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The Celebici Trial: What Witness 'R' Saw

Tribunal Update 48: Last Week in The Hague (October 13 - 17)
By IWPR ICTY

The prosecution case is expected to close at the end of this month or early in November. Last week the court heard the testimony of two former inmates of Celebici - victims of crimes for which Zejnil Delalic, Zdravko Mucic, Hazim Delic and Esad Landzo stand accused. The court approved the requested protection of the identity of both witnesses, who were presented to the public only as "J" and "R".

Until the beginning of the war, "J" was a successful businessman, perhaps the richest person in Bradina, the Serb village close by Konjic. He owned a restaurant, a butcher's shop and two fabric stores. He was very busy, and claimed not to have time for politics. He was surprised by the war, and in particular, by the fierce attack of the Croat and Muslim forces on Bradina on May 25 and 26 1992. After four or five days spent in hiding, "J" surrendered. When he was taken to Celebici, camp commander Zdravko Mucic allegedly demanded a lot of money.

While other inmates were abused on ethnic, religious or political grounds, "J" claimed to have suffered because of his affluence. He was reportedly beaten, tortured and even partly hanged by guards in an attempt to force him to admit where his money was hidden. For this reason, he maintains he was kept for the longest period of time-three months-in Tunnel Nine where the most "difficult" cases were detained. These included those inmates captured while bearing arms; those who resisted, and those who were suspected of being active in the Serb Democratic Party (SDS).

"R" appeared to be one of the most convincing witnesses whose testimony could be the most damaging to the defence of the three accused (excluding Delalic, whom he did not mention). This was not so much because of what he had gone through at the camp - but more because of what he had seen, and the way in which he presented his testimony in court. "R" introduced himself as a 40-year-old Serb teacher with university degree from Bradina.

"R" who claimed to have suffered several broken ribs as well as spinal injuries and a broken nose, claimed that he was most heavily beaten immediately after his arrest on May 26, 1992. He told the court how his captors had beaten him with whatever they could lay their hands on and wherever they could. After that he was beaten individually by the accused Esad Landzo and collectively after a visit from the International Committee of The Red Cross. He claimed that after the Red Cross visitors left, another of the accused, Hazim Delic, came to Hangar Six along with 15 guards, and ordered the beating of all inmates saying "this is your red cross."

"R's" testimony about what happened to some other prisoners in Celebici was perhaps much more significant than the remarks he made about his own suffering. Guided by the questions of the Italian prosecutor Giuliano Turone, "R" gave a detailed description of 14 cases of murder and extreme torture. He spoke only of what he had allegedly seen.

Having drawn a lesson from the Tadic case, when the Trial Chamber rejected all accusations of murder because of a lack of evidence, the prosecutor quizzed "R" about the length of time he had spent watching the motionless bodies of the inmates, which were brought back to the hangar after night beatings. Since he sat near the door, "R" maintained he could see all the victims close-up and could watch them for one or two hours before the arrival of the morning shift of guards.

The court heard how Esad Landzo allegedly practised torture on some inmates out in front of the hangar. His "specialities" were said to be a slow-burning fuse which was wrapped around the bodies of the inmates, especially around their genitals. They included too, the pouring of petrol over the victims' arms and legs and their setting on fire. Torture also included the placing of a red- hot knife upon the palms, face and tongues of victims. This is how "R", for example, described what happened to Dusan Bedzo after the latter had received "treatment" by Landzo.

"He was also taken out many times and beaten. On one occasion he was called by the accused Landzo and we heard his cries and moans. When he returned, both his legs were terribly burned. One could see large blisters. You could see bone and burned flesh where the blisters had burst. He was sat next to me and I could see his injuries every day."

When asked whether Bedzo or any of the other victims had received any medical care, "R" replied: "No, because he was on Delic's list of the people who must die."

The most serious parts of "R's " testimony were not challenged by Landzo's defence counsel Lotte Ackkerman, who tried instead to discredit him. The witness had spoken about eating "two to three day-old soup" and Ackkerman attempted to ridicule him by asking how he came to have "visionary abilities" which had enabled him to "judge the age of soup".

The witness replied simply: "if I have any visionary ability, I probably would not have ended up in a camp. The soup was off. We all ate it and we all got diarrhoea. "