COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Theatrical defence counsel gives one of his most unusual performances to date.

COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Theatrical defence counsel gives one of his most unusual performances to date.

Saturday, 6 October, 2001

The flamboyant Belgrade lawyer Igor Pantelic has become a well-known figure in the courtrooms of the tribunal over the last six years. Not least when he appeared before judges as the authorised representative of the Bosnian Serb fugitive Radovan Karadzic. However, even by his own standards, last week saw Pantelic give one of his most unusual performances to date.


Pantelic was appearing as defence counsel for Blagoje Simic, accused alongside Milan Simic, Simo Zaric and Miroslav Tadic, of the ethnic cleansing of Bosanski Samac in 1992. The lawyer was one of the four defence counsels to cross-examine the prosecution witness Dragan Lukac, a Croat who was the former chief the police's crime department in the village.


The previous week, Lukac had given details of his arrest, imprisonment and torture following the Serb takeover of Bosanski Samac in April 1992. Having begun his cross examination of Lukac by testing the witness's memory, Pantelic then quizzed him on his knowledge of Balkans history, as well as German philosophy.


However, eyebrows really began to be raised when Pantelic began to ask the prosecution witness questions regarding Second World War military dress.


Asked by Pantelic what colour the uniforms of German SS units? Lukac replied, "probably black." He was then asked what colour the uniforms of the Italian fascists were and if they were not in fact also black? Lukac replied he didn't know.


Judge Florence Mumba had already intervened several times earlier during the cross examination to ask the relevance of Pantelic's line of questioning. Now, once again, the lawyer was asked to explain himself.


Pantelic replied that his next question would reveal all and duly asked the witness whether he had worn a black suit and grey shirt to the first day of the trial?


The significance of this, as both sides in court knew well, was that these colours were those of the uniform of the "Ustashe", the military wing of the short-lived, Nazi-backed Croatian state. The implication of Pantelic's question was that Lukac was himself a fascist sympathiser, who had worn his black and grey outfit to the tribunal as a homage to the Ustashe movement.


The other defence counsel also picked up this line of questioning: insinuating that Lukac was an Ustashe sympathiser but, like Pantelic, failing to ask him directly. It was thus left to the prosecution lawyer, Gramsci De Fazio, to ask the witness whether he was a supporter of fascist ideology or the Ustashe movement?


Lukac replied that he was never a Croatian nationalist, a fascist, an Ustashe sympathiser, nor a criminal, as some of the defence counsels had tried to portray him, saying what was being implied by the prosecution lawyers was, "a personal insult".


The judge consoled the witness by telling him that the court did not attribute any significance to the aggressive and unusual line of examination to which he had been subjected.


The trial continues.


Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor for the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.


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