The Celebici Trial

Tribunal Update 43: Last Week in The Hague (September 8-13, 1997)

The Celebici Trial

Tribunal Update 43: Last Week in The Hague (September 8-13, 1997)

Saturday, 13 September, 1997

The prosecution told the court that the three other witnesses had abandoned their testimonies. A new witness was hastily called but was discharged after he was unable to confirm the authenticity of some documents.

This left just the witness Milovan Kuljanin who is mentioned in the indictment as one of the prisoners held for several days in a manhole without food or water. As Kuljanin himself stated, he was brought to the Celebici camp by a "friend", a Croat, whom he had approached with a plea to help him cross over to Serbia via Croatia. The friend, who was an HVO policeman, took him instead to the camp.

After spending two days underground, he was moved to the main room at the camp - hangar six - where the accused Hazim Delic and Esad Landzo reportedly beat him and tortured him in different ways. This included putting a slow burning fuse cord around his genitals. He stated that during the stay at Hangar Six, he watched as several other prisoners were led out and heavily beaten, as well as forced to perform oral sex with each other.

On one occasion, after being heavily beaten, Kuljanin was seen by the defendant Zdravko Mucic, the camp commander, who transferred him from the hangar to the clinic. In the cross-examination by counsel for Mucic, the witness admitted that the commander had saved his life by moving him into the clinic.

Under cross-examination, the defence claimed that statements given by Kuljanin were inconsistent with each other. Kuljanin had given the first at the camp, a second at the prison in Konjic, a third to the Yugoslav legal authorities, and the last to the prosecutor's office in The Hague.

The defence showed a video of his statement given at the prison. In it, Kuljanin is quoted saying that the JNA and SDS are "the biggest enemies of the Serbian people". He added that they "caused a lot of evil not only to the Muslims and the Croats, but to the Serbs themselves." Kuljanin testified that he had been forced to say what he did.

A good deal of time last week was taken up by legal arguments concerning two motions submitted by the prosecution. Both focus on the question of evidence. The first addresses the issue of how evidence is submitted and examined. Since the accused at The Hague are tried before professional judges, and not before a jury, the prosecutor deems that the judges should accept every piece of evidence that is believed reliable and relevant. If these criteria are satisfied, the evidence should then be accepted.

The judges can however reject the evidence later during the hearing, should they conclude that there is reasonable doubt. The defence meanwhile advocates a contrary position: that the evidence which is being offered first ought to be established as being beyond reasonable doubt and only then accepted. The judges' decision will be announced later.

The second motion refers to the acceptability of evidence submitted. This move follows a search by Austrian police of rooms occupied by Delalic and Mucic in Vienna. The defence opposes this, pointing that the search warrant had not been issued, that the search was not carried out in accordance with the Austrian laws, that the seized material was not marked and sealed on the spot, and that there was no chain of custody of the seized video-tapes and files with documents.

The defence further adds that there are numerous inconsistencies in the statements of the Austrian policemen concerning the course and the results of the search. The prosecution, however, argues that that material evidence ought to be accepted, "despite the fact that the Austrian policemen did not abide by every letter of the law."

To support this, the prosecutor cited the example of the Nuremberg trial, where all evidence was accepted regardless of how it was obtained and whether its origin was known. Presiding Judge Adolphus Karibi-Whyte ruled in the end that all documents confiscated in Vienna be accepted, but that the defence will have the right to dispute every single video-tape and every single document - when the evidence is presented before the court.

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