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Milosevic completes direct examination of leading Serbian police official after seven days of questioning

By Coalition for International Justice (CIJ)

On Friday 27 May, after six and half court sittings, Slobodan Milosevic completed his direct examination of former police General Obrad Stevanovic.  The session began with Milosevic acknowledging for the record, receipt of information from OTP investigators that they were told that 12 of the victims killed in Kotlina (and whose bodies were found in wells following an attack on the village) were KLA soldiers.  The information was provided to the accused by Prosecutor Nice pursuant to Rule 68 which requires that any exculpatory evidence that the Prosecution possesses must be turned over the defense.


 


The accused returned to his examination of Obrad Stevanovic.  The witness, who served as Assistant Minister of Internal Affairs (MUP) and headed the Special Police Forces (Posebne Jedinice Policije in Serbian or 'PJP') under Milosevic, had already provided over 20 hours of largely repetitive testimony about the exemplary behavior of the Serbian Police in Kosovo between 1998 and 1999.  General Stevanovic introduced evidence documenting more than a thousand police investigations of crimes committed against Kosovo civilians including reports that even members of the Police were investigated for murder. 


 


A general showing of police propriety will not discharge command responsibility for specific allegations of war crimes


 


Such testimony however, did not appear to impress the bench.  Judge Robinson surmised that the accused was attempting to adduce evidence about the lawful behavior of Serbian security forces – that they investigated all crimes and protected all citizens, regardless of the ethnicity of either the victim or perpetrator – not only to rebut the indictment's allegations that 'forces of the FRY and Serbia,' including the police, carried out persecution and murder, but also to show that Milosevic discharged any obligation under Article 7(3) of the statute.  Article 7(3) demands that an accused, in a position of superior responsibility, can be held criminally liable for the acts of his subordinates if he 'knew or had reason to know that the subordinate was about to commit such acts or had done so and the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators thereof.'  Judge Bonomy asked General Stevanovic how many of the police investigations he described had proceeded to their logical conclusion and resulted in convictions, to which the witness was unable to testify.  An exasperated Judge Bonomy stated that it was critical to see if judicial processes were carried through in order to measure the reliability of the system.  The General's inability to testify to what concrete steps were taken to punish perpetrators does not help the accused in his attempt to show that he took all the proper steps to prevent and punish under 7(3). 


 


Judge Robinson noted that while Milosevic was trying to 'show that there was a culture of police propriety' prevailing throughout Kosovo during the period covered by the indictment, such a showing would not relieve Milosevic of his individual criminal liability under Article 7(3) for the specific instances of crimes alleged in the indictment.  In other words, rather than providing a general description of good police conduct in investigating crimes in general, Milosevic must show that reasonable steps were taken to investigate the particular crimes enumerated in the indictment, and to punish their perpetrators.  General Stevanovic (and Police Colonel Paponjak before him) did testify that police did investigate crimes alleged in the indictment, for example Dubrava Prison and Racak.  These investigations concluded that either NATO or the KLA was responsible for the deaths and therefore no punishment of Serbian personnel was necessary.   As to other specific allegations from the indictment, Stevanovic's testimony (and Milosevic's defense) is that the Police investigated all crimes that they were aware of.  If Milosevic's security forces failed to carry out an investigation it was only because they did not know about the crime.  As Milosevic argued, 'the police could not act in accordance with the law in cases where they were not aware they happened.'


 


A system in place gives Milosevic a reasonable belief that proper steps were being taken


Court-assigned counsel Steven Kay defended Milosevic's strategy.  He argued that under wartime conditions, there was an expectation that crimes would be committed.  However, if 'the accused could show generally that a system was in place, a constitutional and lawful system and it was reasonable [for the accused] to believe that the system was working properly' then the Court should assume that as far as Milosevic knew, all reasonable efforts to prevent or punish criminal acts were being taken.   But this argument underscores the importance of Judge Bonomy's question – perhaps it was unreasonable to assume that the 'system' was working if even the Assistant MUP Minister does not know whether any of the investigations resulted in any convictions. 


 


Circular reasoning: War crimes could not be committed by the police because the police were tasked with upholding the law


General Stevanovic's testimony on Kosovo often lapsed into the illogical circular reasoning which has characterized much of the defense witnesses' testimonies.  After describing various decrees and orders in which MUP police were required to uphold the law, protect civilians and provide them with food and shelter, Stevanovic concluded that Serbian police actions (as adduced from these orders) were 'incompatible' with the criminal charges in the indictment.  His logic was that Serbian police forces could not have committed crimes because their mandate was to uphold the law.  This has been a consistent theme in his testimony as he began his 20 plus hours of testimony by describing police regulations on when it was appropriate to use force – only when necessary and only in a graduated and proportional way.  The conclusion to be drawn of course is that because all of these regulations were in place, they could not have been violated.   Judge Robinson however cautioned against relying on this approach, noting that in his previous experience on the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, 'some of the worst offenders had the best laws to protect human rights.'


