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Jelisic Trial: Prosecution Concludes The Presentation Of Evidence

Tribunal Update 144: Last Week in The Hague (September 20-25, 1999)

The areas of testimony were strictly divided. First, investigator Bernard O'Donnell testified on his nine interviews, totalling between 25 and 30 hours in all, conducted with Jelisic between February and July last year. Then, Paul Basham, the investigator in charge of the case, presented a series of photographs picturing Goran Jelisic "in action".

First, ten photographs were presented - as published across the world in the summer of 1992. They showed the sequence of one of Jelisic's killings: the detainees marched down the street, the shot in the back of the head from a Scorpion automatic weapon, and then Jelisic finishing off the victims as they lay on the ground. Then the prosecution presented several photographs of the Brcko victims, laid in mass graves.

Finally, investigator John Ralston placed Jelisic's actions and other events of May 1992 in Brcko in a wider context by presenting a file of documents from the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. "Events in Brcko," Ralston said, "fit into the picture from elsewhere in Bosnia... It was not just killing, but a step-by-step build up: crisis staffs were set up, weapons were brought, then ethnic cleansing began, incarcerations, killings...

"From March till December 1992 thousands of Muslims and a number of Croats were killed... particularly prominent people. And Brcko fitted into that general pattern (and) was important to control the link with the Serbian proclaimed parts in the West of Bosnia."

Goran Jelisic was arrested in a SFOR operation in Bijeljina in January 1998. In his first appearance before the judges he pleaded "not guilty" on all counts of the indictment. A month later, however, he changed his mind and decided to admit to some of the crimes on the charge sheet.

The nine interviews detailed by O'Donnell followed, but were interrupted at end July 1998 when investigators tried to challenge some inconsistencies in his statements. Then, on October 29, 1998, when the pleading was repeated, Goran Jelisic pleaded guilty on 31 counts involving murders, beatings, and plundering, of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. But he pleaded not guilty on the first count - genocide.

In the above-mentioned interviews, Jelisic gave his version of the events and his part in them in Brcko in May 1992. In short, at the end of April 1992 he was released, together with other Serbian convicts, from Bijeljina Prison, where he had been jailed for fraud, and ordered to go to Brcko.

There, at the police station, he received further instructions. He was told, he informed the investigators, that he had been given a 'special duty' and was handed a list with the names of 20 Muslims he had to kill. He was given a police uniform, a Scorpion automatic weapon with a silencer and a hand-held radio. He was also given, by his account, the codename 'Adolf' by the local police chief, to use when communicating over the radio. He could not, he claimed, do anything else other than carry out this 'special duty'.

Although he said he considered Jelisic's version to be "inconsistent", Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice said that an indication of genocidal intent could still be discerned in it.

Jelisic, Nice said, "explained that lists for killings existed, that victims were identified by their Muslim ethnicity and that he did not make inquiries into why many had to be killed... although he asserts that others were in charge of him."

Jelisic claimed that he killed "only those he was told to kill", but O'Donnell observed that Jelisic's acts "appear as random killings." He also said that he "would have been assaulted or sent back to prison" if he hadn't killed, but he "did not protest" because "it was war and there was nobody to protest to". Asked during the interviews "Are you remorseful?" Jelisic replied to the investigator: "I will feel that (remorse) when I am convicted and receive my time."

The judges were mainly interested in two matters. Firstly, whether the accused had cooperated with the prosecution, since that could be taken in mitigation during sentencing, and secondly, whether the investigators felt that, during the interviews, Jelisic had shown "any type of hatred or aversion toward the Muslims, or any kind of ideology?"

"I can not say that Mr Jelisic did not cooperate," O'Donnell replied to the first question, posed by Judge Fouad Riad. "He voluntarily took part in nine interviews and he admitted doing the actual killings. However, he did give us a lot of incorrect information. He gave us a very sanitised version of events for those killings.

"Whenever we had a witness account saying that he did anything more than marched someone along the street and pull the trigger, he would say that that person was lying. That, combined with his basic statement that he only committed these killings because he was forced to, and that he would have been killed otherwise, and inconsistent information he gave... show those claims not to be credible and that he did not fully cooperate. His co-operation was very limited in the true sense of the word."

O'Donnell's response to the question asked by Presiding Judge Claude Jorda about Jelisic's 'hatred and ideology' was much more complex:

"It's very difficult to answer that," O'Donnell said, "because Mr Jelisic presented us with what he wanted us to believe - that he was forced to do the killing, et cetera. So, from the interviews - when he talks about killing someone - he was talking about that person in terms of them being helpless... "But he did not present to us hatred toward that person. He was trying to show the reverse - that he did not want to do this murder. Rather than saying: 'I did it because I hated that person', he was saying: 'I felt sorry for the person, but I was in a situation where I had to do it."

Regarding ideology, O'Donnell said that during the interviews, Jelisic "did not come across as someone who had a particular ideology that he was enforcing... He was going out of his way, to show something very different to that (ideology)." According to O'Donnell, "it would be unreasonable to get that picture from the interviews", since "that's a picture we can get from other places, other people who have had contact with him. But, given the nature of the interviews, it did not come out and I do not believe it could of come out."

The trial of Goran Jelisic was adjourned until the beginning of the presentation of the defence's case. A date is yet to be set.