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

Former Dutch Soldier Told to Hand Over Notes

Radovan Karadzic requested notes after witness gave testimony in November.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Prosecution witness Johannes Rutten in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
    Prosecution witness Johannes Rutten in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

Judges at The Hague tribunal this week requested that a Dutch colonel who testified in the trial of Radovan Karadzic turn over the wartime notes he kept as a United Nations peacekeeper, or else face a subpoena and a possible jail term.

The colonel, Johannes Rutten, served as a member of the UN Dutch Battalion known as Dutchbat, and was on the ground as the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces on July 11, 1995. In the days that followed, some 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys were killed in a massacre that has been defined as genocide at both the tribunal and at the International Court of Justice.

Rutten testified in late November 2011 about seeing Bosniak detainees threatened at gunpoint and their documents burned. (For more, see Dutchbat Soldier Recalls Mistreatment of Srebrenica Detainees.)

During his testimony, Rutten indicated that he took personal notes as events unfolded at Srebrenica, but he declined to hand them over to Karadzic. The accused then filed a motion asking the judges to issue a subpoena. On January 10, the bench “invited” Rutten to provide the notes voluntarily, which he declined to do.

In a letter to Rutten dated February 27, presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon “urged” him to reconsider his position that the notes are “personal and private belongings and findings” which “should not be subjected to judicial scrutiny”.

Judge Kwon wrote that Rutten was aware that he “could be forced to comply”, and noted the witness’s position that “even if forced” he will “never provide the notes to the accused”.

The judge stated that in cases where a witness “uses a writing to refresh his memory”, as Rutten did, the defendant is entitled “at the chamber’s discretion” to have the material “produced at the hearing, to inspect it, to cross-examine the witness about it, and to introduce in evidence any portion that relates to the witness’s testimony”.

In this particular situation, Judge Kwon said, “the chamber considers that the production of the notes serves a legitimate forensic purpose, because the notes may be material assistance to the accused in accessing the accuracy of your testimony and your credibility as a witness”.

Judge Kwon wrote that if Rutten fails to provide the notes, the chamber will issue a subpoena. If Rutten still does not cooperate, he could be found in contempt of court, which is punishable by a fine of up to 100,000 euro and/or a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

“In order to avoid the grave consequences of the subpoena, the chamber wishes to give you another opportunity to co-operate on a voluntary basis,” the judge wrote.

Once he receives the letter, Rutten has 14 days to respond.

Karadzic was Bosnian Serb president of the self-declared Republika Srpska entity from 1992 to 1996. He is charged with individual and superior responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre, as well as for the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead.

The indictment – which lists 11 counts in total – alleges that he was responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.

Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run. Witness testimony in his trial got under way in April 2010.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.