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

Celebici Trial

Tribunal Update 55: Last Week in The Hague (December 1-5, 1997)
By IWPR

One of the derivative issues is whether the victims in this conflict were protected persons according to the Geneva Conventions. In the Tadic case, the Chamber II ruled by a majority of two to one, that the conflict in the Prijedor region was internal in character.

This meant that the victims were not protected persons and led to the finding of Article 2 of the Tribunal's Statute inadmissible. All 11 counts of grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions were therefore rejected (see Update 27). Tadic was however found guilty on 11 other charges of crimes against humanity and violation of laws and customs of war.

All this has forced the prosecutor in the Celebici trial to strengthen his argument that the conflict was international in character, and so the victims - Bosnian Croats detained in that camp - had the status of protected persons according to the Geneva Conventions. The defence did not deny the former.

On the contrary, it is itself trying to prove that Bosnia-Herzegovina was the victim of aggression by the former JNA, as well as military and paramilitary groups from Serbia and Montenegro. The defence does however reject the notion that the inmates of the Celebici camp were protected persons. From the very beginning of the trial, the defence has consistently argued that the Bosnian Serbs - the inmates at the Celebici camp - were the nationals of Bosnia-Herzegovina who took up arms and "rebelled" against their own government.

Prosecutor Grant Niemann tried to break down these arguments by summoning two expert witnesses: Dr James Gow from the Department of War Studies of King's College, London; and Constantin Ekonomides, professor of international law at the University of Athens and member of the UN and Council of Europe Law Commissions dealing with the problem of citizenship in cases of succession of state.

In a short direct examination, the prosecutor focused exclusively on the role of Serbia and Montenegro ("mini Yugoslavia"), their armed forces (first the Yugoslav People's Army -JNA - and then the Yugoslav Army - VJ) in the war in Bosnia, as well as on certain elements of the command structure in the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Dr Gow briefly reiterated his views with regard to the relationship between the Serbian political leadership and the heads of the then Federal Army (JNA), and their common aim to annex those parts of Croatia and Bosnia with a Serb majority. The most important element of his new testimony was the introduction of the diary of the former president of the SFRY Presidency, Borisav Jovic, published as "Poslednji dani Jugoslavije" ("The last days of Yugoslavia") in 1995.

In his book, Jovic alleges how he and the then President of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic and SFRY Defence Minister Veljko Kadijevic, made plans for the JNA intervention in Bosnia. Particular reference was made to the question of how to disguise the role of the JNA following the international recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Notes reportedly made on December 5 1991, that is, four months before the international recognition of Bosnia (6 April 1992), are of particular importance. The excerpt was read before the Court and stated:

"When international recognition is granted, the JNA will be declared a foreign army and its withdrawal will be demanded. Sloba (Milosevic) thinks that all citizens of Serbia and Montenegro should be withdrawn from the JNA, and replaced by the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina in good time to ensure that military chaos will be avoided at the moment of the international recognition. This will allow the Serbian leadership in Bosnia-Herzegovina to take command of the Serbian part of the JNA."

" I called up Veljko Kadijevic immediately so that he could join in the conversation. Sloba told him simply that there has to be the relocation of the army personnel: all from B-H to Bosnia-Herzegovina and vice versa, for strategic and political reasons. Veljko argued that that this was not in accordance with the policy or practice of the JNA and that it would be difficult for the military leadership to accept it. Nevertheless, he agreed to look into it and to do what he could do."

Later that month, Jovic noted down the following:

"Veljko informed us that 90 per cent of the army has been dislocated in accordance with the talk we had on December 5. There is currently 10-15 per cent of the military personnel in Bosnia-Herzegovina who are not from that republic."

It is perhaps no surprise that his book was withdrawn from the bookshops, only ten days after it was published in the autumn of 1995. Nevertheless, a few copies have reached The Hague. According to Dr Gow, the cited excerpts clearly indicate "the intention to disguise the role of "mini Yugoslavia" in Bosnia-Herzegovina."

He added that Belgrade continued to support politically and militarily, both Republika Srpska in Bosnia and the Republic of Serb Krajina in Croatia after 1992. The final confirmation of the FRY's role in Republika Srpska, according to Dr Gow, was presented in June 1995, when the head of the FRY Security Service Jovica Stanisic was sent to Pale to resolve the UN hostage crisis.

American lawyer John Ackerman, the defence counsel for the accused Esad Landzo, saw Dr Gow's presence as an opportunity to refresh his knowledge of Balkan history and showered him with a series of questions whose relevance to the case was not clear to anyone in the courtroom.

Since the judges admitted on several occasions that it was not clear to them, they asked Mr Ackerman where he was leading. The defence counsel responded with an enigmatic smile and replied that it would become obvious at the end of the case, in his closing argument! The cross-examination will continue on January 12.

The cross-examination of the second expert-witness, Professor Ekonomides finished last week. The key question asked was the nature of the citizenship of Serbs who did not accept Bosnia-Herzegovina as their own state within the period described in the indictment (May-December 1992). According to Professor Ekonomides, the new state had to offer all its citizens a choice between old and new citizenship. The key reply given by Professor Ekonomides was provided at the end of the tesitmony, when Mr Niemann asked when the SFRY officially ceased to exist.

Professor Ekonomides replied that its death was made official with Resolution 777 of the UN Security Council of September 1992. It was his opinion that people holding the nationality of predecessor state have that nationality until the time they acquire the nationality of successor state.

It therefore follows from this assessment that the Bosnian Serbs - the inmates at the Celebici camp - had dual nationality from April to September 1992. Accordingly, they should have been considered as protected persons under the Geneva Conventions.