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One Courtroom More ... 14 Accused Less

Tribunal Update 75: Last Week in The Hague
Last week began with one courtroom more and ended with 14 accused less. According to statements by the Tribunal's Presiding Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald and the Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour, the two developments are linked. The goal is to enable faster and more "economical" fulfillment of the Tribunal's mandate: delivering fair and expeditious justice to the accused and their alleged victims. On Tuesday, 5 May 1998, the Tribunal inaugurated its second courtroom, constructed and equipped thanks to a generous 300,000 pound donation by the British Government. The courtroom is rather small, one could almost say "intimate," with only four seats on the gallery for the public (compared with 150 in the big courtroom). The new courtroom was built in the former treasury vault of the AEGON insurance company, to whose building the Tribunal moved in 1994, at first as a "tenant." After the construction of a third courtroom, with a somewhat bigger capacity, is finished this summer, Courtroom Two will be mainly used for status conferences or closed sessions. From October 1994 to May 1998, the Tribunal's sole courtroom has had to accommodate four trials, three appellate proceedings, two sentencing procedures, four deferral hearings, and five Rule 61 proceedings. The problem of space became especially acute at the beginning of this year when, besides the two ongoing trials (Blaskic and Celebici), two more were initiated (Aleksovski and Dokmanovic). The working hours of the only courtroom lasted from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The second courtroom will enable the Tribunal to simultaneously conduct trials and to significantly expedite the handling of the docket, which - as President McDonald was pleased to state in her inauguration speech - "continues to grow almost weekly." As a consequence, said Judge McDonald, "in the last six months, we have witnessed a tremendous expansion of our judicial activities: the number of accused persons in custody has increased almost threefold, and we now have thirteen trials and one appeal to conduct for 27 accused persons," which is the number of those currently in the Tribunal's custody. On the occasion, McDonald also said that, "If the 46 publicly indicted individuals who are still at liberty are arrested or surrender themselves, the Tribunal will have a total of at least twenty-one trials to conduct." In other words, two or even three courtrooms would be not enough for that, and not even the third trial chamber, whose founding was requested from the UN Security Council, would not suffice to handle such an amount of cases. Three days later, on Friday, 8 May, the list of publicly indicted individuals still at large was reduced from 46 to 32 names. Judges Lal Chand Vohrah and Fouad Abdel-Moneim Riad have granted the leave requested by the Office of the Prosecutor to withdraw the charges against 14 accused in the Omarska and Keraterm indictments, confirmed in February and July 1995 respectively. Their names are: OMARSKA INDICTMENT: Zdravko Govedarica, Gruban (first name unknown), Predrag Kostic, Nedeljko Paspalj, Milan Pavlic, Milutin Popovic, Drazenko Predojevic, Zeljko Savic, Mirko Babic, Nikica Janjic, and Dragomir Saponja; KERATERM INDICTMENT: Dragan Kondic, Goran Lajic, Nedeljko Timarac, and two persons also named in the Omarska indictment, Nikica Janjic and Nedeljko Timarac; Even a glance at the indictments reveals that these names figure at the bottom of the rather long lists of Bosnian Serbs accused of alleged crimes in the Omarska (total of 19 accused) and Keraterm (total of 13 accused) camps. The 14 men were not superiors at those camps but were either ordinary guards or "visitors." According to all criteria, they can be categorized as "small-fry" indictees. The charges against them were mostly related to individual incidents of participation in the beatings or killings of certain inmates. The three (Gruban, Kostic, and Babic) are accused of raping the prisoner "F" at the Omarska camp. (Dusko Tadic was also accused of raping the same inmate, but right before the beginning of the trial, "F" chose not to testify and the prosecutor had to withdrew that particular charge.) This is not the first time that the Tribunal's prosecutor has withdrawn charges. In December last year, charges were dropped against three Bosnian Croats--Pero Skopljak, Ivan Santic and Marinko Katava--who were accused of alleged crimes against the Muslim civilians in the Lasva Valley. They had surrendered voluntarily together with a larger group of Bosnian