNIVERSARY


Friday, July 11, marks the eighth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in which more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were summarily executed by Bosnian Serb forces in what was Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War.


On Wednesday, thousands of Sarajevans lined the streets of the Bosnian capital to pay tribute to as three trucks loaded with the remains of Srebrenica victims from an identification centre in the town of Visoko stopped in front of the Presidency building en route to enclave.


The victims will be reburied in what was once the United Nations "safe area" on Friday in a ceremony that is expected to draw thousands.


Numerous politicians came out in Sarajevo to pay tribute to Srebrenica's dead, including the Muslim and Croat members of the Bosnia's tripartite presidency. Noticeably absent, however, was Borislav Paravac, the Serb member.


In The Hague, the tribunal also marked the anniversary. By coincidence, the trial of two Bosnian Serb army officers accused of helping plan the slaughter and organising the massive cover-up afterwards commenced this week.


ALBANIAN CHILDREN TALK OF SERBIAN MASSACRE


Last year, when prosecutors in Serbia issued an indictment against two members of the Serbian special police forces for the murder of 19 Albanians in the Kosovo town of Podujevo in March 1999, those concerned about Serbia taking steps to examine its wartime actions had high hopes.


At long last, Serbian troops - these two members of a notorious unit called the Scorpions - were going to have to answer for some of the estimated 10,000 Albanians killed in Kosovo.


In contrast to war crimes suspects on trial at the Hague tribunal, these special police troops - Sasa Cvjetan and Dejan Demirovic - were to be tried in a Serbian court, in front of a Serbian judge, watched by a Serbian public.


Human rights activists hoped the trial would resonate among the populace and help crack open the wall of denial that still surrounds Serbia's guilt. Their hopes were dashed when the trial turned into a farce (see article by Natasa Kandic).


Only Svjetan was arrested and taken into custody. Demirovic remains on the run and is being tried in absentia. Witnesses - most of whom were fellow policemen - claimed not to have seen any crimes in Kosovo and none of them showed any sympathy for the Albanian victims.


But on Wednesday, five Albanian children, who survived the massacre and are now living in England, came to Belgrade to testify at the trial.


It was a watershed moment.


The children were driven to the courthouse in jeeps with tinted windows, surrounded by police security. The children also went to a Belgrade prison where they each individually identified the accused.


Cvjetan's lawyer, Djordje Kalanj, tried to discredit the children - the first to offer firsthand evidence in the trial - saying that because they survived a massacre, they were too traumatised to be reliable witnesses.


"They could easily have seen [Cvjetan's] photographs in any of the papers since the killing," Kalanj told the media.


Whether or not the judges will agree with Kalanj's assessment remains to be seen, but the Serbian public might have an opportunity to make their own assessment in the days to come. Journalists were prohibited from covering the start of Wednesday's court session, but they will likely be permitted to cover the trial later in the week.


ANOTHER GUILTY PLEA


One of the unstated rules of journalism is that if something happens twice, it's a coincidence - but if it happens a third time, it's a trend.


This week, when Predrag Banovic - who was a guard at the Keraterm camp in Prijedor - pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity, the rule came into play.


Banovic is the third suspect at the tribunal to negotiate a plea agreement in as many months, and Hague sources tell IWPR that several more may follow.


In May, two Bosnian Serb army officers - Momir Nikolic and Dragan Obrenovic - pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity for their role in planning the Srebrenica massacre, in exchange for what they hope will be lesser sentences.


Although many both at the tribunal and in Bosnia viewed the guilty pleas as a step forward in the effort to establish the truth about what happened during the war, others were outraged by the development.


Although the prosecution cannot guarantee that an accused person will be given a lesser sentence in exchange for a guilty plea - that is for the judges to decide - it can drop charges and recommend a lesser sentence, and has done so for all of the guilty pleas it has negotiated.


Several victims' groups in Bosnia such as the Women of Srebrenica, who are unaccustomed to the common-law procedures for negotiating plea bargains, said they thought dropping charges and offering lighter sentences diminished the seriousness of the crimes.


The tribunal's office in Sarajevo - run by The Hague's outreach programme - had to organise a special meeting with the Srebrenica women to discuss and explain the plea bargain that was negotiated for Nikolic and Obrenovic.


If and when more suspects negotiate guilty pleas, the outreach office will no doubt have to do a lot more explaining.


Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague. Stacy Sullivan is IWPR project manager in The Hague.


More IWPR's Global Voices

It's Hard to Be An Uzbek Pop Star
Conservative values and censorship means that artists and performers are tightly regulated.
IWPR Holds Central Asia Expert Forum
Armenia Declares War on Thieves-in-Law