COURTSIDE: Omarska-Keraterm Trial

Expert defence witnesses called on behalf of camp "visitor" Zoran Zigic have a bad day in court

COURTSIDE: Omarska-Keraterm Trial

Expert defence witnesses called on behalf of camp "visitor" Zoran Zigic have a bad day in court

Saturday, 28 April, 2001

A former guard at the Keraterm detention camp cannot avoid responsibility for atrocities committed just because he was under the influence of alcohol, a defence expert witness acknowledged in court last week.


Being under the influence of alcohol could be taken as a mitigating circumstance under Yugoslav law and practice except where "the safety of public traffic" was concerned, the witness, Dr Bora Cejovic, said.


Cejovic, professor of law at Kragujevac Law Faculty in Serbia, was summoned by Zoran Zigic's defence team to bolster the defendant's case that his alcoholism led to his committing a number of "excesses... but not crimes of a greater magnitude".


Zigic, indicted as a guard at the Keraterm detention camp and a frequent "visitor" at Omarska and Trnopolje, is accused of beating, torturing and killing Muslim and Croat prisoners. He is one of five defendants on trial for crimes at the Prijedor detention camps in 1992.


Questions from the judges forced Cejovic to ultimately abandon his thesis that alcoholism was a "mitigating circumstance" in Zigic's case. Judge Fouad Riad pointed out that "conscious drinking, with the knowledge that crimes would be committed in such a state, can be taken as being the same as an intent".


Cejovic conceded that drunkenness in such a case would not constitute mitigating circumstances under Yugoslav law and court practice.


Last week, the defence was unlucky with its second expert too. Dr Mirko Barudzija, a surgeon at the Prijedor hospital, in late 1992 carried out preliminary treatment of a wound to Zigic's hand. The defendant had carelessly shot off part of his index finger. The wound had become infected, the doctor said causing "serious pain which spread throughout the body".


Asked by Zigic's defence counsel whether the accused could beat detainees in such a state, the surgeon replied, "If he beat them with that hand, he would suffer pain probably greater than that of the one he was beating." But Barudzija added Zigic could have used the hand during an assault "if he was under the influence of drugs which neutralise the pain and stimulate aggressiveness".


In his opening address, Zigic's defence lawyer had said the accused attributed his "excesses" not only to alcohol, but also to drugs which "as a modern young man he was unfortunately taking".


Vjera Bogati is IWPR correspondent in The Hague


Serbia
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