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

COURTSIDE: Nikolic Case

Trial chamber rules SFOR and the prosecution did not act illegally over defendant’s detention.
By

Dragan “Jenki” Nikolic’s request for the indictment against him to be dropped, on the grounds that his arrest was illegal, was rejected last week.


The tribunal found - on the basis of agreement between the prosecution and defence - that Nikolic had indeed been illegally abducted from Yugoslav territory by persons unknown and transferred to Bosnia, where he was arrested. However, it ruled that as neither the NATO-led stabilisation force SFOR nor the prosecution had been involved, and as Yugoslav sovereignty had not been violated, there was no reason to dismiss the proceedings.


Nikolic is charged with crimes against Bosniaks in the town of Vlasenica in eastern Bosnia. He is alleged to have commanded the local Susica camp, where killings, beatings and rapes are said to have taken place.


He was arrested on April 2000 – more than five years after the publication of the initial indictment against him – and handed over to the tribunal. But after his arrival in The Hague, the accused’s lawyers raised legal objections to his detention arising from the way he was taken into custody.


The key issue was whether SFOR or the prosecution used unlawful methods to bring the accused to justice.


The defendant’s counsel Howard Morrison claimed that although SFOR was not directly involved in Nikolic's removal from Yugoslavia, it was aware that he had been unlawfully apprehended. Thus, the defence concluded, Nikolic's detention by the NATO force was "tainted with illegality".


As SFOR is the agent of the prosecution and the tribunal in apprehending indictees, the defence alleged that The Hague had also behaved illegally.


But the prosecution insists that the NATO troops only took custody of the accused, which does not imply official involvement.


Following an agreement between the defence and the prosecution - that the individuals who abducted Nikolic had no connection to SFOR or the tribunal - the trial chamber found that NATO commanders had acted lawfully.


The judges rejected claims that SFOR or the prosecution had violated the territorial sovereignty of Yugoslavia, and found that there were no legal obstacles to stop the proceedings from going ahead.


Vjera Bogati is an IWPR special correspondent at The Hague and a journalist with SENSE News Agency.