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Celebici: Camp Or Jail?

Tribunal Update 72: Last Week in The Hague (13-18 April 1998)

At the same time, as his defenders specified, the accused "[had] not waived his right to be tried only in his [own] presence." "He cannot have his cake and eat it too!" exclaimed Presiding Judge Adolphus Karibi Whyte. To make the confusion worse, Mucic's attorneys, Zeljko Olujic and Michael Greaves, offered two different explanations for their client's conduct.

First, Olujic claimed that Mucic had remained in the Detention Unit so that he could get in touch with his private investigator who is looking for additional defense evidence on the ground. But Greaves went on to quote "severe lung problems and hyperventilation" as the reason for his client's absence.

Prosecutor Grant Niemann maintained that the accused "should be brought in this courtroom," while Olujic opposed it, pointing out that "any forcible attempt to bring him here ... would violate his basic rights and his [wish] to be absent."

Presiding Judge Karibi Whyte noted on several occasions that he personally "does not care if [the accused Mucic] is not interested in [the] accusation[s] against him." He said that Mucic has been "probably the most offensive person out of all the four [of the accused in the Celebici trial]," and that "he has behaved [like] a rascal for a long time."

Judge Saad Saood Jan then "polled" the present lawyers in the defense and prosecution teams on what is done in such situations in their respective countries: the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, Australia, and Bosnia. It turned out that there are ways everywhere to bring the accused to court forcibly if it is established that the accused has no reason for such conduct.

When Mucic failed to appear on Friday morning as well, Presiding Judge Karibi Whyte interrupted the hearing at 10:15 a.m. and ordered that the accused be brought before the court within 45 minutes "by whichever method one can bring him."

The trial resumed at 11 a.m. in the presence of a frowning Mucic, who was feeling his head and back all the time, in order to demonstrate to the judges that he was not feeling well. But they just ignored him, which apparently irritated Mucic even further. In the afternoon, Greaves suggested that his client could go on a hunger strike (Mucic had gone on a hunger strike on the eve of his trial).

Except for this incident, everything else was mainly deja vu. The defense witnesses of the first co-accused Zejnil Delalic continued to present arguments in favor of the basic thesis advanced by Delalic's attorney, Edina Residovic, at the beginning of the presentation of the defense's case.

First, as a "coordinator," the witnesses claimed, Delalic did not have any military powers or responsibilities but was exclusively in charge of the logistics and mediation between various civilian and military structures.

Second, after being appointed commander of the Tactical Group 1 (formed with the purpose of breaking the siege of Sarajevo) in July 1992,Delalic was not superior to army units in Konjic - especially not to those that were responsible for Serb inmates at the Celebici camp.

Third, last week's witnesses have categorically denied that Celebici was a "camp," describing it as a "prison ... made out of necessity due to a great number of prisoners." And these prisoners - Serbs from Konjic and the surrounding villages - the defense witnesses went on to claim, had been legally arrested because they rose up in arms against the legal government of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

None of last week's witnesses had heard anything about the alleged mistreatment of Celebici detainees. Even though all of them were part of either civilian or military authorities in Konjic, none of the witnesses had allegedly seen the report of a Muslim-Croat investigative commission, which examined the conditions in Celebici in June and July 1992 and subsequently resigned in protest because it had found ongoing "mistreatment of the prisoners."

When asked "did you hear about alleged mistreatments?" Enver Tahirovic, member of the joint command of Croat and Muslim forces at the time, replied: "On the contrary! Many citizens of Konjic complained that prisoners were treated better than civilians!"

It is also interesting that not a single witness could recall who was the camp (prison) commander (according to the indictment it was Zdravko Mucic, appointed to that post on Zejnil Delalic's suggestion), despite admitting to having gone to the camp on business, be it to deliver food and blankets or to escort foreign delegations.

Judge Jan asked the witness Sefkija Kevric, a Bosnian Army colonel who escorted an OSCE mission that came to inspect the camp in 1992, whether they had met the commander of the camp on that occasion. "It was not a camp but a prison," Kevric retorted. "As you wish, but did you meet the commander?" the judge was persistent. "I really cannot remember," replied the witness, who, as the deputy commander of logistics in the Konjic headquarters, was, among other things, responsible for supplying Celebici.

Kevric said that the deliveries were carried out on the basis of requests that had been submitted by the prison authorities, but that he could not recall who signed those requests.

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