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

Kupreskic And Others Trial: Some Interesting Witnesses

Tribunal Update 134 - Last Week in The Hague (12-18 July, 1999)

Ms. Tone Bringa was summoned as an expert witness to present the results of her research about the relations between the Catholic and Muslim community in Bosnia. On the basis of the eight-year-long research of those relations in a rural community near Kiseljak in Central Bosnia, Bringa published a book in 1995 entitled 'Muslims in a Bosnian Way'.

Bringa argues that the deterioration in the relations between the Bosnian Croats and Muslims did not come about spontaneously, but was imposed on them. She does not think that there has always been hatred between the Muslims and Catholics, but believes that their differences "gradually turned into hatred" due to the violence committed during this war.

The Catholic and Muslim community have always been "aware of their religious differences but were tolerant towards them."

During the 1980s there was, according to her, "an equal potential for conflict as anywhere else." However, Bringa went on, "as Yugoslavia disintegrated, and the national ideology took over, the understanding of neighbours of different faith underwent a gradual change", but that change did not come "from the people" but was brought in "from the outside", especially through nationalist propaganda.

In the context of the growing tensions and propaganda, the relations between the neighbours could be severed in a very short period of time, almost within the scope of one day. Muslim and Croat inhabitants of the village, fictively called 'Dolina', testified to this in a filmed documentary based on her research.

The film was shown in the courtroom following the prosecutor's suggestion. "When the clashes approached the village and when someone we knew died - we changed," a Croat woman from Dolina said at the time.

Bringa noted: "The change means the withdrawal into the safety of one's own national group, since there one does not have to prove to which group one belongs." She added that in April 1993 some Croats from Dolina took part in an attack on their Muslim neighbours, whilst others were helping them.

Similar things could be heard in the previous course of the trial about the behaviour of the accused and other Croats from Ahmici. Whilst the prosecutor and his witnesses were proving that the accused and other local Croats took part in the killings, burning and looting, and that they showed the HVO soldiers who came from elsewhere which houses were Muslim and which Croat; the defence of Kupreskic and others claims that the accused not only did not kill and burn, but were actually helping the Muslim neighbours hide from the attackers who had come from elsewhere.

But apart from killing over one hundred people, the attackers also burnt and destroyed all the Muslim houses in Ahmici, leading the presiding Judge Cassese to ask about the "emotional importance" of the house in Bosnian villages.

Bringa responded that the house in the Bosnian village represents a "symbol of social value and moral upbringing, and that by destroying it one does not only destroy the building but the whole being of the people living in it."

In other sessions, General Tihomir Blaskic, whose own indictment gives a central place to Ahmici, was summoned to confirm the authenticity of several documents submitted by lawyers acting for the six accused. Blaskic, however, did that in closed session, since the documents were submitted "under seal."

At the beginning of the hearing, the Judges stressed that Blaskic was to testify in accordance with Rule 90-F of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence. This allows a witness to object to making any statement that might tend to incriminate him, but that the Chamber may, however, compel the witness to answer the question.

However testimony compelled in this way shall not be used as evidence in a subsequent prosecution against the witness for any offence other than perjury. Blaskic's defence counsel was present in the courtroom throughout.

Finally, Zoran Kupreskic, who is together with his brother Mirjan accused of the killing of four members of the family of Sakib Ahmic, and the wounding of Sakib, began his testimony. He has denied involvement in the crimes or any other that took place in Ahmici on 16 April 1993.

He claims that after having been warned at dawn of that day that an attack by 'mujahedin' was imminent, he took his family away to a shelter, and then joined locals Croats on a near-by hill where he stayed for three days.

On his way to the shelter he ran into two groups of well-armed soldiers, in black uniforms or fatigues, who looked so "awful" that "it did not cross his mind to ask them anything".

Since they came from the Croat part of Ahmici, he "supposed" that they were Croat soldiers. He claimed that he had learnt that the massacre was committed in the village only on 18 April when he saw the body of the dead neighbour and his son, as well as a burnt body of a child that used to play with his children.

In the end, he said: "A horrible crime had taken place in Ahmici that common sense cannot justify or understand. Those who committed it are not humans, but animals, demons. I am sorry that the crime was committed by the nation to which I belong and I hope that this will be redeemed when the real culprits are found and sentenced.

"I have thought whether I could have then done more (in order to help Muslim neighbours)...but I could not imagine in the wildest dreams what would happen."

The beginning of the cross-examination of Zoran Kupreskic took place in closed session, as the prosecutor was presenting some "sealed documents." The prosecutor's cross continues on Monday, where after Zoran's brother Mirjan Kupreskic will step up to the witness box.