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Jelisic Trial: Face And Voice Of Genocide

Tribunal Update 104: Last Week in The Hague(30 November - 5 December, 1998)
By IWPR

But for two witnesses who had testified earlier, Jelisic was not so much the "face" as the "voice" of genocide at the Luka camp in Brcko in May 1992. His face was rarely seen, but they heard the voice constantly, especially at night, when the majority of horrors about which they testified took place.


"We could always recognise that voice" - Witness A told the judges - " and we could not confuse it with some other". That voice was especially recognisable, when, through the sounds of beatings, swearing and cries for help that were coming from outside the hangar in which they were detained, they heard the order that made their blood curdle: "Lie down and put your head against the grate!" Witness A maintained they heard this particular order 10 to 15 times a day.


In October this year, in the repeated appearance before the judges, Goran Jelisic confessed to 12 murders committed in Brcko, in May 1992, but denied the charge of genocide. The Prosecution will then have the job of proving that 12 murders from the indictment and numerous others he confessed to were committed with genocidal intent, with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Bosnian Muslims as a racial, ethnic or religious group.


As he announced in his opening statement, the Prosecutor will prove such intent by Jelisic with the help of numerous victims who will testify not only about what the accused did in Brcko and the Luka camp in May 1992, but also about what he was saying. He allegedly told people he had come to Brcko to kill Muslims.


Referring to himself as the "Serbian Adolph", he openly bragged about the number of Muslims he had killed. During his "murderous spree, Jelisic kept daily tallies", and often told the detainees and camp-guards how many people he had killed at one time.


"Some of the daily tallies may have ranged into the high sixties, yet Jelisic continued with his daily carnage." The Prosecution maintains that the Tribunal will never be able to comfirm the exact number of victims, "but if we are to believe even a small percentage of the totals Goran Jelisic claimed, then his victims certainly number well over a hundred. " He was "so effective and notorious during his genocidal spree, that even the Bosnian Serb authorities had to reign him in."


Jelisic, Bowers claims, "was not a reluctant tool...but an efficient and enthusiastic participant in genocide...He understood how his individual actions fit into the broader genocidal campaign which had been launched by the Bosnian Serb authorities."


In that context, the Prosecutor pointed to a previously unknown detail from Jelisic's past: he was sentenced for fraud to three years' imprisonment,...but the Bosnian authorities had different plans for him, so that he appeared, at the beginning of May, in Brcko, wearing a police uniform.


This, according to the Prosecutor, was a "result of a Bosnian Serb strategy to unlock the jail house doors in order to provide sufficient executioners for the genocidal and ethnic cleansing activities which took place in the spring and summer of 1992."


Before the Prosecutor's opening statement, at the request of Presiding Judge Claude Jorda, a short resume of the conclusions of two Dutch psychiatrists who had recently examined the accused was read out in court. The pyschiatrists found that Jelisic does not suffer from any mental illnesses, but that he has pronounced, "deep personality disorders, with anti-social and narcissistic tendencies." In spite of that, the experts concluded, Jelisic remains fit to stand trial.


Only two protected witnesses, A and B, appeared in nearly three days of the trial last week. All important details of their testimonies coincide.


Witness A told the court that two or three nights after he arrived in the camp, in order to "put an end to his suffering" - he reported among a group of "volunteers" whom the guards called out to leave the hangar. These groups of four would be lined up along the hangar wall and beaten. The guards swore at their "Balija mothers" (an insulting term for the Muslims), and pulled out one of the "volunteers" whom Jelisic ordered to lie down to the concrete and put his head on the grate of the man-hole.


Jelisic would then shoot him in the head at point blank range. Jelisic obviously, wanted to minimise the amount of clean up after an execution: the metal grates fed into a drainage system which led out into the Sava river.


After that, Jelisic would order witness A and a detainee who was standing next to him, to take the body of the victim and load it onto a refrigerated truck which held the bodies of other executed detainees.


Witnesse A then told the court how the process was repeated, with the detainee who carried the body of the first victim, singled out. As he resisted, Jelisic put his knee on his back and shot him in the head over the metal grates. Witness A again carried the body of the killed detainee to the refrigerator truck with the fourth "volunteer" from his group. Both were then returned to the hangar, with a message to get ready since "it would be their turn in one or two days."


A few minutes later a new group of "volunteers" was called out...and so it went on until the morning. According to witness A, each night night, 25 to 30 groups of four were taken out from the hangar and only one or two in each group would return. Witness A told the court that he had the impression is that Jelisic and others "enjoyed the killing", and that their "enjoyment was so much greater, the more the victim pleaded and begged not to be killed."


The court was shown photos of the hangar wall with specially marked metal grates, as well as a picture of a white refrigerator truck and a pit in which several corpses could be seen.


Jelisic's favourite method of killing was described in an identical way by Witness B, an older Muslim whom the guards often charged with a task of cleaning their rooms, taking the corpses to the pile behind the hangar or to the railroad tracks (where he was ordered to place the corpses heads on the tracks), and with washing the blood from the spot where the detainees were killed.


From the immediate proximity, numb and speechless with fear, B, watched Jelisic force a number of detainees on separate occasions to put their heads on the grates and shoot them once or twice in the back of their heads.


The story Witness B told about the death of two friends: a Muslim and a Serb, was a most moving part of last week's testimony. Before the war, the Muslim, Smail Ribic, was a prominent citizen of Brcko, "the number two man in the municipal authority", said "B". The name of his friend, a Serb, with whom Ribic hid when the war started, and, who, allegedly, was to transport him abroad, has, thus far, remained unknown.


They were arrested in mid-May 1992, and brought to the Luka camp. There, injured by beatings, they had difficulty entering the hangar and held each other's hands. Seeing this, the guards shouted: "Look how a Muslim and a Serb love each other!" Witness B explained how they had beat them earlier to exhaustion at the police station, but failed to separate them.


Over the next several hours, the guards took turns beating them with whatever they laid their hands on, and at around 8 in the evening the Serb was killed first, and then the Muslim. B was given a task, as usual, to wash the blood from the concrete. He did not see who killed them but heard Goran Jelisic saying: "If I can kill a Serb, what can you Muslims hope for. You are nothing. All of you should be killed."


In the cross-examination of the first two witnesses, the defence did not even try to dispute the call-ups of "volunteers" and their killing over the metal grates. Jelisic did not deny he had killed them, but his Defence did dispute claims the murders were racially motivated.


This included denials Jelisic and others swore at the detainees, calling them "a Turkish gang" and "a non-existent people", and threatened that "all of them should be eradicated." The defence pointed that swears and threats were not mentioned in the written statements that the witnesses gave to the Prosecution before the beginning of the trial and before Jelisic's admission of all crimes, except genocide.


The Defence team, headed by lawyer Veselin Londrovic from Republika Srpska, and comprising Jovan Babic from FRY and British lawyer Michael Greaves, also aims to portray the events in Brcko and the Luka camp in May 1992 as a total chaos and pure anarchy, in which there was no organisation, no chain of command, and therefore no genocidal plans or intentions.


The trial of Goran Jelisic continues on 25 January 1999.


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