 


Serbian MUP in Bosnia, Krajina - Witness was in Srebrenica in July 1995 – met briefly with Mladic in Bratunac  


Some of the most interesting and compelling evidence came at the end of the marathon testimony.  While the witness was called primarily to discuss police activities in Kosovo, Milosevic also questioned him about Serbian MUP activities elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia during the period of 1991-1995 when conflict flared in Bosnia and Croatia.  The witness denied that the Serbian MUP ever armed any paramilitary force outside of its ranks and that the police viewed paramilitaries negatively.


 


General Stevanovic did acknowledge that Serbian MUP forces made incursions across the DrinaRiver from Serbia into Bosnia on several occasions – but only to secure the border in response to Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces spilling over into Serbia and to assist Republika Srpska Police forces carry out regular policing activities.  Stevanovic claimed that all this was on the up-and-up, noting that 'international forces' such the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) were notified of the Serbian MUP's presence in Bosnia.  Milosevic noted that he himself informed Lord Owen and UN Special Envoy Stolenberg about this. 


 


General Stevanovic testified that the Republika Srpska MUP and Serbian Krajina had requested reinforcements from Serbia in the same manner in which, say, Sarajevo requested Belgrade police to assist in providing security at the 1984 Olympic Games, or Zagreb requested extra police when Split hosted the Mediterranean Games.  General Stevanovic himself oversaw the seconding of his police to both Republika Srprska and the Serbian Krajina.  The Serbian MUP performed only routine police work such as traffic enforcement, patrolling and crime prevention.  Milosevic was sure to elicit from the witness that once the Serbian police had been seconded, they came under the direct command and control of their hosts.  Milosevic arguably believes that showing this re-subordination proves that he had no effective control of MUP units operating in Bosnia.  However, if he 'lent' these forces to the RS knowing that the RS MUP was committing atrocities, this would still amount to aiding and abetting the crimes.




Not only did Stevanovic claim that he was 'aware of all engagements of the MUP outside of Serbia' but testified that he himself was present in Bosnia in such places as Banja Luka and Prejidor accompanying the Serbian MUP forces.  In a startling revelation, Stevanovic stated that he assisted General Mladic in evacuating the Dutch UN Peace-Keeping force (DUTCHBAT) from Srebrenica in mid-July of 1995 (in the wake of the Srebrenica massacre).  'I personally provided security for the withdrawal of DUTCHBAT through Serbia to Croatia' Stevanovic testified.   Under cross-examination, Stevanovic stated that he met with VRS Commander Ratko Mladic in Bratunac during this time.  The witness denied that Serbian MUP police engaged in any combat activities or any illegal activities, but this testimony confirms that Serbian MUP had a line of communication and coordination with Mladic and the VRS – even if it was only to escort the DUTCHBAT through Serbia on their way to Croatia.


Milosevic elicited from the witness that Serbian MUP actually assisted Muslims fleeing the fighting in Srebrenica.  General Stevanovic testified that MUP units deployed in the border area near Srebrenica 'took in about 800 members of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina who crossed over into the territory of Serbia.  They were taken care of and accommodated as people in jeopardy and the Red Cross of Serbia was informed.'   The true role of Serbian forces in the Srebrenica events might not be one of such magnanimity.


Significantly, the ICTY recently charged then-Yugoslav Army (VJ) Chief of Staff General Momcilo Perisic with war crimes for 'Exercising his authority to secure the border between Serbia and Bosnia in the area of Srebrenica to prevent Srebrenica Muslims from escaping into Serbia and to return those who had crossed the border.'  In a 2004 report by the Republika Srpska Srebrenica Commission, the Commission noted that 'a number of Bosniaks went to Serbia from where 38 of them were returned to RS….the fate of those who were returned was not determined yet.'


Furthermore, under cross-examination Prosecutor Nice directed the General Stevanovic to reports about the existence of a videotape showing a Serbian paramilitary unit known as the 'Scorpions' (which Nice argued operated under Serbian MUP control) executing Muslim prisoners in the Srebrenica area.   The witness denied that any paramilitary unit under the name of 'Scorpions' was under the command structure of the MUP.   If this video is authentic and if in fact it shows Serbian MUP members in the Srebrenica area participating in crimes, it would significantly reinforce genocide complicity charges against Milosevic.  It remains to be seen whether such evidence will be introduced by the Prosecution during Stevanovic's cross-examination – for impeachment purposes, or whether it will constitute vital new evidence for which the Prosecution may need to re-open its case.  


Proseuctor Nice asked the witness if given give 'an opportunity to assist in identifying people in a video which may show the scorpions killing in Srebrenica – will you assist me?'   The witness nodded – perhaps indicating that his willingness to assist in answering questions, or perhaps indicating that he may know who is depicted in the video.  


Cross examination continues on Tuesday 31 May and is expected to last throughout the week.

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