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Jokic Convicted of Contempt of Court

Former Bosnian Serb army officer sentenced to four months in jail for refusing to testify in Srebrenica Seven case.
By Simon Jennings
Judges at the Hague tribunal this week sentenced a former Bosnian Serb army, VRS, major – who has already been convicted of war crimes by the court – to a further four months in prison for refusing to give evidence against his former colleagues.



Dragan Jokic was convicted of contempt of the tribunal on March 27 for twice refusing to give evidence in the ongoing case of Vujadin Popovic and six other high-ranking Bosnian Serb military and police officials, collectively known as the Srebrenica Seven.



Jokic is currently serving a nine-year jail term in Austria following a conviction in January 2005 for aiding and abetting the extermination and killing of Bosniak civilians at Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia in July 1995.



The former chief of engineering in the Zvornik brigade was convicted of providing equipment and personnel to dig mass graves for the burial of executed Bosniaks. In the summer of 1995, around 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were carted off from Srebrenica and massacred – an atrocity judged by the Hague tribunal and the International Court of Justice in The Hague to have constituted genocide.



Vujadin Popovic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Ljubisa Beara, Vinko Pandurevic and Drago Nikolic are facing genocide and war crimes charges in connection with the massacre, while Radivoj Miletic and Milan Gvero are accused of blocking aid and supplies to the UN designated “safe area”.



“There were good grounds to believe that Jokic’s testimony could be material to the facts at issue [in the case],” said Judge Carmel Agius, in finding Jokic guilty of contempt.



The court called Jokic to testify – at the prosecution’s request – about the 1995 events in Srebrenica on October 31 and November 1, 2007, but he refused to do so, despite warnings that he could be held in contempt of court.



According to the contempt charge against Jokic, “he knowingly and wilfully interfered with the administration of justice by contumaciously refusing to testify”.



Presiding judge Carmel Agius, in delivering the verdict this week, said “he made a conscious decision not to testify and understood the consequences of his behaviour”.



Witnesses summoned by judges at the UN court are dutybound to testify.

In his defence, Jokic did not contest that he had repeatedly refused to testify, but argued that he did not intend to interfere with the court’s administration of justice in doing so.



He had also argued that there were reasonable excuses for him refusing to testify, which were relayed to judges in a confidential court filing on November 1, 2007.



According to Judge Agius, one of Jokic’s concerns was for his and his family’s safety, if he were to give evidence in the Popovic trial.



However, the judge pointed out that any risk to witnesses or their families can be remedied by the court and “do not automatically override the duty to testify”. Jokic was granted protective measures with his testimony due to be heard behind closed doors.



“The chamber is therefore not convinced that Jokic’s security concerns provide a reasonable excuse for his refusal to testify,” said Judge Agius.



Judges had commissioned a psychiatrist to examine Jokic’s mental condition before and after he was summoned by the court in order to establish the accused’s state of mind when he refused testify, and his fitness to stand trial for contempt.



Two confidential reports from the psychiatric expert were filed with the court on June 16 and August 20, 2008.



Judges took the view that the state of Jokic’s mental health was not a valid reason for him not to testify.



“To undermine the capacity of a person to serve as a witness, such a condition must have a substantial effect on his credibility, which consequently empties his evidence from having any probative value,” explained Judge Agius.



Jokic had also argued that he was afraid of falsely incriminating someone by giving evidence in the case. However, the judges’ psychiatrist did not support this claim.



Delivering the verdict to an expressionless and casually dressed Jokic this week, Agius noted that his refusal to testify was a serious offence which had deprived judges of evidence in a case.



“The chamber has taken into consideration both the gravity of the conduct involved and the need to deter such conduct in the future,” said Judge Agius, in handing down the four-month prison sentence.



Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.