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

Krajisnik Trial Limps Towards Conclusion

Amid continuing delays and palpable courtroom tensions, proceedings against top Bosnian Serb genocide suspect drag on.
By Michael Farquhar
With the death of Slobodan Milosevic in March, the former Republika Srpska parliamentary speaker Momcilo Krajisnik became the most senior politician on trial in The Hague for war crimes in Bosnia and the only suspect currently in tribunal custody accused of widespread genocide there.

But there has been little sign of a let-up in the problems that have dogged Krajisnik’s case ever since his original lawyer, Deyan Brashich, was forced to quit in 2003, having been found guilty of malpractice in the United States.

Following the collapse of the latest in a seemingly endless string of deadlines for Krajisnik to appear as the key witness in his own defence case, the judges hearing his trial declared themselves “appalled” in February by the way things were progressing.

With almost the whole remainder of the proceedings set aside for testimony by the accused, if and when he does take the stand, his lawyers have so far managed to call just 21 of over 200 other people who they initially wanted to give evidence.

Defence counsel Nicholas Stewart QC has repeatedly argued that his team were thrown in at the deep end after Brashich’s ignominious departure and have since been denied the time and resources necessary to mount a proper case.

The judges, for their part, have made it clear that they are unimpressed with this refrain. And as the trial creeps ever closer towards its conclusion, the tensions in the courtroom are evident.

Much of this week was taken up with testimony from Svetlana Cenic, a former Republika Srpska finance minister who worked as part of an ad hoc wartime administration in the Vogosca area, where Krajisnik is said to have been responsible for persecutions of Muslim civilians.

Having heard a significant portion of Cenic’s testimony, Presiding Judge Alphons Orie objected that much of it was inconclusive or focussed on trivial details “about what two ladies did in an office” in Vogosca. As the judge put his own lines of questioning to the witness instead, Stewart in turn appeared to become frustrated by the interruption.

Besides such small-scale interventions, the chamber has also sought to take a firm hand with the defence preparations on a broader basis, demanding constant updates on which witnesses are due to give evidence in the time that is left.

According to the current schedule just a week remains in the case for the court to hear from witnesses other than Krajisnik himself.

One of the people due to testify in this time is Nenad Kecmanovic, an academic, politician and journalist who has already provided expert testimony on the history of the Bosnian war on behalf of other accused at the tribunal.

Another pencilled in is Bosnian Serb politician Milovan Bjelica, in detention in Republika Srpska awaiting trial for financial crimes. He is due to be transferred into the tribunal’s custody on April 3.

The identity of a third person timetabled to testify has been kept under wraps, with questions outstanding as to whether or not this individual might appear under protective measures.

In comparison with the two dozen-odd people who it seems likely will have given evidence by the time the defence wraps up its case, the prosecution case included live testimony from no less than 93 witnesses.

Krajisnik’s own testimony has long been hailed as being the core of his defence case, with expectations that he could be in the witness stand for a total of nearly two months. But while his evidence is currently set to begin on April 20, quite what will come of this remains entirely unclear.

The accused was in fact originally due to take the stand immediately upon his defence case getting underway in August. This was subsequently rearranged for January and then called off again. The defence then secured a four-week break in February in order to prepare for his appearance. Again, nothing came of it.

In the meantime, Krajisnik, who has been in the tribunal’s custody for nearly six years, has spoken in court about waking in his cell every night in a sweat. He has been put on medication for anxiety and depression and has been provided with a filing cabinet in order to help him order his archives and relieve his stress.

His state of mind has apparently not been helped by civil proceedings against him in France, though details of this case remain elusive.

Krajisnik’s lawyers put their troubles squarely down to a lack of time and resources, which they say has prevented them from pulling together a case that was apparently in disarray when they inherited it from Brashich in 2003.

One of Krajisnik’s legal team, Chrissa Loukas, quit last year, having argued that it was her duty to do so, given the “woefully inadequate” time available to the defence, which ruled out any possibility of mounting a proper case.

Last April, the appeals chamber upheld a decision by the trial judges to deny Stewart and his team an extended break to get up to speed. The trial chamber has been particularly unsympathetic to arguments about financial resources, pointing to the failure of the accused to pay his own assessed contribution to his defence case.

In an apparent bid to rescue the whole situation last year, Krajisnik went so far as to try to ditch his lawyers and take over himself.

But the accused’s own blunders while trying his hand at cross-examining witnesses did him no favours. On one occasion, he was forced to admit, “The task that [defence] counsel has to perform is very difficult.”

The chamber eventually rejected any talk of self-representation by Krajisnik - with the accused at the helm, they said, his case “would certainly collapse”. It remains to be seen whether he will be of more use as a defence witness.

Michael Farquhar is an IWPR reporter in London.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.


More IWPR's Global Voices