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COURTSIDE: Todorovic - The Benefits of Confession

After disputing the legality of his arrest, Todorovic's cooperation with the prosecution wins him a reduced sentence.
By Mirko Klarin

Stevan Todorovic's decision to cooperate with The Hague last week earned him a reduced sentence of ten years imprisonment for crimes against humanity.


Of over 50 accused who have entered pleas before the war crimes tribunal, only three have admitted guilt. Drazen Erdemovic was handed a five year jail term for confessing to his participation in the killing of some 1,200 Muslim men at Branjevo farm near Srebrenica on July 16, 1995. Goran Jelisic pleaded not guilty to genocide but admitted to 14 of several dozen killings he was accused of committing in Brcko in May 1992. Yet his confession came only after being confronted with irrefutable evidence, and his testimony has been described as "inconsistent and sanitised" by the prosecution. He received the maximum sentence of 40 years.


Todorovic, the former chief of police of Bosanski Samac, admitted to crimes against humanity against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, and has pledged to testify in future cases, and as a result received a sentence roughly half of what he might have expected had his case gone to trial.


As Judge Patrick Robinson pointed out in handing down his sentence last week, the trial chamber balanced the gravity of the crime and his position of superior authority with the accused's guilty plea, his substantial cooperation with the prosecution and his expressed remorse for his crimes.


The judges refused to accept the comparison with the Erdemovic case, however, as urged by the defence. Erdemovic, they noted, had practically surrendered himself and written his own indictment. He had also participated in the killing of Muslim men under duress, which was not the case with Todorovic.


Nevertheless, Judge Robinson noted that the court "recognises the considerable contribution of Todorovic's guilty plea to the efficiency of the work of the international tribunal and to its search for the truth, and takes it into account in mitigation of sentence".


Todorovic's cooperation is not limited to his own case. He is expected to provide testimony in the trial against his former co-accused, which begins September 10, and some other cases. As a former police chief, Todorovic possesses interesting information about the coordination of political, military and police activities during the war years and the functioning of the so-called crisis staffs in the municipalities under Bosnian Serb control.


Todorovic receives credit for time served, nearly three years. For most of that time, he disputed the legality of his arrest, claiming that he was "kidnapped" on Mount Zlatibor, illegally transferred from Serbia to Bosnia and then "sold" to SFOR for a reward of 50,000 German marks. Taking these claims seriously, in October 2000 the judges issued a "binding order" to the member states of NATO and SFOR, requesting them to hand over all written, video or audio documentation about the circumstances of his arrest.


Yet two months later, it was revealed that at the same time the defence was negotiating with the prosecution over a plea bargain. As a result, Todorovic pleaded guilty to count one (persecution), and the prosecution withdrew the remaining 26 counts for specific acts of persecution, including murder, beatings, sexual assaults, unlawful detention, cruel and inhumane treatment, deportation and forcible transfer.


Todorovic also dropped the dispute over the legality of his arrest and undertook an obligation to cooperate with the prosecution and testify in other cases. (For an archive of previous Tribunal Update reports on the case, see http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?tribunal_case_files.html.)


For its part, the prosecution pledged to seek a sentence of no longer than 12 years, which in the event the judges reduced by a further two years.


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