Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Jelisic Trial Reopens After Nine-Month Break

Tribunal Update 141: Last Week in The Hague (August 30 - September 5, 1999)

Jelisic has already confessed to numerous killings carried out in May 1992 in Brcko and the city's camp Luka, but has pleaded not guilty to the charge of genocide.

The prosecutor's task is to prove that the accused carried out the killings he admitted with a "genocidal intent", that is to destroy, in whole or in part, the Bosnian Muslims as a national, ethnic and religious group. The trial began on 30 November and went on for three days only until it was interrupted (see Tribunal Update No. 104).

Four witnesses, all of them with their identities protected, appeared before the court last week. All of them were detained in the Luka camp in Brcko for some time in May 1992, and were released following the intervention of Serbian friends. All talked about the seizing of Brcko by Serb forces at the beginning of May 1992, and the forced expulsion, detention and killing of the Muslim and Croat population in the town. Their stories were identical in all important details.

Witness G spent almost two days in the camp, on May 8-9, 1992, but that was enough to see what was happening there and the role of Goran Jelisic in its activities. Immediately after being brought to the camp, as he waited in front of the hangar door together with six more detainees, G saw Jelisic taking out one detainee after another out of the management building and disappearing together with them behind the corner. Then a shot could be heard and Jelisic would return alone.

It appeared that Jelisic did not have patience with the third detainee whom he had taken out in that way, so that he fired a shot at the back of his head even before they turned round the corner, in front of petrified witness G and six of his co-sufferers.

Jelisic then approached the group with G in it, ordered them to empty their pockets and confiscated everything they had, saying that that was 'for the families of the fallen Serb fighters'. As he was leaving, G claims, Jelisic added ironically that "he was guaranteeing them that they would not live to see the morning."

Many of them did not. That night, G said, Jelisic and other guards would take out from the hangar groups of four detainees each at approximately half hour intervals, of whom none - at least as far as the witness could see - returned. A little after midnight, Jelisic entered the hangar and said he would not be killing any longer, on condition that the detainees sang to him three times without a mistake the Serb nationalist song 'Who Says, Who Lies, That Serbia Is Little'.

The song echoed, G said, everybody was singing, and that Jelisic "conducted in exhilaration" and then invited other guards to come and hear how the "balije (plural form of balija - a derogatory term for Muslims) were singing". Content, he fulfilled his promise: he did not kill any more that night.

What witness G had heard two days before he arrived at the Luka camp, while he was still detained in the JNA army barracks in Brcko, was to support the prosecutor's argument that Jelisic was killing with a "genocidal intent." That's where G saw Jelisic for the first time, in blue (police) uniform and with bandage over his arm. He claims he heard him swear "balija's mother" at the group of detained Muslims and telling them that "70 percent should be killed and 30 percent beaten up," as among them, that is, Muslims, "there are hardly three to five percent that are all right".

According to the witnesses' statements, Jelisic presented himself as the 'Serbian Adolf' and threatened the detainees that they would "get to know him well," and that only five or ten of them would "be lucky to leave the camp alive".

"When he appeared before us the first time, he wore a blue police uniform, an automatic pistol and a stick, and there was an unnatural shine in his eyes. There was something cruel in them, forcing us to avoid his gaze," witness F described his first meeting with Jelisic.

In an attempt to dispute Jelisic's participation in the genocide, the defence pointed that Muslims and Croats were not killed randomly. Instead they argued that the Serb solders were primarily interested in the members of the Muslim SDA party, persons with criminal records, or non-Serbs who were armed and militarily engaged. Witness F, however, held on to the claim that these were only excuses: "They were only looking for an excuse to kill," F said.