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Jelisic Trial: Prosecutor Demands A Life Sentence

Tribunal Update 153: Last Week in The Hague (November 22-27, 1999)

Pointing out that that "we don't want to suggest that a short sentence would be appropriate", the defence pleaded that Jelisic "deserves a much lesser sentence" than life imprisonment.

The judges announced that a decision will be made on December 15. It will refer to 31 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war, to which Jelisic pleaded guilty. Last month, the judges rejected count 1 -- accusing Jelisic of genocide -- and concluded that the prosecutor failed to prove that he had killed with "genocidal intent."

"Jelisic calls for mercy, but he showed none", said prosecutor Nice at the end of the sentencing hearing proceedings. Even though Jelisic admitted his guilt and gave several interviews to the Tribunal's investigators, the prosecutor does not consider this as mitigating circumstances.

"The information he gave in those interviews was not useful for the prosecution. His testimonies were inconsistent and sanitised," Nice said. He holds that Jelisic's pleas of guilt did not indicate remorse: "He just realised he virtually had no other choice.

Jelisic never showed true remorse" the prosecutor pointed out, reminding the court that the only time Jelisic began to cry was when he discovered that some people had come to testify on his behalf. He never cried over the suffering of his victims.

The defence conceded that "Jelisic must face the consequences and pay the price for what happened in Brcko," and added that they did not wish "to diminish gravity of taking human life and ill-treating human beings - and Jelisic knows and accepts that".

Defence counsel Michael Greaves still thinks, however, that although his crimes were terrible, "there is no reason to take away the rest of Jelisic's life". As Jelisic is young, a life sentence for him would mean spending the next "50 or 60 years in prison".

"The other side of Jelisic's life", the defence argued, as evidenced by "Bosniaks who came and testified for him", should be taken into consideration. According to the defence and its witnesses, Jelisic was a friend of Bosniaks before, during and after the war and helped them at his own risk.

The prosecution, however, suggest that those testimonies were unreliable or illustrated that Jelisic is "split in highly contradictory behavioural patterns". Psychiatrists who examined Jelisic on several occasions agree that he suffers from a personality disorder, with narcissistic and anti-social tendencies. But that "disorder" was not sufficient to relieve him of responsibility for his crimes.

The defence was also in agreement, and emphasised that Jelisic was a "normal" young man, who was forced to choose sides after the brutish civil war erupted. Jelisic, the defence argued, had intended to surrender to the Tribunal and his cooperation, although it was not substantial, "should not be underestimated." Greaves maintained that prosecution witnesses who testified in the suspended genocide proceedings about Jelisic's cruelty were unreliable and that the idea that the accused was an "enthusiastic" killer was exaggerated.

The prosecution, however, emphasised Jelisic's "enthusiasm" for his crimes. "He claimed he was forced to kill, but he did not say that he received any real threats."

Reminding the judges of the cruel killings described by former detainees of the Luka camp, the prosecution maintained that those testimonies prove that Jelisic was a "volunteer" who "killed for pleasure." "In every war, military and political leaders need willing executioners.

Without them, crimes would not occur... Punishment for Jelisic must at the same time be a deterrent for others", the prosecutor warned. "Deterrence should be the guiding principle in determining a sentence, so that it can put an end to widespread violations of international humanitarian law."