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

Furundzija Trial: Accounts Of Sexual Violence

Tribunal Update 80: Last Week in The Hague (8-13 June 1998)
By IWPR ICTY

Judging by the announcements of his defense counsel, the presentation of the case by the defense will also not last much - if at all - longer, making it likely that both sides will have already made their presentations by the end of this week.

Unlike all previous trials before the Tribunal, which deal with systematic and widespread crimes against a large number of victims, the Furundzija case is focused on one day, one crime, and one victim. Even though he was not the only participant in that event, only Anto Furundzija (28) is currently facing the court. He was grabbed by Dutch commandos during an operation in Vitez (Central Bosnia) last December. Only two of the total 30 counts on that indictment, which is still sealed, concern Furundzija.

The prosecutor also mentioned another name from that indictment before the court last week. According to the prosecutor, Miroslav "Cicko" (Kitty-cat) Bralo was the main executioner of the crime for which Furundzija is being tried.

His name has already been mentioned before the Tribunal: several witnesses in the trial of Croat General Tihomir Blaskic-Bosniaks from Ahmici and other villages in the Lasva Valley-have described "Cicko" as sowing fear and terror, a "walking horror," who brandished a knife covered with blood in front of horrified Bosniak prisoners, saying that he used it to "slaughter in Ahmici" and that he "would slaughter again."

In July last year, Bralo walked into the Dutch SFOR base in Vitez in order to "inquire" whether he was indicted. Confused Dutch soldiers checked the public list of those accused, and having established that he was not on it, they told him to go in peace. Several hours later, they remembered to check the list of those wanted on the sealed indictments, but it was already too late: "Cicko" had vanished without a trace.

As Prosecutor Michael Blaxill stressed in his opening statement, the case that found itself in front of the Trial Chamber II last week (presiding Judge Florence Mumba, with Judges Antonio Cassese and Richard May) "is focused on one horrific day in the life of one civilian woman." That day is 15 March 1993, and the woman concerned is a middle-aged Bosniak woman from Vitez, described in the indictment as victim "A."

Victim "A" was arrested in Vitez on 15 May 1993 by the "Jokers"- members of a special unit of the Bosnian Croat (HVO) military police - who took her to their headquarters for interrogation. According to the prosecution, she was first told there that they were waiting for "the boss," and a while later she heard soldiers saying that Furundzija had arrived.

The accused then began, the prosecutor claimed, to question "A" whether her sons were in the Bosnian Army, as well as about some Croats who were suspected of helping the Bosniaks. While the accused Furundzija was asking questions, according to the prosecutor, the already-mentioned Cicko grabbed the victim by the hair, forced her to take her clothes off, and then began to stroke her naked body with a knife and threatened to insert it in her vagina if she did not tell the truth. And then he commenced raping her by vaginal, oral, and anal penetration.

While this was going on, the prosecutor claims, "the accused persisted with his interrogation," and, according to statement from "A" quoted by the prosecutor, "it seemed to her that after each unsatisfactory response to the questions of the accused ... some more sexual abuse would be inflicted upon her by this Cicko."

"A" was then put in the same room as victim "B," a Bosnian Croat in the uniform of an HVO policeman, who was previously beaten because he was helping the Bosniaks. "A" was then interrogated again, raped, and, together with victim "B," physically and psychologically abused in other ways. By his presence, acts, and omissions, the accused committed a double violation of the laws or customs of war, concluded the prosecutor.

Firstly, by participating in the torture of the victim "as a serving military official who interrogates a civilian seeking information and admissions from her, intimidating her and trying to coerce responses ... inflicting on her severe mental and physical pain and suffering." Second, according to the prosecution, Furundzija's "acts of encouragement and support for the rape of victim 'A' and his omissions, were sufficient to trigger his individual criminal responsibility" for abusing her personal dignity, including rape.

Without disputing the suffering of victim "A", Furundzija's defense counsel, Luka Misetic, a lawyer from Chicago, confidently announced in his opening statement that with the help of the prosecution witnesses only, he will prove that the accused was not present "for any sexual assault on this woman." The prosecution's case, Misetic said, is based on only one witness, the victim herself, "and evidence will show that she is wrong. Not that she is a liar ... but that she is wrong." And she is wrong because "people make mistakes" in situations such as that which "A" experienced.

The defense would, according to Misetic, prove that the victim's memory is not reliable ("Memory is an opinion or belief of what happened," he said). Her testimony is not convincing, he said to the judges, and "will not convince you beyond reasonable doubt that Anto Furundzija is guilty as charged."

Judging by Misetic's opening statement, the defense particularly counts on the statement of victim "B," the former HVO policeman, with whom "A" was held together one point during her ordeal on 15 May 1993. He testified last week as prosecution witness "D." Referring to the last statement of that witness during the investigation, Misetic announced that witness "D" would state before the court that "contrary to the allegations, Anto Furundzija was not present for any sexual assault."

In the meantime, "A" and "D" testified before the court last week, but both did so in closed sessions, so it is impossible to assess the validity of the defense's claims that the prosecution witnesses themselves showed that the prosecution does not have a strong case against the accused Furundzija.

Only three witnesses testified publicly last week. The first was Muhamed Mujezinovic, a Bosniak community leader from Vitez, who testified about the existence of the armed conflict in the region and its repercussions for civilians, including several cases of rape of Bosniak women, which were registered in the hospital where he worked.

Protected witness "B," a Bosniak woman from Ahmici, identified the accused Furundzija (with whom she went to school for four years) as one of the participants in the attack of 16 April 1993, during which the Bosnian Croat forces destroyed her village and killed over 100 of its inhabitants.

Finally, witness "C" described the suffering of the civilians in Vitez, after the HVO forces attacked the city on 16 April 1993, arrested all Bosniak men, and forced women and children to live in the cellars of their apartment buildings.

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