Briefly Noted

By Helen Warrell in The Hague (TU No 429, 11-Nov-05)

Briefly Noted

By Helen Warrell in The Hague (TU No 429, 11-Nov-05)

Thursday, 24 November, 2005

Vujadin Popovic, Ljubisa Beara, Drago Nikolic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Vinko Pandurevic and Milorad Trbic were all present for the hearing in front of pre-trial judge Carmel Agius. Radivoje Miletic and Milan Gvero, who are on provisional release, were absent, as was Zdravko Tolimir who has not yet surrendered to the tribunal and is still at large.


Eight of the nine accused were senior officers in the Bosnian Serb army, while Borovcanin was a deputy commander in the Special Police Brigade.


This is the largest combined trial tribunal judges have allowed so far, and Natacha Faveau, defence counsel for Gvero, reminded the court that she is “firmly against” the joinder and has filed an appeal accordingly.


Meanwhile, Beara’s lawyer John Ostogic accused prosecutor Peter McCloskey of trying to evade his disclosure obligations by using “trick words”, and denounced the electronic document facility as being “useless”.


All the defence teams expressed concern that they did not have adequate financial resources to deal with the 600,000 documents that the prosecution has identified for use in the trial. Judge Agius promised to discuss the matter with the registry on their behalf. He said he did not think the trial would start before mid 2006 at the earliest.


***


The tribunal this week rejected a motion to join the trials of four men - Vojislav Seselj, Milan Martic, Jovica Stanisic, and Franko Simatovic.


The trial chamber concluded that "none of the factors that have been taken into account – judicial economy, conflicts of interest and rights of the accused, minimising hardship for witnesses and consistency in verdicts – militate in favour of a joinder".


All four are charged with crimes in Bosnia and Hercegovina and Croatia.


Seselj failed to enter a plea last week to eight counts of crimes against humanity and six of violations of the laws or customs of war. Because he failed to enter a plea, Judge Carmel Agius entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.


Martic, a former high-ranking official in the autonomous region of Krajina, is charged with 19 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war, while creating and directing his own police force.


Stanisic, chief of Serbia’s state security, is accused of using Seselj’s volunteers to carry out executions and forced deportations especially in Knin, the main Serb town in Krajina.


State Security Officer Franko "Frenki" Simatovic led a special ops unit better known as “Frenki’s Boys”.


Both Stanisic and Simatovic, who are set to be tried together, face five counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war for their roles as trainers of special armed units near Knin.


The prosecution filed the motion for joinder on May 30, 2005, saying that the four committed similar crimes as part of a joint criminal enterprise, the goal of which was the “forcible removal of a majority of the non-Serb population, primarily Croats and Muslims, from large areas of the territory of Croatia and Bosnia”.


The prosecution also cited reasons of judicial economy because Martic, Stanisic and Simatovic have approximately 29 witnesses in common, and Stanisic, Simatovic and Seselj share 26 witnesses, and one key former prominent political figure from the region will give testimony vital to all four cases.


All four accused “submit that a joint trial will be long and inefficient”, the decision states.


Also according to the decision, Simatovic argued that it would be difficult to reach an agreement on facts. Seselj argued that a joint trial would mean each man would need to call more witnesses in their defence. Stanisic and Simatovic argued that a joint trial would be expensive.


The issue of judicial economy is important because the tribunal has told the United Nations it will complete all trials by the year 2010.


Helen Warrell is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.


Support our journalists