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Milosevic Trial Update: Judge Robinson Terminates Stevanovic's Marathon Testimony; Jasovic Returns to Stand – Prosecution and Defense Drag out Two Witnesses Over One and a Half Months

By Coalition for International Justice (CIJ)

Judge Robinson abruptly terminated Slobodan Milosevic's re-examination of former Police General Obrad Stevanovic on Wednesday 15 June, admonishing the accused for 'shamelessly' abusing the court process.  'I'm bringing the examination to an end,' Judge Robinson ordered as he scolded Milosevic, 'I'm disgusted with your performance.' 


 


After a record-breaking six weeks of testimony, the court had finally heard enough of the Accused's lengthy questioning of the former Serbian Assistant Minister of Internal Affairs and ex-head of the Special Police.  Stevanovic was brought forward principally to speak about Kosovo, but also testified to what he characterized as a legitimate Serbian police presence in the Republika Srpska and the Serbian Krajina during the Bosnian and Croatian wars of the mid 1990s.  On cross-examination, Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice played video footage purportedly showing a Serbian paramilitary unit known as the 'Scorpions' executing six young Bosniak men around the time of the Srebrenica massacre as proof that Serbian MUP units (the Scorpions were alleged to be under MUP control) were not merely carrying out routine police work such as traffic enforcement and crime prevention as Stevanovic had said, but were in fact perpetrating some of the worst atrocities of the wars.  (See 1 June 2005 report, 'Chilling Video Footage Shown.)


 


Evidence that Milosevic ordered Kosovo cover-up


During the lengthy cross-examination, which itself lasted five sessions and nearly 20 hours, Prosecutor Nice asked the witness if the accused Milosevic had ordered bodies from Kosovo to be removed and reburied in Serbia – most notoriously at the Batajnica police base in Belgrade.  The witness vehemently denied this.  Nice then presented excerpts from Stevanovic's own personal journal/agenda notebook in which the witness had written prominently, 'NO CORPSE, NO CRIME' with the word 'President' above the phrase.  Other excerpts read 'they will use evidence of crimes to justify aggression.' 


When confronted with the allegation that it was then-FRY President Milosevic who had ordered a cover-up of Serbian crimes in Kosovo and Stevanovic's own notes proved this, the witness unconvincingly suggested that the word 'President' could have meant any president such as then-Serbian President Milan Milutinovic.  But Stevanovic also countered that other passages in his notebook such as 'remove traces of violence against civilians' had been mistranslated and should have read 'remove traces of violence against property' – which he explained as routine 'rubble-clearing.'  


The Prosecution also presented a memo by Third Army Commander Nejbosa Pavkovic in which the now-indicted General complained that while MUP police officers were committing crimes against Albanian civilians in Kosovo, such behavior was being attributed to Army personnel.  Pavkovic also complained about alleged altercations between police and army personnel at checkpoints.


 


Defense slip-up: Defense documents show MUP units in Dubrava Prison


One document brought to court by Stevanovic discredited the prior testimony of defense witness Colonel Paponjak who claimed the deaths of nearly 100 prisoners held at Dubrava Prison were largely the result of NATO bombing.  Paponjak had previously suggested that most were killed by NATO bombs but that some prisoners may have died while trying to escape after the bombing threw the prison into chaos.  Stevanovic however testified that he had no recollection of any escape attempt.  Prosecutor Nice then suggested that the regular correctional guards were forced out of the prison and that Serbian MUP special forces then moved in and 'did whatever they liked' -  including shooting prisoners and throwing grenades down sewer drains where some inmates had taken shelter.  (Colonel Paponjak had previously testified that the Dubrava prison guards were under the control of the Ministry of Justice and that the MUP was not involved in any alleged confrontation at the facility).  One of Stevanovic's own documents stated that on the morning of 22 May at 05:00, Serbian MUP forces moved into the prison, instructed the regular guard to leave and ordered the inmates to line up in the prison yard.  Prosecution witnesses had alleged seeing camouflage-clad men in flack jackets operating in the complex, firing at the inmates. This document greatly helps the Prosecution in discrediting defense claims that MUP units had nothing to do with the carnage at Dubrava.


 


Re-direct: Milosevic challenges videotape and suggests Srebrenica was politically engineered


On re-direct examination, the witness reiterated the consistent defense line that any crime which the authorities knew of was promptly investigated.  The police knew nothing of the killings of civilians in Racak, according to Stevanovic, who instead testified that all deaths in Racak were the result of a legitimate police action in which a firefight occurred between KLA forces and Serbian MUP units.  'The killing of terrorists in a clash with police doesn't count as murder' Stevanovic explained, rather a better description should be 'use of force which resulted in loss of life.'  


 


Scorpions – under the control of the Serbian MUP or Republic of Serbian Krajina?


