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

Briefly Noted

(TU No 361, 04-Jun-04)
By IWPR

According to Rajic’s lawyer, Zeljko Olujic, his client went for his usual Sunday-morning exercise in the gym, where his former superior Tihomir Blaskic came to him, “Blaskic approached my client, and after failing to provoke a quarrel, hit him twice in the back of his head.”

Olujic said his client told him that Blaskic was threatening that Rajic and his family “ would be finished” should his testimony result in any defendant receiving a heavy sentence.

But Blaskic’s lawyer, Ante Nobilo, claims that Rajic had been “systematically provoking” his client but denies there had been an assault, "Trying to cause a conflict, Rajic blocked Blaskic's way out of the gym. Blaskic didn't hit him, only moved him aside with the palm of his hand."

Tribunal officials confirmed that an “incident” took place in the unit’s gym on May 30, but declined to give any details, saying only “nobody got injured”.

Blaskic, who has been in the detention unit for over years now, is serving a 45-year jail sentence for war crimes committed in the Lasva valley in central Bosnia from 1992 to 1994, including the killings of the Muslim inhabitants of the village of Ahmici in 1993. He has since appealed and is awaiting the verdict.

Rajic is accused of ordering an attack on the predominantly Muslim village of Stupni Do in central Bosnia in October 1993, in which at least 37 people were killed and the village raised to the ground. He is also charged with the arrest, maltreatment and inhumane imprisonment of 250 Muslims from Vares in October 1993.

Rajic appeared for the first time in front of the Hague tribunal a year ago and pleaded not guilty to all counts on his indictment. His lawyer declined to say whether Rajic may be considering changing his plea.

***

In a puzzling development, long-awaited testimony by Milan Babic in the case of the former top Bosnian Serb politician Momcilo Krajisnik took place this week behind closed doors.

The prosecution had planned to submit parts of the former Croatian Serb leader’s exhaustive testimony in the Milosevic trial as evidence and then let the defence cross-examine him in open session.

But the trial chamber said the 1100 pages of evidence were far too much and would endanger the “public character of the trial”.

Babic then proceeded to give testimony in closed session – something that hadn’t apparently been envisaged by either the court or the prosecution. Which suggests that it may have been done at witness’s request.

Neither the trial chamber nor the tribunal’s press service offered any explanation for this new twist.

Babic was indicted by the Hague tribunal for crimes committed in those parts of Croatia under his control in 1991. He had signed a plea agreement with the prosecutor’s office and agreed to testify as a protected witness in the Milosevic trial.

Initially, a protected witness, his identity was later revealed, and his testimony has been given in open and closed sessions, alternating with such frequency that sometimes judges have been confused as to whether they are presiding over the former or the latter.

Babic has said repeatedly that his cooperation with the prosecutor’s office has provoked numerous threats against him and his family. He was due to be sentenced on June 7, but this has been postponed until further notice.

***

Hague judges this week granted Vladimir Kovacevic, a Montenegrin indicted for war crimes committed around the Croatian city of Dubrovnik in 1991, six months provisional release.

Kovacevic was judged to be mentally unstable and thus unable to enter a plea.

Citing a list of different psychiatric reports, the judges said in their decision that these “strongly supported the finding that the accused, at this point, suffers from a serious mental disorder which presently renders him unfit to enter a plea".

The judges recommended that Kovacevic be offered treatment “urgently in a mental health facility in a [Serbo-Croat language] environment”.

The government of Serbia and Montenegro offered guarantees for Kovacevic and in a letter received by the tribunal on June 1 officially agreed to have him treated at the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade.

***

At the same time, lawyers for former Yugoslav army navy general Pavle Strugar filed a motion asking the judges to acquit their client on all six counts of the indictment against him. The prosecution wound up its case in the trial last month.

Strugar was accused of crimes committed during the shelling of Dubrovnik in December 1991, in a joint indictment with Vladimir Kovacevic.

Earlier, the lawyers had tried to have Strugar proclaimed unfit to stand trial, offering expert evidence suggesting their client suffers from a number of ailments, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and vascular dementia.

The judges disagreed and at the end of May decide that the trial should proceed.

Strugar's lawyers now claim that during its case, the prosecution failed to offer any evidence of their client’s alleged guilt.

More IWPR's Global Voices