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The Celebici Trial

Tribunal Update 51: Last Week in The Hague (November 3-8, 1997)

The prosecutor announced his two witnesses, both protected, as "J", who had already testified at the beginning of October (See Update 48), and "V".

According to the legal ensemble, witnesses "J" and "V" were supposed to give testimonies on alleged threats made by the accused Esad Landzo. The latter had threatened "J" during his previous testimony, i.e. in the courtroom itself. "In many legal systems threatening behaviour during a witness' testimony is seen as evidence of guilt", argued Niemann, "since the accused is trying to frighten and influence the witness."

This did not impress the judges and they spurned the prosecutor's request. They did however offer him the possibility of coming up with new arguments during the process, and reintroducing the witnesses.

Like the majority of previous sessions of the Celebici trial, last week had its share of interruptions. On Tuesday, at the beginning of the hearing, it turned out that one of the accused, Esad Landzo was missing.

His lawyer, John Ackerman, stated that he did not know the reason for Landzo's absence and proceeded to ask for a delay in the hearing because he did not know whether his client would give him the right to waive his presence. The judges agreed they were unable to continue with one of the accused absent. Therefore the hearing was rescheduled for the next day.

On Wednesday then, with all of the accused present, the judges were told that the prison authorities "had instructed the accused, Landzo, to see a psychiatrist...because of what happened the night before."

Landzo's defence team announced, in their pre-trial brief last March, that they would defend their client by proving his "lack of mental responsibility". They stated that he "suffers from mentally disabling psychological conditions", and that "the absolute lack of mental responsibility-defence will be addressed for all practical purposes as an insanity defence".

When the hearing continued, Landzo remained on the bench for the accused, dozing off at one point last Thursday. This possibly had less to do with his alleged "psychological conditions", and more to do with the character of the hearing.

The prosecutor tried to tender a few dozen documents seized by the Austrian police during the search of the accused Zejnil Delalic's offices and apartment in Vienna. The documents are related to his activities, as well as that of the other accused (primarily Zdravko Mucic), during the period of the indictment. These files are made up of military orders and reports, personal documents, biographical notes, letters and confiscated video tapes with shots from camps in Celebici and Konjic.

Niemann then read from all the documents, intending to prove their relevance and reliability by showing a pattern. Circumstantial evidence, according to Niemann, "is not linked in a that if one link is removed it falls apart". Rather, evidence is "a thread in a rope". In itself, every thread is thin, but all of them together make a strong rope, he asserted.

The defence opposed the "thread theory", claiming that there was no evidence of the authenticity, relevancy or reliability of the documents, also denying the authorship of its clients of some of them. The prosecutor suggested that the authorship of one of the letters assigned to Zdravko Mucic, could be easily proven with a handwriting sample from the accused.

However, the presiding Judge Adolphus Karibi-Whyte refused to compel Mucic to provide one, because he said, the Trial Chamber cannot compel the accused to provide evidence against himself. "Self-preservation is the basic principle of life," Karibi-Whyte concluded.

The hearing on the proposed documents will continue on 1 December with the defence's arguments. Until then, the only courtroom of the Hague Tribunal will be occupied by the Blaskic trial.

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