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Celebici Trial: Judges Strike Back

Tribunal Update 77: Last Week in The Hague (18-23 May 1998)

As ICTY President Gabrielle Kirk McDonald remarked a couple of months ago, primarily having in mind her fellow Americans (the attorneys of accused Esad Landzo and Hazim Delic), some of the defense lawyers, "behaved as if they were in the O. J. [Simpson] trial, and not before the International Criminal Tribunal."

Well, no longer. After 15 months, the judges' patience ran out and they moved to introduce some order in the trial. They have decided to put an end to the endless repetition of irrelevant details and arguments, stop further prolongation of the trial, and to focus the attention of the counsels on the defense of their clients from concrete accusations rather than on defending Bosnia's thousand-year statehood and its tradition of multiethnic and multi-confessional tolerance, as well as justifying its defense from Serbian aggression in 1992-1995.

Accidentally, the first victim of the "awakening of the judges" was the least guilty for the hitherto course of the trial: the Sarajevo lawyer Edina Residovic, in charge of the defense of the first co-accused Zejnil Delalic. Other defense counsels - and even the prosecutor himself - were also not spared from the judges' "wrath."

The trial chamber, for example, refused to allow Delalic's defense to show the video footage of the Serb shelling of Konjic for the n-th time, as well as the presentation of some other evidence that was assessed as irrelevant for the case of the alleged command responsibility of the accused.

When Residovic objected that the judges had not been so strict toward the prosecutor and his evidence, Presiding Judge Karibi-Whyte fumed: "Don't imply your own ignorance on me [by] saying we are applying different standards! I do not have any personal interest [here] ..." Residovic dared to respond that she is "not accustomed to having discussions with judges," and Karibi-Whyte retorted: "I am not having a discussion with you."

At the end of the trial day, the judge told Residovic: "When you go home today, please read the charges against your client."

Throughout the week, judges Karibi-Whyte and Jan communicated with other defense lawyers using the same or similar tone. Zeljko Olujic, the Zagreb-based lawyer of Zdravko Mucic (the alleged commander of the Celebici camp) bore the worst brunt.

"The Trial Chamber thought that [it was] dealing with counsels, with professionals who know what their job is and how they should conduct the defense of their clients," said Karibi-Whyte after Olujic submitted a list with the names of over 100 witnesses whom he intended to summon when the turn for Mucic's defense comes. Judge Jan joined in, remarking that the defense could have also submitted a "list of inhabitants of some town," and Karibi-Whyte concluded: "This trial is not a joke and we cannot accept this list!"

After that, the trial chamber issued an order to the defense of the accused Mucic to come up with a new list of witnesses, including their CVs, and summaries and the estimated duration of their respective testimonies. The trial chamber also refused to permit the prosecutors to present and submit certain evidence with which they wanted to discredit defense witnesses and prepare the ground for their impeachment.

Nonetheless, after a month-long break, the presentation of evidence by the defense of Zejnil Delalic (See Tribunal Updates 70, 71, and 72) continued last week. Five new witnesses appeared before the court, confirming the defense's main argument that Delalic cannot be charged with command responsibility for the crimes allegedly committed during 1992 against the Serb inmates of the Celebici camp (according to the prosecution) or prison (as the defense would have it) in the environs of Konjic.

The new witnesses used old and countlessly invoked arguments attempting to prove the defense's thesis. Namely, they argued that the accused Delalic, who was the "coordinator" of Croat (HVO) and Bosniak (Territorial Defense) forces in the Konjic region at the time of the alleged crimes, held no military post nor was superior to anyone, the least of all to those who ran the Celebici camp/prison (regardless of who the latter may have been, as all of the witnesses "cannot remember" who had set up the camp/prison, who was in charge of it, or who was its commander).

The witnesses further claimed that when Delalic was appointed commander of the Tactical Group 1 (formed for the purpose of lifting the siege of Sarajevo) in the summer of 1992, not one military unit from Konjic was placed under his command and that he consequently couldn't have been the commander of soldiers who ran the prison/camp.

Finally, but no less importantly, according to the defense witnesses, Celebici's Serb inmates were not civilians but rebels who rose up in arms against their state and their legitimate government in Sarajevo. The five defense witnesses, naturally, "never saw" or "even heard" that the prisoners were being maltreated or killed at Celebici.

Nonetheless, some of last week's witnesses admitted to having intervened in order to have their Serb friends released from the prison/camp, just in case. "I did not want to leave anything to chance," one of the witnesses said last week explaining his intervention in favor of a Serb friend. True, the orders for the release of those prisoners were signed by Delalic himself, but this, according to the witnesses, by no means implies that he was in charge of the prison/camp.

When questioned by the prosecutor, the witnesses did not manage to explain how orders bearing the signature of a "person who was not in charge" happened to be carried out without objection, but the witnesses nevertheless stuck to their statements.

The witnesses also did not allow themselves to be "confused by the facts," i.e. documents, some of which they themselves had signed and which contradict their statements. The more the documents contradicted the witnesses' statements, the more vigorously they were contested, regardless of who had written and signed them. When shown a document that mentions Delalic's house in Konjic as the "Tactical Group 1 center," one of last week's witnesses responded, "This is my signature, but it is probably an error."

After he was shown a Supreme Command order that places some units from Konjic under the command of the accused Delalic, the same witness said, "That is what it says ... but this cannot be correct!" Another witness said about the same document that "it has not been worded accurately ... and is not valid either formally or legally."

As the witnesses had a hard time "remembering" who was in charge of the prison/camp, Judge Jan intervened: "It was not a private prison. Someone had to have responsibility and be in charge." The witness whom the judge was addressing agreed: "I also think so ...," only to explain later that "at that time I was busy organizing the defense [against the enemy] and did not pay much attention ..."

Confronted with a document bearing his signature and stating that the inmates of Celebici are "prisoners of war" and persons "under the protection of Geneva Conventions" (which the defense denies, claiming they were "rebels"), the witness (at the time, one of the local Bosnian Army commanders) said, "This should be my signature, but I truly do not recall signing that."

In a similar manner, the witnesses failed to "remember" their earlier interviews with the Office of the Prosecutor, in which they had made statements contrary to what they were telling the court last week. They explained that these were "ad hoc conversations," and that they had used some terms "figuratively," that those "probably were translation mistakes," or that they had "later remembered" certain things after their "memory [was] refreshed"--as the prosecutor interjected--in the talks with defense lawyer Residovic.

The Celebici trial continues this week with the presentation of evidence by the defense of the first co-accused Zejnil Delalic. Despite the new attitude of the judges, the end of this marathon trial is still not in sight.

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