Briefly Noted

Compiled by Rachel S. Taylor in The Hague (TU No 368, 23-Jul-04)

Briefly Noted

Compiled by Rachel S. Taylor in The Hague (TU No 368, 23-Jul-04)

Wednesday, 9 November, 2005

On July 19, lawyers for former prime minister Jadranko Prlic, defence minister Bruno Stojic, military commanders Slobodan Praljak and Milivoj Petkovic, military police chief Valentin Coric, and the head of the prisoner exchange commission Berislav Pusic, said their clients should be allowed to return home pending trial.


In a long and often cumbersome hearing, in which each of the six accused was represented by his own lawyer, the attorneys insisted that their clients would return to The Hague when summoned, because they wanted to stand trial to prove their innocence.


As evidence of this desire, the lawyers pointed out that the accused men surrendered voluntarily to the tribunal in April, almost immediately after being informed of the indictments against them.


Defence lawyers indicated that if the judges were concerned about granting the accused full freedom during their provisional release, they could consider confining them to house arrest.


Representatives from the governments of Bosnia and Croatia also appeared in court to guarantee that their governments would arrest the accused if they refused to return to The Hague.


But prosecutor Kenneth Scott argued against provisional release for the six, on the grounds that they might intimidate victims or witnesses, or refuse to return to the tribunal when summoned.


He also questioned whether the governments of Bosnia and Croatia were actually capable of implementing the guarantees they provided.


At the end of the day’s hearings, each of the six accused men addressed the tribunal directly, offering his own personal plea for provisional release.


The judges are now deliberating on the motions.


***


The tribunal will deliver its final judgment in the case against former HVO commander Tihomir Blaskic on July 29, bringing to a close a case that began more than eight years ago.


Blaskic was accused of grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, violations of the laws or customs of war, and crimes against humanity committed in central Bosnia in the early Nineties. While prosecutors did not allege that Blaskic personally committed the crimes, they accused him of commanding the forces responsible for doing so.


Among other things, Blaskic was accused of overseeing troops that attacked the Muslim village of Ahmici in 1993, killing more than 100 civilians.


He surrendered to the tribunal voluntarily in 1996, and pled not guilty to the charges.


In March 2000, the trial chamber found him guilty on all counts and sentenced him to 45 years imprisonment - at the time, the longest term ever imposed in The Hague. He appealed soon after.


During the appeal, his defence team introduced a large number of documents, tapes, and other evidence that they said had been improperly kept from them, and demanded a retrial - a call which was rejected by the chamber.


Two weeks of appeals hearings were held in December 2003 and, in an unusual move, the judges allowed additional evidence and the testimony of new witnesses.


The defence team claimed that this new information exonerated their client, while the prosecution insisted that it did not.


***


The tribunal this week made public a prosecution motion opposing the provisional release of former Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj.


In the motion, dated July 7, prosecutors argue that the judges should not allow the accused to return home pending the start of his trial.


Specifically, prosecutors warned that, if released, Seselj is likely to abscond. No government has guaranteed he will be handed over to the tribunal if he refuses to appear, they noted.


Moreover, they said, “a strong and not only ‘theoretical possibility’ exists… that the accused would pose a danger to victims, witnesses, and other person [sic] should the chamber grant his request for provisional release”.


And they insisted that any delays in the proceedings to date are “the result of the obstructionist conduct of the accused rather than any errors or omissions on the part of the prosecution or the trial chamber”.


No date for a hearing on the question of Seselj’s provisional release has been set.


Rachel S. Taylor is an IWPR editor in The Hague.


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