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Krnojelac Trial - A Teacher In The 'Service Of Evil'

Tribunal Update 197 Last Week in The Hague (October 30 - November 4, 2000)
By IWPR

Krnojelac, a 60-year-old teacher from Foca, was warden at the town's prison between April 1992 and August 1993, when he is accused of maltreating Muslim and Croat inmates. He was arrested by Stabilisation Force troops on June 15, 1998 under a sealed indictment and pleaded "not guilty" to all charges during his first appearance before the tribunal. (see Tribunal Update No. 81).


The prosecution claim Krnojelac was responsible for illegally arresting and detaining more than 1,000 Muslim and Croat men from Foca and the surrounding area. Prosecutor Hildegard Uerts-Retzlaff said most of those arrested were civilians detained "solely or primarily for belonging to those ethnic groups."


She added those seized were not arrested on the front-line "but in the town, in the street, in the hospital...the majority of them were never charged or sentenced."


Detainees, the prosecution claim, were beaten, tortured, and used as forced labour. Many died as a result of their injuries or disappeared, Uerts-Retzlaff said.


Even if he did not personally involved in the abuse, the prosecution said, Krnojelac on taking over the warden's position at the prison took on the responsibility for the well-being of those held there. "He chose to work in the service of evil," the prosecution said, "and that makes him guilty."


Prosecutors pointed out the Foca prison trial would expose the maltreatment of non-Serb men in Foca. Seventy-two prosecution witnesses are scheduled to give evidence, including fifty former detainees.


The scene was set by the prosecution's first witness, Office of the Prosecutor investigator Tejshree Thapa, who has been compiling the Foca dossier since 1995. Thapa presented documents signed by Krnojelac as "acting warden", photographs of Foca, the prison and the facilities within its walls.


The prosecution announced during its opening statement that five counts on the indictment against Krnojelac, relating to grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, had been dropped on the advice of presiding judge David Hunt to speed up the trial.


The judge had pointed out these charges would require the prosecution to prove the conflict then raging in that part of Bosnia was international in character for the Geneva Conventions to apply. Hunt had recommended such time-consuming prosecutions should be confined to "big fry", such as the most senior political and military figures.


The Foca prison trial is the fourth case concerning the mistreatment of detainees in camps during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia to come before the tribunal.