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Courtside: Mitar Vasiljevic Judgment

By Vjera Bogati in The Hague (TU No. 291, 25-29 November, 2002)
By IWPR

But tribunal judges found him not guilty of the killing of 60 Muslim men, women and children, who were herded into a house in Visegrad, which was then set on fire.


The accused admitted that he was present when the first incident took place on June 7, 1992, in Visegrad on the bank of Drina, but claimed the killing was done by Milan Lukic, the leader of a notorious paramilitary group.


He said Lukic – who has been indicted by The Hague but is on the run - brought seven civilians to the site, where his men shot them in the back, killing five. Two more survived by playing dead and were also hurled into the river. They later recovered to give testimony at his trial.


Vasiljevic claimed at his trial that he had pleaded with Lukic to spare the lives of the prisoners, but the judges concluded that he accompanied Lukic of his own free will, and was thus part of the conspiracy to kill the men.


He was pronounced guilty of crimes against humanity and violation of the law or customs of war.


On the basis of the fact that the victims were executed on account of their ethnic background alone, the trial chamber found Vasiljevic guilty of persecution on political, racial or religious grounds, part of the crimes against humanity charge.


As regards the other crime – burning of civilians at a house in Pionirska street, Visegrad, on June 14, 1992 – Vasiljevic's defence was based on an alibi.


He said he had been in Pionirska Street on that day and even spoke to the victims, but that he later fell from a horse, broke his leg, and was rushed to hospital hours before the killings took place.


The trial chamber accepted the statement of the doctor from Uzice hospital, in Serbia, who confirmed Vasiljevic's alibi and medical documents about his admission to the hospital were not forged.


The judge’s summary, read by Judge David Hunt, concluded, "The prosecution, however, failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was present in Pionirska Street at the time the Muslims were forced into the house and when it was burnt down."


Making matters worse for this case was the fact that the crimes were committed for discriminatory reasons, because of ethnic hatred, said the judges.


The judges said that the Visegrad campaign against local Muslims was “one of the broadest and most cruel campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina”, with violence unusual even by Serb paramilitary standards being meted out to civilians by Lukic’s men.


The judges concluded that Vasiljevic took part in a “systematic and widespread campaign of killings, rapes and molesting of non-Serbian population, especially Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims)”.


The prosecution and defence have 15 days to announce an appeal request.


Vjera Bogati is an IWPR correspondent in The Hague and a journalist with SENSE news agency.


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