The Dokmanovic Case

Tribunal Update 43: Last Week in The Hague (September 8-13, 1997)

The Dokmanovic Case

Tribunal Update 43: Last Week in The Hague (September 8-13, 1997)

Saturday, 13 September, 1997

Dokmanovic stands accused of killing 260 people at Ovcara on November 20, 1991. He was arrested on June 27 this year after was described as a "joint operation by the UN Transitional administration in Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) and the prosecutor's office of The Hague Tribunal".

The defence has submitted a preliminary motion concerning the arrest, claiming that it was illegal, and that Dokmanovic had actually been kidnapped. On September 8, discussions took place before the trial chamber, chaired by the American Judge Gabrielle McDonald and judges Odio Benito from Costa Rica and Saad Jan from Pakistan. The defence and prosecutor's office each summoned three witnesses to appear before Trial Chamber Two.

Tribunal investigator Kevin Curtis told the court that he sought to gain Dokmanovic's confidence and lure him into the UNTAES region where he would be arrested. In a written reply to the defence's objection, the prosecution said that it knew of no legal system in the world where the accused has to be informed in advance that a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Dokmanovic himself helped the investigators in the preparation for his own arrest. Unaware that a sealed indictment had been issued against him on April 4 last year, Dokmanovic reported to The Hague prosecutor's office in Belgrade last December, offering to testify about the crimes in Eastern Slavonia. Naturally, he meant only those crimes that were committed by the other side, i.e. the Croats.

Kevin Curtis, who has been involved in The Hague's investigations of atrocities carried in and around Vukovar for three years, established contact with Dokmanovic. They first agreed a meeting at a hotel in Beli Manastir near Osijek, but Dokmanovic changed his mind at the last moment. However contact was not severed and Curtis was in time able to gain Dokmanovic's confidence. Finally, a meeting was arranged at Dokmanovic's flat in Sombor, FRY, on June 24 this year.

Dokmanovic gave a six-hour statement to Curtis which included his views of the events in Vukovar in 1991. After the interview was finished Dokmanovic made another fatal mistake. He asked the investigator whether the Tribunal, given its connections with the Croatian authorities, could help him claim compensation for a house he has in Trpinja which now lies in Croatia.

Seeing a chance to lure the accused into a region under UNTAES control, Curtis said that although this was not within the Tribunal's authority, he would try to set up a meeting with Jacques Klein, then UN Administrator.

Two days later in a telephone conversation with Klein's executive assistant Michael Hryschchyn, Dokmanovic agreed to visit Vukovar. The former town mayor claimed he had received guarantees for his safe arrival at and departure from Eastern Slavonia. Hryschchyn, who also testified last week, claims that he gave no guarantees to Dokmanovic.

According to Hryschchyn, Dokmanovic had expressed concern over travelling through Eastern Slavonia. Hryschchyn suggested that a UN vehicle with darkened windows be sent to fetch him. "I told him that he would have no problem entering Eastern Slavonia, but nothing more than that," he said.

It was agreed that the UN vehicle would be waiting on the bridge near Bogojevo, between the border posts of FRY and UNTAES (i.e. Croatia). This was confirmed by witness "A", who had acted as translator during the disputed phone call. The witness claimed that "there was no mention of guarantees".

Presiding Judge McDonald asked about the location and time of the arrest. According to the defence witness Milan Knezevic, who accompanied Dokmanovic to the meeting with Klein, the UN vehicles were waiting on the bridge between Bogojevo and Erdut, between 30 and 40 metres away from the border ramp on the Yugoslav side of River Danube.

After entering the vehicle, the door was blocked, leading the defence to conclude that Dokmanovic and his escort Knezevic were arrested, or "kidnapped" on Yugoslav territory, in violation of FRY sovereignty. The prosecution, however, stressed that Dokmanovic and Knezevic had voluntarily entered the UN vehicle, and made no complaints during their five-minute ride to the UNTAES base in Erdut.

When asked by the judges whether they were able to leave the vehicle during that ride, the prosecutor replied that he could not speculate how the UN soldiers would have reacted. According to the prosecution, the procedure of the arrest began when Dokmanovic and Knezevic were led out of the vehicle at the UNTAES base in Erdut. The UN soldiers only detained the accused: the arrest itself was carried out by Tribunal investigators, who informed Dokmanovic of the indictment against him and told him his rights.

Finally, the prosecution maintained that arresting those accused of war crimes is the right and the duty not only of states, but also of international organisations and the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia itself. The defence meanwhile claim that neither UNTAES nor the prosecution have the mandate to make arrests.

A decision on the legality of Dokmanovic's arrest is expected in two or three weeks' time.

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