Milosevic then shifted his focus to Bosnia, where he counter-punched by reviewing portions of the video that were not shown by the Prosecution, including a segment featuring a black van with a scorpion painted on the side.  Mr. Milosevic asked the witness to read the license plate which was labeled 'VSK' – for the Army of Serbian Krajina, Stevanovic explained.  This was consistent with the witness's testimony that the Scorpions were a unit based out of the Serbian Krajina and not under Belgrade's control.  Milosevic also attacked the authenticity of the tape noting abrupt breaks between footage, garbled sound and lack of time and date stamping on certain portions.  The bench stopped this line of questioning however as the witness, while merely describing what he could see and hear on the tape, did not possess any expertise to aid in determining the authenticity of the film.  'The detailed history of this film shall be made available when I make submissions,' Mr. Nice promised.  Nice then suggested that if Milosevic continued to disregard the rules of procedure and evidence that assigned- counsel could be employed. 


 


Milosevic exceeds scope of appropriate re-direct


Judge Robinson then warned Miloesvic that Ms. Gillian Higgins would be put on 'stand-by' to take over the re-direct if he continued down this path.  The accused then used mapping software to show the distance between Trnovo, where the taped Scorpion executions allegedly took place and Srebrenica where the victims are alleged to have hailed from - 159.4 km. away.   Milosevic asked the witness whether he could tell whether this was in fact a tape of Srebrenica-related killings and whether anything on the film showed that the killers were linked to the Serbian MUP.  The witness answered both questions in the negative.  When the Prosecution finally tenders the video into evidence, Milosevic will receive the appropriate opportunity to challenge the provenance and reliability of the tape.


 


The last straw - 'Political staging of Srebrenica'


Milosevic's re-direct was cut-off as he delved into topics not raised during the Prosecution's cross-examination – especially regarding Srebrenica.  The witness testified that Serbian authorities had made efforts to bring Srebrenica perpetrators to justice – by handing over Drazen Erdemovic to the ICTY and that others were arrested but set free after Milosevic fell from power.   Milosevic then asked leave to show video footage from the former police chief of Srebrenica as well as that of UN Peacekeeping commander General Philippe Morillon, which he claimed would show the Srebrenica massacre was politically staged.  Without denying that the massacre occurred, Milosevic attempted to justify introduction of the evidence by claiming that the units committing the murders were 'manipulated by foreign powers.'  Such evidence, if relevant, would only be appropriate for direct examination and exceeded the scope of re-direct as the Prosecution did not deal with these subjects.  At this point Judge Robinson terminated the re-examination.  The defense will likely make written submissions to allow Milosevic to finish his re-examination of Stevanovic.   


 


The new witness, an old witness


The cross-examination of Urosevac Police Inspector Dragan Jasovic resumed immediately following the termination of Stevanovic's testimony.  Jasovic was called by Milosevic after the Prosecution claimed that evidence brought forth by defense witness Judge Danica Marinkovic (which purported that many of the victims of Racak were KLA members) was obtained through coercion.  The Prosecution sent investigators to Kosovo to speak with some of the declarants who told them that the statements were taken under duress.  On cross-examination, Prosecutor Nice barraged the Jasovic with allegations that the Urosevac police station was a bastion of detainee abuse including beatings with bats, truncheons, and torture by electroshock.  Jasovic adamantly denied all the allegations. 


 


The Prosecution exceeds the scope of cross-examination


After complaining that the accused had gone beyond the reasonable bounds of an appropriate re-direct, Prosecutor Nice however, then seemed to exceed the permissible scope of his own cross-examination of Jasovic.  Instead of confining himself to the alleged conduct of the witness in taking statements that purportedly proved that Racak victims were in fact KLA fighters, Nice questioned Jasovic about why a teenage girl was 'executed' during the incident.  'What did she do to merit execution?' Nice pressed.  The witness only responded that she was a member of the KLA and was not 'executed' but rather 'liquidated' during the police action in which the KLA stronghold was liquidated.   The witness however, had already testified that he was not in Racak and had no knowledge of any particulars of the incident.  Therefore this line of questioning appeared to serve no purpose other than rehashing the Prosecution's view of the Racak killings.  Invoking teenage victims and showing photographs of beaten prisoners could be seen by the court as sensationalist and over the top for the cross examination.


 


Nice also asked the witness to help interpret General Stevonovic's testimony, which came after Jasovic's direct examination, and therefore could in no way be legitimate fodder for cross-examination.  No objection was raised by the defense however and the bench allowed the questioning to continuing.


 


Evidence obtained by coercion is inadmissible according to the ICTY's own Rules of Evidence.  Even if the statements obtained by Jasovic (purporting that many Racak victims were KLA fighters) are admitted however, the Prosecution has already done its job in planting in the bench's mind that they should be accorded less weight because of widespread and consistent allegations that torture was frequently used in the Urosevac police station.  Instead, the Prosecution has contributed to the lengthy duration of the trial by itself focusing on matters (while relevant) outside the scope of appropriate limits of examination.  Ultimately it is Milosevic who has opened the door to much of this by spending over 55% of his allotted time on Kosovo and witnesses who have not contributed greatly to disproving the crime base allegations.  But if Milosevic has creaked open the door, the Prosecution has kicked it down.  


 


On re-examination, Milosevic began to point out that Jasovic was called to testify as a Prosecution witness in the Limaj case and suggested that he was portrayed as reliable by the same Office of the Prosecution which now sought to discredit him – but Milosevic did not develop this point with any precision.  Because of his duel role as both Prosecution and Defense witness, Jasovic has been a tricky subject to tackle – and one in which both parties probably should have been eager to get through with quickly.

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