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Milosevic's Top Cop in Kosovo Says Little Despite Testifying for Twelve Hours

By Coalition for International Justice (CIJ)


Top Cop





From the looks of the Yugoslav security force command structure organization chart, one might hope that Col. General Obrad Stevanovic would bring a great deal of first-hand, high-level knowledge about the role of the police in Kosovo during the period 1998-1999 to benefit the defense of Slobodan Milosevic. After all, General Stevanovic served as an Assistant Minister of Internal Affairs and nominally commanded the entire regular police force in Kosovo.  He also headed units of the Special Police Forces (Posebne Jedinice Policije in Serbian or 'PJP').  One might also suspect that his role as top cop in Kosovo would have implicated him in the crimes for which his former boss, the Accused, and many of his former colleagues have been indicted. 


 


Top Suspect?


In fact, looking at the organizational chart, it is difficult to fathom how an indictment did not happen to land upon the witness Stevanovic.  His immediate boss, former Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs Vlajko Stojiljkovic has been indicted by the ICTY.  Stojiljkovic's  bosses, former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Sainovic and Serbian President Milutinovic were also recent guests of the Scheveningen Detention Unit.  Above them is only Milosevic.


 


General Stevanovic's peer, Col. General Vlastimir Djordjevic who held the same rank and who also served as an Assistant Minister of Internal Affairs is currently on the run from a Tribunal warrant and is suspected of hiding in Russia.   Below Stevanovic on the chain of command, Police Colonel Stretan Lukic, who held operational command over the regular police forces in Kosovo recently arrived in The Hague in handcuffs.  The former head of the Special Operations Unit (JSO) in Serbia 'Frenki' Simatovic was also indicted.  Right in the middle of this cast of suspected war criminals sits the defense witness Obrad Stevanovic, yet after twelve hours of testimony, he has not revealed any information of probative value to Milosevic's defense.


 


Testimony about general matters not pertaining to specific allegations


Perhaps due to the witness's position of prominence in the Serbian security apparatus, the Trial Chamber allowed Milosevic to question General Stevanovic at length about the structure of the police force, the kind of weaponry each officer carried, rules and regulations governing police conduct and the statutory methodology for the issuance of orders.  The witness also introduced documents recording the make and model of confiscated weapons used by Albanian separatists, including recoilless rifles, heavy machine guns, anti-tank weapons – mostly of Chinese origin – a persistent theme elaborated by recent witnesses.  (Albania bought Chinese-made weapons during the 1980s and the weapons are suspected of being smuggled to the KLA from Albania).  In addition, the witness testified that KLA fighters would 'take masses of civilians with them in retreat – to insulate them from being fired upon and also to weave the story of expulsion and persecution by the police.' 


 


In fact, most of the witness's testimony did not address a single specific allegation in the indictment, but instead concentrated on the general situation in Kosovo in 1998 – prior to the period of relevance in the indictment.  Milosevic's justification for introduction of this evidence was that events the witness testified to which occurred in 1998 (and which were supported by documents from 1998 chronicling terrorism by the KLA and appropriate and lawful police conduct in reaction to it) also followed suit in 1999.  Judge Robinson agreed that there was some evidentiary value in establishing a pattern – that 'if it happened in 1998, it makes it a bit more credible that it also happened in 1999.'  However, Stevanovic did not prove that his police acted in the same way in 1999 as they did the previous year.


 


Instead Stevanovic stuck to generalizations for instance, testifying that there was no discrimination against Albanians by his police forces – he brought documents demonstrating that his police investigated crimes against all ethnic groups. 


 


Some potentially useful – though still general testimony


Perhaps of most use to the defense is General Stevanovic's explanation about the complicated chain of command in the Police hierarchy.  Milosevic was attempting to rebut prosecution claims that a 'parallel' chain of command existed whereby the former Yugoslav President was able to control police, military and paramilitary forces together without operating through the regular, sometimes cumbersome chain of command.  There was 'information-sharing' horizontally between the police and Yugoslav Army forces to be sure, and during the state of war, police forces could be seconded to military command, but Stevanovic denied that his police forces were engaged in military operations.  Instead, he testified that while the police were increasingly involved in 'anti-terrorist' operations, they still had to perform all of their regular duties like walking the beat, controlling traffic and investigating petty crimes.


 


General Stevanovic also provided detailed explanation about the armament of the police forces to counter allegations that the police had in fact been a 'militarized' force.  He explained that the PJP was not a 'specialized' unit as in 'special forces' sense of the term, but rather that the PJP was an ad hoc formation composed of regular police officers who had additional training or expertise in certain fields who could be assembled whenever a need arose – for example when there was a riot, a special PJP riot police squad could be formed, or if security at a football match was needed, a PJP unit could be assembled and dispatched.  General Stevanovic defended his units from the perception that they were 'death squads' or 'punitive units.' 


 


General Stevanovic's testimony was otherwise unremarkable, especially given his rank and position in the Kosovo security apparatus.  He provided evidence noting that there were orders prohibiting police from firing on civilians and elaborated on the rules of engagement for use of force by police.  He noted that all police follow the four precepts of 1) legitimacy (only use force in pursuit of proper policing goals; 2) graduation (go from lighter to heavier force gradually); 3) necessity (only use force when the need arises); and 4) proportionality (only use force commensurate to the threat).   'All competent leaders insisted that the rules of force be followed to the letter' Stevanovic testified.  He also noted that many Albanians had been contracted as 'local security' agents authorized with powers of arrest and to use firearms – a sure sign Milosevic hoped to argue that deportation of the Albanian population was never contemplated by his regime if they were simultaneously employing armed Albanians in their security forces. 


 


General Stevanovic also testified that because KLA fighters often retreated behind civilians or blended in with civilians this was proof in and of itself that the Serbian police forces followed international humanitarian law – why else would they shield themselves behind civilians unless they knew that the Serb police would protect civilians? 


Milosevic ended the 12th hour of direct examination (although at least three to six remain) by asking whether a single unlawful order had been issued and whether Stevanovic knew of any unlawful actions that had not gone unpunished.  The witness answered that he was not aware of a unlawful order and was unaware of anybody tolerating an unlawful order.


 


Judge Robinson allowed the question even though it called for a conclusion of law (what does 'lawful' mean?)  but noted 'in assessing the weight to be attached to that question….no evidence has been given to show that this witness has any competence to comment on the lawfulness of any order….'  Judge Robinson summarized the testimony of the witness succinctly – he had not shown his competence to provide fact testimony – that is to say – he did not present first-hand eyewitness knowledge to contradict allegations in the indictment.  Instead, he, like his predecessors before him, spoke in general terms about Albanian terrorism and the effort of police to combat that terrorism.


 


General Stevanovic echoed a pattern of logic by defense witnesses – testifying that there could not possibly be crimes because the rules and regulation prohibit crimes.  For example, he brought a set of orders instructing police to protect civilians from paramilitaries – proof however that paramilitaries were operating and that civilians needed protection from them.  His records also acknowledged that in March of 1999 tens of thousands of Albanians fled to the borders of Kosovo.  Upon further questioning by Judge Bonomy, he acknowledged that those records failed to describe the circumstances that forced these people to flee – but instead simply noted that it was 'common knowledge' why they fled – because of KLA coercion.   


 


Milosevic had scheduled General Stevanovic to testify for twelve hours (or three trial days) - however, the accused has indicated that his witness would likely conclude his testimony next week, after five trial days.   It will be interesting to see what the Prosecution have in mind for cross-examination – although Stevanovic is not indicted, the OTP will finally have a shot at questioning him on the stand. 

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