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Jelisic Pleads Guilty And 'Cleans' His Soul

Tribunal Update 99: Last Week in The Hague (26-31 October, 1998)

Last week Goran Jelisic pleaded guilty to 31 out of 32 charges arising from the second amended "Brcko" indictment. Each time, Jelisic repeated the full legal qualification from the indictment: "I plead guilty to a crime against humanity recognised by Article 5(a) (murder) of the Tribunal Statute," and to "violations of the laws or customs of war recognised by Article 3 of the Tribunal Statute and Article 3(1)(a)(murder) of the Geneva Conventions."

A total of 12 killings were covered by those counts, as were four incidents of beating and plunder of private property. All crimes took place in May 1992, in Brcko, in the camp Luka. Goran Jelisic was then 24 and used to introduce himself to the victims as "the Serbian Adolf." He told his victims that he had come to Brcko to kill Muslims -and he boasted about the number of people he had already killed. (Witness F in the case against Jelisic, has told the court: "I remember Goran stating that before he can have his coffee each morning, he must first kill twenty or thirty people)."

Nevertheless, Jelisic last week pleaded not guilty to the most serious of the 32 counts -Count One, the charge of genocide - described here as the systematic killing of detainees at the Brccko police station and Luka camp, with the intent to destroy a substantial or significant part of the Bosnian Muslim people as a national, ethnic or religious group.

A trial based on this count only will follow, and the Prosecution team, led by Ukrainian, Vladimir Tochilovsky, will be tasked with proving that Jelisic acted with genocidal intent.

The prosecutor, the accused and his defence counsels, Veselin Londrovic from the Republika Srpska and Jovan Babic from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), had earlier jointly submitted the "agreed factual basis for guilty pleas to be entered by Goran Jelisic," to the Trial Chamber, with regard to the other 31 counts.

The submission, actually made on September 9, was only published after Jelisic made each of his pleas. Evidence contained within the submission, includes a copy of the widely published photograph taken on May 6, 1992 in Brcko, which shows Jelisic executing an unknown prisoner with a single shot to the back of his head fired from a Scorpion pistol. According to witness statements in the submission, the Scorpion pistol was Jelisic's favourite method of killing prisoners.

To accept Jelisic's confessions, the judges had to be sure both that the defendant's plea was voluntary and that he was fully aware of the legal consequences of submitting a guilty plea. When the presiding judge, Claude Jorda, called for him to speak on this, Jelisic stood up and said: "Nobody promised me anything. Nobody threatened me, nor did anybody blackmail me. It was for my own good will that I admit these crimes and cleanse my soul. There is no reason for me to keep it within myself."

Jelisic added that he was fully aware that he could be sentenced for a life imprisonment for what he had done. As a result, the judges agreed they could accept Jelisic's plea and they announced that they will determine the sentence for the confessed crimes at the end of his trial on the charge of genocide.. The defence expects that the trial could start as early as next month.

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