Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Confusing Testimony in Celebici

A prosecution witness muddies the waters, claiming to have seen no evidence of violence at the Celebici camp.
By IWPR ICTY

The Celebici trial continues to abound with paradoxes. The current example involves a prosecution witness Egyptian journalist Assaad Harraz, who claims that he saw no evidence of violence in the Celebici camp, and a defence team who oppose the admission of the material evidence supplied by Harraz.

Harraz visited Celebici in July 1992 and published a series of articles about that visit. He was called by the prosecution to testify as to the identity of the camp commander, and the chief commander of the Muslim-Croat armed forces in Celebici and the Konjic area. Harraz's evidence was quite clear. His articles contain statements given to him by two of the accused, camp commander Zdravko ("Pavo") Mucic, and Zejnil Delalic, who was described as general commander of the area.

There is nothing incriminating in Harraz's work. He concluded, on the basis of what he had been shown during his short visit to the camp, that Serbian detainees were treated in accordance with international laws; that they had enough food; that hygienic conditions were satisfactory; and that the sick and the wounded received medical care. His "general impression" was that it was not a place of torture. The problem for the defence lies in Harraz's testimony that Delalic and Mucic did hold the positions of power when he visited Konjic and Celebici -a fact that they are trying to deny.

With the help of the next witness, the prosecution tried to prove that what Harraz had seen and what he had been told did not coincide with true conditions in the camp. Dr Petko Grubac, neuro-psychiatrist and former director of the medical centre in Konjic, found himself amongst the detainees of the Celebici camp at the end of May 1992 and worked as camp doctor over the two following months. When asked the reason why he had been arrested and sent to the camp, Grubac replied that "people were arrested without a reason at the time." In his case, he believed, it was because he was a Serb. Grubac went on to testify that basic conditions for the care of the sick and the wounded were lacking in the makeshift clinic he used. There were no medicines, sanitary material, or any of the necessary medical instruments.

He also described how badly beaten detainees and those with burns and wounds inflicted by firearms and side arms were brought to the clinic. During his stay at the camp, two detainees died at the clinic as a consequence of their wounds. Grubac and another camp doctor, Dr Relja Mrkajic, kept the records for a while but did not record true diagnoses or true causes of death for fear of recrimination. For the same reason, the camp doctors lied when asked on TV Bosnia-Herzegovina about the treatment of the sick and the wounded at the camp. "We answered as they expected us to answer. I lied because I knew if I spoke the truth, I would be punished," said Grubac.

Grubac and Mrkajic were released from the camp at the end of August by Delalic, whom Grubac knew well from before the war and whom he saw at the camp on several occasions. After that, both of them had to go to the camp almost daily to continue to treat the detainees. They were not allowed to leave Konjic. After a certain period of time, Grubac and his wife (who also testified last week) paid a visit to Delalic at his home and asked him to help them leave Konjic.

Delalic however said that he could not do that adding that he was already subjected to attacks for "helping the Serbs." He offered instead to transfer them to the hospital on Mount Igman (under control of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina), or to return their flat which was taken away from them immediately after the war broke out. Soon after their visit to Delalic, Grubac and his wife were arrested and kept for two months in prison under the control of the Croat forces (HVO). Delalic himself left Konjic, accused by the Croats, his allies until recently, of colluding with the "Chetniks" (Serbs) and acting as an agent for the Yugoslav People's Army intelligence service.

Under cross-examination, Grubac refused to accept the defence suggestion that Delalic was an "honourable exception" and that he was helping the Serbs. "I would believe that if I knew more people he helped" Grubac said. His wife Gordana also testified about her contacts with Delalic in her attempts to free her husband, father and two brothers, who were also detained at Celebici at the end of May 1992.

Another Celebici detainee, Risto Vukalo, was the final prosecution witness last week. Vukalo allegedly suffered violence and torture at the hands of the accused Hazim Delic and Esad Landzo, including being beaten with a baseball bat, having a slow burning fuse wrapped around his body, being forced to drink urine and eat grass and having a rifle barrel stuck into his mouth. He also claims to have witnessed a number of other incidents described in the indictment ending in the deaths of several detainees. Under cross-examination, the defence questioned Vukalo's credibility, pointing out numerous and significant discrepancies in the statements he had given on various occasions to the investigators from the proescutor's office; the investigative judge of the Municipal Court in Belgrade; the commission at the Celebici camp and during hearings at the police station in Konjic.