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

Courtside: Bosanska Krajina Trial

Reporter is ordered to testify on 1993 article.
By Mirna Jancic

American journalist Jonathan Randal last week failed in his attempt to be exempted from testifying about an indicted war criminal he interviewed nine years ago.


The tribunal has dismissed a motion by the Washington Post reporter that claimed his appearance in The Hague would undermine journalistic objectivity and place them and their sources in danger.


Randal has now been asked to give evidence regarding his interview with the accused Radoslav Brdjanin, which allegedly outlined his aim to cleanse north-west Bosnia of non-Serbs.


The prosecution claim this, in addition to other crimes specified in the indictment, resulted in genocide and believes that the February 11, 1993 article goes to the heart of the case.


Brdjanin is represented as wanting an "exodus" carried out peacefully to "create an ethnically clean space through voluntary movement".


The defendant was also quoted as saying he had prepared laws to expel the non-Serbs from socially owned housing "to make room for 15,000 Serb refugees and Serbian combatants' families".


Judges Carmel Agius, Ivana Janu and Chikako Taya ruled that the accuracy of an article could be questioned once it had been published, and that Randal's subpoena did not restrict freedom of expression or of the media. The question of disclosing sources did not apply as Randal had identified Brdjanin, who was clearly not speaking to the reporter in confidence.


In his original statement to the prosecution, Randal said he hoped the article and his statement could stand on their own in court, adding that he was ready to testify that the published quotes were accurate.


However, he later changed his mind, saying he could only provide hearsay evidence against the accused as he had interviewed him through an interpreter. The prosecution, however, reminded the court that such statements were "routinely admitted...without requiring the interpreter to testify".


The prosecution itself wished to avoid subpoenaing the journalist. It was the defendant who had insisted Randal and the interpreter be summoned, insisting the latter had been hostile and that the published quotes were inaccurate.


Brdjanin has since dropped that claim and now disputes the worth of newspaper articles in establishing facts. He also said Randal's article referred to a period beyond that specified in the indictment. The chamber, however, decided both the article and the witness' testimony might "throw light on the possible frame of mind that the accused may have had in the period from April to December 1992".


Randal is the first journalist to refuse to testify at The Hague. He will be in violation of international law if he does not obey the subpoena, although the tribunal has no means of enforcing it.


Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor.


More IWPR's Global Voices