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


By Ana Uzelac in The Hague (TU No 401, 08-Apr-05)

This week, he brought to the court forensic pathologist Slavisa Dobricanin, who once headed the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Pristina. His testimony aimed to lend credence to Milosevic’s thesis that the majority of those killed in Racak were not civilians, but Albanian insurgents based in the village.

The discovery in mid-January 1999 of a number of Albanians killed apparently at close range in the gully near this village in southern Kosovo had led indirectly to the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in March that year and ultimately to Milosevic’s fall from power some 18 months later.

The thrust of Milosevic’s defence is that western powers conspired to destroy Yugoslavia and the Serbs, and the Racak massacre was staged to provide a pretext for a military campaign against the Belgrade government.

According to the indictment against Milosevic, Serb forces shelled and then stormed Racak on the morning of January 15, 1999. During this operation, prosecutors say, some 45 Albanians were killed “in and around” the village - many in a house-to-house searches. Of those, at least 25 were civilians who had been hiding in a shed and later killed in a nearby gully.

Dobricanin testified about the forensic examination of some 40 bodies of Albanians that he carried out. At the time, he was a member of the Serbian investigative team, which conducted the official inquiry into the incident. The bodies were recovered from the village mosque three days afterwards.

Dobricanin insisted that his findings differed in some important aspects from that of the Finnish forensic team that conducted an investigation into the same massacre roughly one month later.

The Finnish team - acting on behalf of the European Union – established that a number of people found in the gully were likely to have been shot at close range. When the head of this team, Helena Ranta, testified in the Hague in 2003 as a court witness, she stood firm by this report, repeating that her findings have shown that the victims were shot in the gully, where their bodies were found.

She also said that the vicitms’ clothing was not changed after death - as Milosevic insists - and that there was convincing evidence that the scene had not been faked.

But the Serbian pathologist insisted that with one exception all the bodies his team recovered in Racak showed signs of being shot from a distance of 50 metres or more.

The witness also testified that he came across other evidence when he visited Racak that pointed to the fact that the bodies belonged to Albanian insurgents killed in battle.

His testimony tallied to a large extent with that of the previous witness - investigating judge Danica Marinkovic, with whom he worked at the Racak investigation at the time.

Both Dobricanin and Marinkovic visited Racak twice – once on the afternoon of January 15, when the news of the massacre first emerged, and the second time on January 18.

He said that the majority of those killed were dressed in grey, navy blue and brown suits – “usual clothing of people who formed units to defend their villages”, he said. When asked by the judges whether these were uniforms, he said this was not the case - but then went on to say that his experience as a forensic pathologist taught him this was how the Albanians dressed on such occasions.

On top of that, many of them had “the same heavy boots” and “the same trouser belts” – another indication, the witness suggested, of their likely military activity.

Dobricanin also told the court that behind the building where he said the KLA is likely to have had its headquarters, he found a dining hall with long tables and benches, and a kitchen with plates, cutlery, aprons and food packages with the stickers “USAID” on them.

Behind the building was a fortified position surrounded by sandbags, cartridges of machinegun ammunition and a tripod for a machine gun, which he claims must have been a Browning 17.2 mm gun.

KLA representatives never denied they had some troops stationed in Racak at the time, but they insisted that their soldiers retreated from the village in the face of a Serbian police attack in the early hours of January 15. By the time the Serbian troops entered the village that morning, only civilians remained, the local KLA commander Shukri Buja testified in the prosecution case in 2002.

Earlier in the week, prosecutors tried to undermine the credibility of the previous witness, investigative judge Danica Marinkovic, who also testified that the people killed in Racak were KLA fighters.

Prosecutors focused on the documents Marinkovic presented during the examination in chief, which included testimonies by a number of Albanians from Racak who in the days after the massacre allegedly volunteered to the Serbian police the information that the men killed in the village were KLA members.

During the past two weeks, the prosecutors’ office sent investigators to Kosovo to trace the men who gave these testimonies, and they returned with taped interviews in which three of the interviewees claimed they signed these testimonies under duress.

Parts of these interviews were presented in court this week, angering both the defendant and his witness, who claimed that the Albanians had told the Hague tribunal prosecutors what the latter wanted to hear. Milosevic accused the prosecutors of “malicious behaviour”.

Prosecutors also tried to discredit Marinkovic by presenting her as a judge who turned a blind eye to the alleged torture in police custody of suspects whose cases she was investigating. They provided evidence of one case of an Albanian prisoner she was investigating, who was diagnosed by a Pristina doctor with bruises inflicted by “heavy blows from blunt instruments”.

During an extended debate over submission of evidence by Marinkovic, prosecutor Geoffrey Nice also asked tribunal judges not to show so much deference towards witnesses who held positions in the Milosevic-era police and judiciary, as they were at the time “an extended arm of politics”.

He also asked the judges to weigh carefully the evidence presented by such witnesses, since they may have been obtained by methods that do not comply with the international human rights standards.

Milosevic’s trial will continue next week with a cross-examination of Dobricanin.

Ana Uzelac is IWPR’s project manager in The Hague.