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Celebici Trial: Witnesses Against 'Their' Accused

Tribunal Update 49: Last Week in The Hague (October 20-25, 1997)

After it was explained that failure to respond would be considered as contempt of court (punishable by up to six months' imprisonment or a fine of up to $10,000) all of them appeared at The Hague within five days.

The first to testify were Fadil Zebic and Kemal Dzajic, the former and the present directors of a utilities company in Konjic responsible for providing funeral services. In calling them, the prosecution hoped to prove that inmates really had died at Celebici. And they succeeded. Zebic and Dzajic confirmed that in the summer of 1992 their company transported nine of the dead from Celebici, admitted them to the morgue and handed them over to their families.

Records submitted to the court confirm this, as does the testimony of several eye witnesses who saw the nine beaten by two of the accused, Hazim Delic and Esad Landzo. It is now up to the judges to decide whether their deaths were a consequence of the abuse they suffered at the camp. At least in the Celebici case the deaths have been established--judges in the Tadic case rejected all accusations of murder, on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

The greater part of last week was taken up with the examination of General Arif Pasalic, former officer (lieutenant-colonel) of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), who joined the Army of B-H in May 1992, and became the commander of its Fourth Corps in November that year. The prosecution wanted to reveal the chain of command and control, as well as the system of disciplinary responsibility, in the B-H Army. Their aim was to prove the command responsibility of Zejnil Delalic and Zdravko Mucic for acts committed by their subordinates which they failed to either prevent or punish.

According to General Pasalic, in spite of the confusion that reigned during the first months of the war, the chain of command and control did function in the B-H Army; the responsibilities of each commander in relation to his superiors and subordinates were known; the obligations of commanders and soldiers in relation to the treatment of the prisoners-of-war and civilians, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, were also known. Each commander was responsible for his subordinates acts of commission and omission.

When asked by the prosecutor directly, Pasalic replied that at the top of the command pyramid was General Sefer Halilovic, Commander of the Main Staff of the Supreme Command. He was responsible for "all questions, including the question of the prisoners-of-war." Delalic, as commander of Tactical Group 1 of the B-H Army, was directly subordinated to Halilovic.

Pasalic confirmed that Halilovic bears "ultimate responsibility" for the treatment of the prisoners-of-war of the B-H Army, and explained that he, as Corps Commander, had to request permission for the visits of international organisations to all military areas, including those where the prisoners-of-war were detained.

According to him, the same rules applied to all unit commanders, as well as to the commanders of Tactical groups. When asked whether he had ever heard that Delalic had initiated disciplinary proceedings against any of his subordinates Pasalic replied that he was unaware of that.

Pasalic only learnt about the inmates at the Celebici camp in November 1992, six months after the camp had been set up. Pasalic was then appointed commander of the newly-formed Fourth Corps of the Army of B-H, which encompassed the units from the area of Konjic, where Celebici is situated. Upon arrival at Konjic, the new commander was informed that prisoners were being held in the former JNA warehouse, and heard rumours of people missing and believed killed.

He formed a commission to investigate and ordered that 13 people involved in managing the camp be detained for up to one month, and, finally, brought criminal charges against Delalic, a supreme military authority in the Konjic region, and against Zdravko Mucic, commander of the Celebici camp. Since both men had left Konjic in the meantime, he requested that an arrest warrant be issued for them and sent to Interpol. Delalic and Mucic were arrested in Germany and Austria respectively on the basis of that warrant in February 1996. They were later extradited to the Hague Tribunal which issued an indictment against them - and against Hazim Delic and Esad Landzo - March the same year.

Pasalic denied that he had ever been Delalic's superior. When in November 1992, the Tactical Group I became a part of the Fourth Corps under his command, Delalic had already left Konjic. He admitted, however, that he had given the accused fake Croatian documents, to enable Delalic to move freely on the territory under the control of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO).

During Pasalic's cross-examination, the defence put the case of the Celebici camp into the wider context of the aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina, the shelling of Konjic and the destruction of nearby Muslim and Croat villages. Pasalic agreed that the situation was "confusing and very complex"; that people with inadequate experience assumed various offices; that the relationship between civilians and the military authorities was not precisely defined; that the army rules were only approved in 1993 and that a multitude of paramilitary formations were active in Bosnia.

He concluded that "the system of command and control was very complex in the peace time, let alone in the war time. The problems of command were exceptionally big, because we were creating the army in the most difficult of conditions."

Croatian lawyer Zeljko Olujic, defence counsel for Mucic, tripped up while cross-examining Pasalic. He tried to get the general to confirm that there was no conflict between Muslims and Croats between May and November 1992. Pasalic 's answer, however, was unexpected.

"I do not agree with the wording 'the conflict between Muslims and Croats'", Pasalic said. "It was the aggression of the extreme wing of HVO, which was later, to transform into the conflict between the peoples. As far back as July 18, 1992, in the talks with Croatian generals Agotic and Tus…I warned that the existence of B-H as a state was being denied; that the existence of Muslims as the people was being denied, that the existence of the Territorial Defence of B-H was being denied, while it was claimed that was a communist creation. I warned that this would lead to a conflict first between individuals, then units, and finally peoples. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened."

Olujic had to interrupt the witness. "Let us go back to the Serbs...", he said and reverted to questioning him about the "Serb-communist domination" in the former state and army.

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