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COURTSIDE: Omarska Camp Trial - Prosecution Calls for Life Sentences

The Omarska defendants are accused of some of the "worst crimes in recent history", but defence lawyers insist they were low-level officers who deserve leniency for cooperating with the court.
By Mirko Klarin

Prosecutor Susan Somers called last week for life sentences against Mladjo Radic and Zoran Zigic, two of the five accused of crimes against humanity at the Prijedor detention camps of Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje in the summer of 1992. She also sought sentences of 25 years for Milojica Kos and 35 years for Miroslav Kvocka and Dragoljub Prcac.

Kvocka and Prcac were, according to the indictment, deputy commanders at Omarska - the former from the end of May 1992 to the second half of June 1992, and the latter from the end of June 1992 until the camp closed on August 6 of that year.

Radic was accused of being a guard shift commander in Omarska and of having personally committed several murders, serious beatings and rapes of detained women. Zigic is accused of several killings and the beating and maltreatment of detainees in all three camps. He was allegedly a frequent "visitor" at the three detention centres. Kos is accused as a guard shift commander at Omarska of crimes committed by his subordinates.

Somers said all five were "opportunistic, willing participants in some of the worst crimes committed in recent history". She said they participated in the "common purpose" of forcefully removing the non-Serbian population of Prijedor in order to create an ethnically clean Serbian para-state in an area of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Claiming their responsibility was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, Somers said there are no mitigating circumstances for any of the five, and that none had expressed remorse, regret or mercy towards the victims.

The defence did not dispute that serious crimes against Bosniaks and Croats had taken place at Omarska and the other Prijedor "investigative centres" between May and August 1992. But lawyers representing each of the accused claimed their clients did not commit those crimes and that they were "at the lowest level of responsibility" within the camps.

With the exception Zigic, the defendants are accused of crimes on the basis of command responsibility (Article 7.3 of the tribunal statute) for crimes committed by their subordinates, which they neither prevented nor punished. Zigic is accused of individual responsibility (Article 7.1) for his personal actions within the camps. Radic, too, is charged as a direct perpetrator of some crimes. But Kvocka, Prcac and Kos are charged almost exclusively on the basis of their authority within the camp's command structure.

The defence therefore has sought to prove that none of the four (i.e. all but Zigic) held any senior positions within Omarska and were in fact only "ordinary guards" with no authority over police officers, soldiers or visitors to the camp.

The defence reacted fiercely to the call for tough sentences and the prosecution's claim that there were no mitigating circumstances. Belgrade lawyer Toma Fila, representing Radic, said his client had cooperated with the prosecution.

"He did everything that the prosecutor asked him to," Fila said. He asked whether the prosecutor, in refusing to acknowledge this as a mitigating circumstance, was "sending a message to other accused not to cooperate, but to behave as one has recently behaved here" - a clear reference to Slobodan Milosevic. For his initial appearance, Milosevic declined to appoint legal counsel and said that he did not recognise the legitimacy of the tribunal.

Continuing the allusion to Milosevic, Fila, who used to represent the former Yugoslav president, criticised the sentence requested by the prosecution.

"If a life sentence is requested for an ordinary guard, what will we do with those who were above? Shall we have them dragged behind horses or shall we demand the introduction of the death penalty?" Fila asked. He called on the judges to distinguish between those at "the lowest level" and those who "created the policy" which led to the establishment of the camps.

The judges are expected to deliver their decision in September or October this year.

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

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