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Ganic Hearing Told No Fair Trial in Serbia

Lawyer for former Bosnian leader argues that charges against his client are politically motivated.
By Rory Gallivan

Former Bosnian presidency member Ejup Ganic should not be sent to Serbia to face war crimes charges because he would not receive a fair trial, his lawyer told an extradition hearing in London this week.

Serbiais seeking the extradition of Ganic, who was arrested in London on March 1, to face trial for alleged involvement in an attack on Yugoslav soldiers who were being escorted from barracks in the besieged Bosnian capital Sarajevo during the war.

The charges against Ganic relate to events leading up to and during the so-called Dobrovoljacka (Volunteer’s Street) incident of May 3, 1992, in which a convoy of Yugoslav army, JNA, trucks was attacked by Bosnian soldiers the day after Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic was taken captive by the JNA.

“There can be no doubt that Dr Ganic would not get a fair trial,” said Ganic’s defence lawyer Edward Fitzgerald. He argued that the prosecution had failed to come up with any new evidence of significance that had not already been considered by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, and the Bosnian prosecutor, which had investigated the events and found that there was no case to answer.

The first witness to be called, Philip Alcock, a former international prosecutor at Bosnia’s state court, agreed with Fitzgerald’s claim that the action against Ganic was politically motivated.

Alcock, who worked for the Bosnian state court between 2005 and 2009, began an investigation into the events of May 2 and 3, 1992, during his time there.

He said he saw no evidence that Ganic had given orders to kill prisoners of war, target medical vehicles or to attack the military hospital, as Serbia has alleged.

James Lewis, the lawyer acting for Serbia, claimed that the following would be connected to Ganic: an attack on the officers’ club of the JNA in Sarajevo on the morning of May 2; an attack on ambulances at about midday on the same day; two attacks on a hospital on the same day; and the attack on the column the following day. He asked Alcock whether he accepted that war crimes had been committed against the JNA soldiers on May 2.

Alcock replied that he did not, saying that there was evidence the hospital was being used for military purposes. He said that there was no proof for the allegation that on May 3 Ganic had agreed to let the military convoy leave the barracks in Sarajevo, then ordered an attack on that convoy.

The second witness to appear in Ganic’s defence,  Dam Arnaut, a legal adviser to the Bosniak member of the Bosnian presidency, Haris Silajdzic, described how following Ganic’s arrest he had been involved in Turkish-mediated discussions between Bosnia and Serbia about a deal involving Ganic.

This would have involved Serbia allowing Ganic to face trial in Bosnia, in exchange for Bosnia not criticising a statement by Serbia’s parliament about the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, which did not describe it as genocide, according to the witness.

In March, Serbia’s parliament adopted a resolution condemning the crimes that took place in Srebrenica in 1995. However, the word genocide was not mentioned anywhere in the resolution.

Arnaut explained that, although a deal was not agreed, Silajdzic had refrained from criticising Serbia’s resolution in order to keep it open.

He went on to say that Belgrade was also pushing for an agreement where war crimes suspects would be tried in their native country. But Arnaut pointed out that no war crimes had been committed in Serbia by Bosnian citizens, so the proposed agreement would have been “heavily skewed” in Serbia's favour.

“My conclusion was that they were playing on emotions in Bosnia, to pressure it to agree to Serbia’s request,” he said as he described how Bosnia and Serbia had failed to reach a deal.

The third witness called by Ganic’s lawyers, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, the former German politician who served as the international community’s High Representative in Bosnia from 2006 to 2007, also thought Serbia’s attempt to extradite Ganic was politically motivated.

He said that the Serbian president Boris Tadic had made statements suggesting the hearing against Ganic had already been concluded.

Asked by Fitzgerald whether a judge in Serbia could be expected to be independent, Schwartz-Schilling replied that, from his experience of both Germany and Serbia, “a turnaround after a dictatorship takes a generation”.

He referred to the trial concluded in Belgrade last year of Ilija Jurisic, a Bosnian soldier sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in an attack on a JNA convoy in the northern Bosnian town of Tuzla in mid-May 1992. He said that the Jurisic trial had not been conducted according to European standards, pointing out that Jurisic had been “sentenced to 12 years in prison though it was not clear what he was convicted for”.

During the hearings, Lewis denied that the case against Ganic was politically motivated. He said that Serbia was now a responsible parliamentary democracy and that its war crimes prosecutions office acted independently of political interference.

Seeking to refute a defence allegation that the request for Ganic’s arrest had been timed to coincide with the start of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s trial on March 1, Lewis pointed out that a request for Interpol to issue an arrest warrant had been made in May 2009.

Referring to the Dobrovoljacka incident, Lewis said that the evacuating soldiers were non-combatants who should have been protected under the Geneva conventions.

Lewis also sought to counter the notion that what happened on Dobrovoljacka was “an attack by a mob” and to demonstrate that it was “a coordinated attack from a command structure which ends with Dr Ganic”, who had been left in control in Izetbegovic’s absence. 

The hearings, which are taking place at Westminster Magistrates’ Court before district judge Timothy Workman, were due to continue with examinations of two defence witnesses, the historians Carole Hodge and Noel Malcolm.

Rory Gallivan is an IWPR contributor in London.

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