Croats three months earlier (6 October 1997), only to be released--as it was officially stated on the occasion--due to a lack of evidence. This time, however, Prosecutor Arbour categorically claimed that her decision was "not based on any lack of evidence in respect of these [14] accused." On the contrary, Arbour stressed, she "took this course of action without prejudice to my right to pursue the same or other charges against these accused if, in the future, the circumstances change." Moreover, the prosecutor has expressed her readiness to "provide assistance to those domestic jurisdictions [Bosnia and Herzegovina or Republika Srpska courts] which pursue, in good faith, charges of serious violations of international humanitarian law against any of these 14 accused." According to the prosecutor's statement, the decision to withdraw the charges was taken in an "attempt to balance the available resources within the Tribunal and in recognition of the need to prosecute cases fairly and expeditiously." The current "imbalance" is the result of the fact that the arrest and surrender process--although welcomed and encouraging--has been "piecemeal and sporadic, and it appears that this is likely to continue." As a result, the accused "who have been jointly indicted, must be tried separately, thereby committing the Tribunal to a much larger than anticipated number of trials." The most characteristic illustration of the burden that the "piecemeal" arrest or surrender process represents for the Tribunal is the situation with the Lasva Valley indictment. Of the six originally accused political and military Bosnian Croat leaders, two (Skopljak and Santic) have been released due to a lack of evidence, while the remaining four--precisely due to the haphazardness of their arrival in The Hague--are facing three separate trials. Two of those trials are underway (Blaskic and Aleksovski), while the beginning of the third (Dario Kordic and Mario Kerkez, who have been detained since October last year) has still not been scheduled because of the overload of the Tribunal's capacities. In light of that situation, the prosecutor has "re-evaluated all outstanding indictments vis-a-vis the overall investigative and prosecutorial strategies of [her] Office." In line with those strategies--"which involve maintaining an investigative focus on persons holding higher levels of responsibility (i.e. power), or on those who have been personally responsible for exceptionally brutal or otherwise extremely serious offenses"--the prosecutor has decided that it was appropriate to withdraw the charges against those 14 accused. In order not to raise false hopes, Arbour concluded her statement by saying that she had "examined all other indictments where there are indictees still at large" and that she did "not contemplate withdrawing any further charges against any other accused in those indictments." After being "weeded out" of 14 small-fry names, the two indictments presently look as follows: OMARSKA INDICTMENT: Zeljko Meakic (camp commander, charged with genocide); Dragoljub Prcac and Miroslav Kvocka (deputy commanders); Milojica Kos, Momcilo Gruban, and Mladen Radic (guard-shift commanders); Zoran Zigic and Dusan Knezevic (regular camp "visitors"). Three of them--Kvocka, Radic, and Zigic--are currently in the custody of the ICTY, awaiting their trial. KERATERM INDICTMENT: Dusko Sikirica (camp commander, charged with genocide); Damir Dosen, Dragan Fusar, and Dragan Kulundzija (guard-shift commanders); Nenad Banovic and Predrag Banovic (camp guards or investigators); Zoran Zigic and Dusan Knezevic (again in the capacity of regular camp "visitors," just like in the Omarska indictment). Without the intention of challenging the official version of the latest charge-dropping episode, perhaps we should recall a small incident between The Hague and Washington, which took place at the end of February. Ambassador Robert Gelbard, Washington's top envoy to the former Yugoslavia, stated that the United States "believes that a significant number of [the Tribunal prosecutor's] indictments will not stand up in court" and that the United States was "reviewing those indictments ... because we will not risk the lives of any soldier to try to apprehend indicted war criminals ... if we believe that the cases [against them] are weak." The ambassador was quickly publicly reprimanded by Prosecutor Arbour, who said Gelbard's statement was "without any foundation and purely speculative, since no state, including the United States of America, has access to the evidence upon which indictments have been confirmed." (For more on the incident, see Tribunal Update 65).

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