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

COURTSIDE: Visegrad Trial

Defendant attempts to persuade court that he was mentally unstable when Visegrad crimes were perpetrated
By Mirko Klarin

In the trial of a group of Bosnian Serbs for crimes committed against Bosniak civilians in Visegrad, eastern Bosnia, in 1992, the defendant Mitar Vasiljevic last week described the alleged psychological problems he experienced in July that year while being treated at the hospital in Uzice, western Serbia.


The indictment claims Vasiljevic took part in at least two grave crimes: the execution of 7 detainees on the banks of the Drina on June 7, 1992, two of whom survived and identified defendant as one of the perpetrators, and the burning of 65 people in Pionirska Street on June 14.


He has admitted his presence at the first crime as an "unwilling observer" but claims he was in Uzice hospital when the second occurred, after falling from a horse that day.


Vasiljevic's defence counsel deny any direct involvement in the crimes, and assert diminished responsibility on ground of mental instability.


The defendant went on to describe his alleged psychological problems. "I was not afraid of pigeons... pigeon was good...but I was afraid of crows," he said, "crows always brought me bad luck, some bad messages...As soon as I see a crow, I run inside and call higher powers."


Occasionally, he said, the crows told him someone would get killed, but he did not dare tell that to anyone. "God threatened me," he said. "I did not dare talk."


He told the court that the act of "blinking" became almost unbearable for him because as soon as he blinked..."someone died".


Dr Zorka Lopicic, a Belgrade psychiatrist, who recently examined Vasiljevic at the tribunal's detention unit, concluded that since the mid-1980s, the defendant suffered psychotic disorders and memory loss, which deteriorated due to excessive consumption of alcohol, and that his accountability was "reduced" in the summer of 1992.


But the strength of Vasiljevic's argument has been weakened by the fact that he only brought up the subject of his alleged psychological problems after the prosecution produced several survivors from the firing squad beside the Drina and from the Pionirska Street atrocity, who identified him as an active participant.


Nor did Vasiljevic talk about his alleged mental problems with the medical personnel in Uzice after the Visegrad crimes, or mention them in a two-day conversation with tribunal prosecutors and investigators in November 2000.


During that conversation, as prosecutor Dermot Groome reminded Vasiljevic last week, the accused was asked if he had suffered from psychological problems in June 1992, to which he categorically said no. Asked whether he stood by that statement, Vasiljevic answered, "I did not know about this diagnosis at the time. I had thought that all that was caused by alcohol."


He claims he thought that his obsession with blinking, the fear of crows and the conversations with "higher powers" stemmed from a "crisis of abstinence" triggered by enforced lack of access to alcohol in hospital.


The prosecutor asked to cross-examine Dr Lopicic, while the trial chamber ordered the accused to be examined by an independent forensic psychiatrist appointed by the tribunal's registry.


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