Kosovo Trial Date Disputed

Defence in Kosovo ethnic cleansing trial unhappy over judge’s preference for a July start.

Kosovo Trial Date Disputed

Defence in Kosovo ethnic cleansing trial unhappy over judge’s preference for a July start.

The pre-trial judge in the case against seven Serbian generals and senior politicians, indicted for their roles in the campaign to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of its Albanian inhabitants during 1999, says he intends to set July 10 as the start date for their trial.

Four Serbian police and army generals - Sreten Lukic, Nebojsa Pavkovic, Vladimir Lazarevic and Vlastimir Djordjevic - were indicted in 2003. Their case has been joined with that of three others, originally charged in 2001 – General Dragoljub Ojdanic, chief of staff of the Yugoslav army, VJ; Milan Milutinovic, the ex-president of Serbia; and Nikola Sainovic, former deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia.

They all face four counts of crimes against humanity and one for violations of the laws and customs of war for 16 separate massacres allegedly committed by forces under their control, and 23 cases of mass expulsions, during a campaign of terror and violence carried out against Kosovo Albanians between January and June 1999.

The indictment claims that during this period, some 800,000 Albanians were deported and Yugoslav army forces “deliberately created an atmosphere of fear and oppression” to force Kosovo Albanians to leave and “executed a campaign of persecution against Kosovo Albanian civilians based on political, racial or religious grounds”.

Six of the accused have pleaded not guilty to earlier versions of the charges, and are currently on provisional release in Belgrade, while one, Vlastimir Djordjevic, is still at large.

Judge Iain Bonomy listened to a variety of arguments by defence counsel for six of the accused, in which they argued vehemently against July as a start date.

Eugene O’Sullivan, defence counsel for Milutinovic, pointed out that there is no agreed indictment as yet, since the defence teams have challenged the current version, and the prosecution is yet to issue a new one. He added that the case has not been assigned to a trial chamber.

He also said that counsel would need to look at proceedings in other cases with references to Kosovo - those of KLA commanders Limaj and Haradinaj - and that there had been difficulties in getting access to all the 10,000 pages of documents in the Milosevic case, which also dealt with events in Kosovo.

Another issue discussed was defence access to documents which could aid their clients’ cases in the archives of Serbia and Montenegro.

Mihaljo Bakrac, representing Lazarevic, said that the Serbian ministry of the interior was being asked to provide some 3-4,000 pages of potentially exculpatory material for his client, but “it was slow in coming”, he said.

The prosecution has agreed that it will file a new proposed amended indictment against all the men by April 5.

Prosecutor Thomas Hannis also revealed that he was planning to bring some 80 witnesses to testify against the accused, with another 90 providing written statements.

He admitted that this amounted to some 20 to 30 more witnesses than had previously been stated and agreed with the judge that all material about the witnesses would be disclosed to the defence within a week.

On the course of the trial, which has been predicted to last some two and a half years, Judge Bonomy was keen to put on the record that he expected its length “to be substantially reduced”, and that he has “a different view of the likely timescale” to that put forward by the prosecution.

The judge pointed out that the prosecution phase of the Kosovo indictment against Milosevic case lasted only 182 hours, and that he expected the 360 hours estimated by the prosecution in this case to encompass prosecution, cross-examination and re-examination of all prosecution witnesses.

Judge Bonomy acknowledged that there were six accused currently awaiting trial, which might make a difference to the length of the trial, but he said there was “one crime scene” and that the only difference between the accused is their degree of criminal responsibility, which he understood was not the bulk of the prosecution case.

Janet Anderson is the director of IWPR’s International Justice Programme in The Hague.
Serbia, Kosovo
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