Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Judges at the Hague tribunal have denied two requests from lawyers representing former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic to postpone the start of his trial for 90 days.
A brief decision issued by judges on May 3 stated that “written reasons will follow”. The trial is currently scheduled to begin on May 16.
At a pre-trial conference held earlier on May 3, disclosure issues – namely the thousands of documents the prosecution is required to hand over to the defence – were once again the main topic.
Mladic's lawyer Branko Lukic argued that a 90-day delay should be dated from the point at which the prosecution had disclosed all the documents relevant to the trial. Otherwise, he said, “it could mean that the defence is shattered, not only because of late disclosure, but for not being able to study documents and prepare for cross-examination of witnesses".
Prosecuting lawyer Dermot Groome has accepted responsibility for the late disclosure of some documents, but said prosecutors remain ready to deliver opening statements on May 16.
The first witness could be called as soon as May 29.
Most of the documents needed for the 23 witnesses expected to appear in court before the court’s summer recess have been disclosed already, presiding Judge Alphons Orie said.
If other documents are late, “the testimony can be delayed, or witness could be called again”, he said.
Groome also asked the bench to reconsider its guidelines for how the trial will be conducted.
“[The guidelines] are forcing us to unnecessarily lose time,” Groome said, referring to a requirement that the prosecution takes new, consolidated statements from witnesses who have already testified.
This requirement, Groome said, will waste time, money and resources and “[could] re-traumatise the witnesses”.
Judge Orie said the chamber would consider such concerns as quickly as it could.
Mladic was arrested in Serbia in May 2011 after 16 years as a fugitive. He was commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, and is alleged to have been responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Bosnian war.
These include the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed, as well as the shelling and sniping campaign against Sarajevo, which killed about 12,000 civilians. He is also charged with crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer.
The indictment against him was reduced in December 2011 at the judges’ request, and it now deals with 106 crimes instead of 196, and the number of Bosnian municipalities involved has been cut from 23 to 15.
The core elements of the case – the siege of Sarajevo, the Srebrenica massacre, crimes committed in various municipalities and the taking of UN hostages – remain the same, and the indictment still contains 11 counts.
The prosecution has stated that it intends to call a total of 410 witnesses, 158 of whom are expected to appear in court.
Dzenana Halimovic is an RFE and IWPR reporter in Sarajevo.
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