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

COURTSIDE: Foca Prison Trial

The defence claims that a civilian warden had no responsibility for killings and beatings carried out by the military.

Counsel for Milorad Krnojelac asserted that he had "no factual nor formal powers" over the Bosniak detainees in the Foca prison since he was only a "civilian warden".

Opening defence arguments, his lawyer, Mihajlo Bakrac, said he would dispute all prosecution claims about Krnojelac's responsibility for beatings, killings and disappearances of detainees in the prison he administered in 1992-93.

Responding to the prosecution case, Bakrac pointed out that the part of the prison where Bosniaks were held was under the "exclusive control of the military authorities". Counsel argued that Krnojelac could not have issued orders pertaining to these areas, since his responsibilities as a civilian warden were limited "to sorting out damage to the prison, protecting the property and organising the economic production".

In laying out their case, on October 1, 2000, and March 2, 2001, prosecutors presented evidence about the role of the Foca military command in the prison, but claimed that the division between civilian and military parts of the prison was not as clear as the defence claims - and thus that the accused, as a warden, was part of the prison's chain of command.

Bakrac dedicated a large part of his address to disputing charges about a planned campaign of attack against the non-Serbian population. He argued that the seizure of power in Foca in April 1992 by Serbian forces was a victory for the side defending itself. He said the reason only a negligible number of Muslims remained in the area was because of a policy by the Bosniak (Muslim) Party for Democratic Action "that deliberately feigned a campaign of ethnic cleansing of its own people in the municipalities in which they lost power during the war".

In pursuing this line, the defence has set itself a difficult task, since the same trial chamber, in the previously pronounced verdict for rapes in Foca, concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that Serb forces there planned and carried out systematic attacks and expulsions of Bosniak population.

To confirm military control over the prison, the first defence witness, investigator Milenko Dundzer, presented several orders and confirmations issued by the command of the Serb forces in Foca concerning the exchange of detainees, permits for visits to the prison and appointments of officers to work there.

If the warden was not in charge of the detainees, prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff wanted to know who was. Dunzer replied that he "did not know that with certainty". To the prosecutor's further insistence, the witness said he could only list some names that he heard during his investigation. That part of the testimony took place in closed session.

More IWPR's Global Voices