Ex-Serbian Security Chief Absent as First Witness Testifies

Judges reject Jovica Stanisic’s claim that he is unfit to attend court and proceeds without him.

Ex-Serbian Security Chief Absent as First Witness Testifies

Judges reject Jovica Stanisic’s claim that he is unfit to attend court and proceeds without him.

Thursday, 9 July, 2009
Former Serbian security chief Jovica Stanisic failed to get his war crimes trial adjourned this week on grounds of ill health and the case went ahead without him.

He chose not to take part in the case at the Hague tribunal via video conference from the court's detention facility.

Stanisic’s lawyer, Geert-Jan Knoops, told the court that his client’s health problems “present a great complexity”, leaving the defence with “no other choice but to ask the chamber for an adjournment of the proceedings”.

“A defendant who is considering suicide is hardly [able] to effectively participate in the proceedings,” Knoops argued.

Stanisic is charged with responsibility for murder, deportation and persecution of non-Serbs during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia as part of a joint criminal enterprise with Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic to create a Greater Serbia. Both he and his co-defendant Franko Simatovic, his former deputy at the Serbian state security service, deny the charges.

The prosecution opposed the motion to adjourn the proceedings, saying, “There is nothing in … the medical reports that demonstrate that Mr Stanisic can not participate in today’s proceedings.”

They then read aloud an excerpt from Dr Michael Eekhof’s latest medical report that described Stanisic as “cooperative, well oriented and quite alert, showing no evidence of disturbances of memory, no disturbances of perception and judgment, no thought disturbances, [and] no hallucinatory experiences”.

Moreover, the prosecution pointed out, the latest medical reports and video surveillance from the detention unit “suggest the distinct possibility that Mr Stanisic is malingering and actually trying to manipulate the [medical] experts’ findings … [by] applying a substance, possibly cigarette ash, under his lower eyelids” in order to appear tired.

Challenging Knoops, presiding judge Alphons Orie asked, “Was there any medical report over the last year which clearly, unambiguously established that Mr Stanisic, at the time that the report was made, was unfit to stand trial?”

Knoops said, “The medical reports have been ambiguous”, and then posed a theoretical question to the court on whether a defendant with severe depression is even capable of instructing defence counsel.

After a brief consultation with other members of the trial chamber, Judge Orie denied the defence’s motion for a suspension and instructed the prosecution to call its first witness.

To conceal his identity, the witness testified under protective measures that included a pseudonym, C-15, and image and voice distortion. The prosecution first tendered into evidence two statements that C-15 gave in 1999 and 2001, both under seal.

No summary of the witness’s forthcoming testimony was read aloud for the public record and most of it took place in a closed session. Through his testimony it could be understood that witness C-15 was initially a member of the Serb Territorial Defence, TO, then joined the police of the Serbian Autonomous District of Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srijem/Srem, SAO SBWS, a self-declared entity on Croatian territory.

According to the indictment, between April 1991 and December 1995, Stanisic and Simatovic helped to establish, supply with arms, and finance 26 centres in Serb-held parts of Croatia and Bosnia where they directed the combat training of Serb volunteers and conscripts.

The prosecution claims that the forces trained at these centres included notorious paramilitary group such as the Red Berets, the Scorpions and Arkan’s Tigers which acted in close coordination with the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, and the TO, attacking towns and villages across Croatia and Bosnia and committing murder, rape and torture.

The prosecution asked witness C-15 if he had ever met Stanisic. He replied that he attended a ceremony at the police training centre in Golubic, near Knin, at which Stanisic spoke, but never had the opportunity to talk with Stanisic.

“Mr Stanisic called all of the commanders of the police stations … from the areas where the United Nations was deployed [to the ceremony]. He told them … how they should comport themselves vis-à-vis the UN, how they should look and behave,” the witness said.

When asked if anyone else spoke at that occasion, witness C-15 explained that Milan Martic, former president of the self-declared Republic of Serbian Krajina, had introduced Stanisic, calling him his “only and first commander”.

The witness said that the only time he ever saw either of the accused in the area of the SAO SBWS was when he saw Stanisic in Erdut, a town in Croatia on the border with Serbia. When asked to give details of this encounter, witness C-15 requested to testify in closed session.

Under cross-examination, first by the counsel for Stanisic and subsequently by the counsel for Simatovic, witness C-15 confirmed that in times of conflict the TO and other Serb volunteers were subordinated to the JNA. Attributing command of paramilitary groups to the JNA, rather than Stanisic’s security services, is a central element of the defence’s case.

To draw out a practical example of this relationship, Knoops asked, “Is it true that the JNA took care of the equipment, supplies and weapons for the TO and the training camp in Erdut?”

“Yes,” the witness said.

The defence also asked witness C-15 about the relationship of Serb paramilitary leader Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic with the TO and JNA. The witness said that Arkan was registered as a volunteer under TO command, but he was only subordinated to the TO “on paper” and that “actually, nobody could order him”.

In 1999, Arkan was indicted by the Hague tribunal for war crimes, but was assassinated in Belgrade the following year before his trial could begin.

Regarding Arkan’s relationship with the JNA, witness C-15 said that when Arkan was engaged in military campaigns he was under the operational command of the JNA.

During redirect examination of the witness, the prosecution asked for clarification of his statements about the relationship between Arkan and the JNA., “When you said [Arkan] was subordinated to the JNA, can you clarify if you were referring to the law at the time or to the actual situation?”

“In the [military] actions that were conducted, he was engaged by the JNA,” witness C-15 replied, providing no further explanation.

The prosecution will call its second witness next week.

Andrew W Maki is an IWPR contributor.

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