Kordic & Cerkez Trial Continues

Expert witness gives testimony on the legal foundations for the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia.

Kordic & Cerkez Trial Continues

Expert witness gives testimony on the legal foundations for the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia.

Saturday, 19 February, 2000

Last week the prosecution's presentation of evidence against Bosnian Croat political and military leaders, Dario Kordic and Mario Cerkez, focused on an analysis of the constitutional nature of so-called Herzeg-Bosnia. Witnesses also presented testimony on attacks on Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and illegal actions by the Croatian Defence Force (HVO) in Central Bosnia in 1992-93. The prosecution is expected to conclude the presentation of its case by March 10.


Several witness testimonies concerned attacks on the Bosniak population in towns and villages in Central Bosnia - expulsions, arrests, maltreatment and killings in Novi Travnik, Tulici and Zepca.


The court also heard evidence that HVO forces co-operated with the Army of Republika Srpska (VSR) in some of the attacks. The HVO and VRS were ostensibly enemies during the Bosnian war, but the prosecutor argued that the two forces were in fact working as allies where and when they shared a common goal to crush Muslims.


One expert witness, Slovenian professor of constitutional law, Ciril Ribicic, presented an analysis of the legal foundations of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia (Hrvatska zajednica Herceg-Bosna or HZHB) and its reliance on Croatia.


The HZHB, founded in November 1991, "factually and normatively gained independence from the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BH)," Ribicic testified.


Ribicic reminded the court that in 1992, the BH constitutional court annulled the most important acts of the HZHB, including that founding the community, but that the HZHB ignored those decisions.


On the one hand, Ribicic said, the HZHB appeared to have all four elements of statehood defined "on paper", territory and population, sovereign rule and direct subjection to international law. But, he continued, "if one looks at earlier testimonies from former Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) officials [before the Tribunal] and various materials concerning the political meetings of the leadership of Croatia and the HZHB...it can be seen that the HZHB was subjected to the organs of the Republic of Croatia in many things."


Ribicic argued that shorthand notes from a meeting in Zagreb in December 1991 between the leader the ruling HDZ in Croatia and leaders of the Bosnian Croats' "sister party" (the HDZ BH) show that "the plan was to formally advocate the sovereignty of BH, but, essentially, to work against it."


The prosecutor then reminded the court that Kordic was at that time vice-president of the HZBH and vice-president of the HDZ BH. Kordic was also the main participant in that meeting along with the HDZ leader and the then Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman.


Ribicic argued that although one of the reasons for founding the HZHB was "defence from the Serbian aggression," that aggression could have been "more efficiently resisted if all sides that wanted to defend the sovereignty of BH had united."


"The division of Bosnia-Herzegovina was not implemented, but such a decision was made", he said pointing out that this decision, "was not made by the Croatian parliament, or any state organ, but by a part of the political leadership of the Republic of Croatia."


The degree of Herzeg-Bosnia's dependency on Croatia is important in establishing the international character of the conflict between Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks. This in turn has implications for the applicability of the charges of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, charges which only apply in cases of international conflict.


Kordic defence counsel pointed out that the HZHB was founded "in emergency war time conditions", before the independence of BH was declared and that Bosnian Croat leaders said, "they would support a sovereign BH until others started dividing it."


Ribicic, however, remained adamant that one cannot talk about a "legal vacuum" in the existence of the BH, because before the declaration of independence it existed as a sovereign republic with a constitution and legal order, regardless of the fact that its future was uncertain at that time.


A former member of the BH army, whose identity was protected by the Tribunal, appeared as a prosecution witness concerning an incident at a check point near Busovaca, in which, the prosecution allege, Kordic was involved.


The witness was a member of a BH unit, which stopped several HVO vehicles at the check point in January 1993. After searching the vehicles and occupants, the BH soldiers confiscated weapons from one of the HVO commanders. According to the witness, Kordic was in one of the vehicles and threatened the Bosniak soldier who took the weapons, saying he would "pay for that". The brother of one of the soldiers was later killed by members of the HVO.


The prosecutor asked the witness to answer whether he believed there was any connection between the incident at the checkpoint and the killing. The judges, however, concluded that the witness was not in a position to give a reliable answer on a possible connection between those two events.


Kordic's defence counsel denies that their client was a member of the convoy or involved in the incident.


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