Dokmanovic Case

Tribunal Update 35: Last Week in The Hague (June 30 - July 5, 1997)

Dokmanovic Case

Tribunal Update 35: Last Week in The Hague (June 30 - July 5, 1997)

Saturday, 5 July, 1997

After that, his Belgrade defence counsel, Toma Fila, announced that he would submit his first preliminary motion on Monday, and asked for the prosecution to give him access to the evidence against his client as soon as possible.

A brief debate ensued in which prosecutor Grant Niemann asserted that the evidence first had to be examined carefully, to establish if protective measures were required for any of the witnesses; Fila stressed that to start with, the witnesses' statements would be sufficient, even without their names; while Judge McDonald warned that prosecutor that she would not allow a delay in handing over the evidence, and ordered him to give the defence the statements of witnesses whose identity will not be concealed.

These statements are to be handed over by Monday July 7. The initial hearing lasted less than half an hour.

Slavko Dokmanovic, former mayor of Vukovar, was accused in a "secret indictment" issued on March 26 last year. It was an amendment to the "Vukovar indictment" issued on November 1995 against three officers of the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA)--Milan Mrksic, Veselin Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic.

They are accused of taking about 260 people from the hospital in the Croatian town of Vukovar and executing them at a nearby farm called Ovcara on November 20, 1991, when the JNA and paramilitary groups from Serbia occupied the town after several months of siege. "At all material times," says the amended indictment, "Slavko Dokmanovic, President of the Vukovar municipality, aided and abetted or otherwise participated in these events," and for this he was charged, together with the three officers, with grave breaches of the Geneva conventions, violations of the laws and customs of war and crimes against humanity.

The "secret indictment" against Dokmanovic was issued while the Rule 61 hearing on the original Vukovar indictment was going on. During this hearing (March 20-28, 1996), the prosecution presented part of its evidence about the Ovcara massacre and produced ten witnesses. On April 3, 1996, Trial Chamber I confirmed the indictment and issued an international arrest warrant for the three officers.

On the same day, Judge Fouad Riad, confirming the amended indictment, issued an order that the existence of an indictment and arrest warrant against Dokmanovic should not be made public prior to the arrest of the accused.

Dokmanovic was arrested on June 27, 1997, during the course of a joint operation between investigators from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) and the UN Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES). On June 30, at the press conference on Dokmanovic's arrest and transfer to The Hague, Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour said that she was "not prepared to go into any details surrounding the arrest and escort. . . as these are operational details and any disclosure may jeopardise other similar initiatives."

From this it could be concluded that "similar initiatives" are not excluded. Justice Arbour confirmed this explicitly in her answers to reporters' questions: "As long as there is no change to be seen in those who are supposed to carry out [arrests], we will use all legal means available to us to bring the indicted before the court Tribunal."

The authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and Dokmanovic's lawyer Fila, however, believe that the arrest was illegal. They assert that Dokmanovic was arrested "by trickery" and that he was "kidnapped", and Fila says that on Monday he will submit a motion demanding Dokmanovic's release and return to the FRY.

According to them, immediately before his arrest, Dokmanovic received a telephone call from someone who claimed to be the secretary of UNTAES Administrator Jacques Klein, inviting him to talks about some "property problems" concerning Serbs in Eastern Slavonia. They agreed to meet on the bridge over the Danube, (the river is the border between Croatia and the FRY). The man waiting for Dokmanovic at the bridge immediately introduced himself as a Tribunal investigator and said that he wanted to talk about events in Vukovar in 1991.

Dokmanovic got into the investigator's car, which quickly turned off the main road and stopped. Twenty armed and masked soldiers were waiting. A hood was placed over Dokmanovic's head and the journey continued for about an hour, ending at an airport.

Dokmanovic was taken on board a small aircraft, where the hood was removed, and the investigator then told him why he had been arrested and informed him of his rights.

Chief Prosecutor Arbour rejects accusations of arrest "by trickery". "There is nothing tricky about arresting people without giving them advance warning. That's the way police forces operate all over the world," she said.

In addition to not excluding similar initiatives" in future, the other important announcement from Justice Arbour was about the so-called secret indictments. She confirmed that they exist, but she did not want to reveal how many there were, nor the specific incidents they related to, nor the people indicted by them.

She also confirmed that this was a "deliberate strategy" on her part, and she intends to use it again until she receives a "signal from the international community that the member states will carry out their obligations to the Tribunal."

Until then, says Justice Arbour, she will "make every effort to convince the judges [who confirm the indictments] that their non-disclosure is in the interests of justice."

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