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Celebici Trial

Tribunal Update 36: Last Week in The Hague (July 7-12, 1997)
By IWPR

Last week two former Celebici camp inmates, whose sufferings are described in the indictment, gave their evidence, as did a doctor who, after a brief internment, was released on condition that he would come back to work there every day as the camp doctor.

The first witness, Vaso Djordjic, was supposed to give evidence as a protected witness, but waived this right after it was established that, just before testifying in The Hague, he had spoken on Belgrade TV about his sufferings in the camp. He is one of two brothers whom, the indictment says, were forced to have oral sex with each other by one of the accused, Esad Landzo.

Djordjic described the incident to the Tribunal, asserting that Landzo had shouted: “See what the Chetniks (a derogatory term for Serbs) are doing to each other. . . just think what they would do to us, if they could.” It is interesting that a witness in the Tadic trial had attributed almost the same sentence, describing a similar incident in the Omarska camp, to a Serb guard: “See what the balije (derogatory term for Muslims) are doing to each other. . . ”

This similarity could indicate two things: a) the extent to which Bosnian Serbs and Muslims behave in similar ways in similar circumstances; and b) that somebody instructed the witness, that is, suggested to him that Landzo said those words, taken from the transcript of the Tadic trial.

Although possibility a) is very probable, possibility b) cannot be completely excluded. The incomprehensible actions of the so-called Association of Former Detainees in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), seems to be trying to ensure that the Celebici trial will be declared a “mistrial”, indicate that caution is advisable.

From the beginning of the trial, the association's representatives have, in The Hague and even more so in Belgrade, proclaimed that this is “their case”, with “their witnesses”, that “their witnesses held up well,” and that “their” next witness will say this or that. In the case of Djordjic, as we have seen the association arranged a TV interview for him before he was supposed to appear in The Hague as a protected witness; while about two months ago, the association presented protected witness “O” on Belgrade TV, giving his full name, as soon as he returned from The Hague.

The defence has, of course, sensed that in that association it has an unexpected but great ally, and is keeping a careful eye on its public activities and regularly informing the Tribunal of them. Last week, John Ackerman, the US defence lawyer of Esad Landzo, drew the judges' attention to the association's latest successes, and reports in the Belgrade media that the association is financed by the government of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. It would be dreadful, warned Ackerman, “for this Tribunal to be exploited by the Serbian authorities to continue what happened during the war.”

The defence counsel for Zdravko Mucic, the British barrister Michael Grieves, warned on the same occasion that if it became the public impression that one of the sides was linked to the Tribunal in that way, this could “totally undermine the Tribunal.” The Pakistani judge Jan, however, came to the solomonic conclusion that “all sorts of things get into the newspapers,” and if “investigations were held into everything reported in newspapers. . . no court case would ever come to an end.”

The only “bright” spot in the Celebici trial is that the media and the public have lost all interest in events in the courtroom, so that the gallery is empty. Thanks to that, there are few observers, or none at all, of the trial in which everything has gone wrong; in which the witnesses monotonously repeat the same stories in the same words which sound as if they have been learned by heart and do not come from within.

The US defence lawyers are playing in a downmarket version of the TV series LA Law. The accused are having a jolly time laughing amongst themselves. And the uninterested judges - led by the presiding Judge Adolphus Karibi-White from Nigeria, sometimes assisted by Judge Jan - are falling asleep more and more often, only to be woken after the third or fourth cry from defence or prosecution lawyer: “Objection, Your Honour!”

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