By Merdijana Sadovic in The Hague (TU No 399, 25-Mar-05)


By Merdijana Sadovic in The Hague (TU No 399, 25-Mar-05)

Monday, 5 December, 2005

Oric is charged with the mistreatment and murders of detainees in Srebrenica prison during that period, as well as the destruction and looting of nearby villages.

He is accused partly on grounds of command responsibility – the notion that a superior can be made to answer for crimes committed by his subordinates if he failed to take measures to prevent them or to punish the perpetrators afterwards.

But as prosecutors pressed this week’s witness to discuss the subject of Oric’s position in the civilian and military hierarchy in wartime Srebrenica, he appeared reluctant to incriminate the accused.

Halfway through the witness’ fourth day in court, Presiding Judge Carmel Agius urged prosecutors to wind up their examination and send him home, announcing that he didn’t believe a word he was saying.

Becir Bogilovic told the court that he was appointed chief of police in Srebrenica at a meeting in the village of Bajramovici in May 1992. At that same meeting, he said, Oric was chosen to be commander of the local territorial defence staff – which was, at least in theory, the highest military authority in the enclave.

The witness explained that in these positions, both he and Oric were subordinated to the Srebrenica war presidency, established in July 1992 as the highest civilian authority in the area.

But he added that there was some confusion as to who was answerable to whom, with Oric sometimes taking it upon himself to convene meetings of the war presidency to which he was supposedly subordinated.

Prosecutors have argued that Oric was the person in Srebrenica with the greatest de facto power at the time and showed little respect for the civilian authorities, often ignoring their decisions.

The witness was also asked about Oric’s authority in relation to ad hoc armed units organised within individual villages in the Srebrenica enclave.

Local village commanders, he said, were “appointed by the people and chosen by the people”. He added that there was antagonism between some of these commanders, who were determined to remain independent of higher authority.

And he also said Oric, as head of the territorial defence staff, “had no influence over the appointment of local commanders” and that attempts to put the entirety of these units under the command of the town’s official military authorities failed.

At the same time, he did confirm that some of them agreed to submit to Oric’s authority at the same May 1992 meeting where he was appointed head of the territorial defence.

But problems began to arise in court when prosecutor Sellers revisited the subject later in the week to ask whether Oric ever gave up the authority that he gained over these units at the May meeting.

“I know that there were difficult times ahead, so I don't think he could really find his bearings himself,” was the witness’s enigmatic reply.

“He is trying to avoid answering your question, Ms Sellers,” Judge Agius cut in, before going on to assure the witness that he was “not the most intelligent one in [the] courtroom”.

Judge Agius then put a few questions to the witness himself, but appeared to become increasingly frustrated with the difficulty involved in extracting from him any clear answers.

“I think if we included dentists amongst lawyers in the case of certain witnesses, it would work better,” he announced at one point.

As the hearing continued and the witness’ irrelevant responses mounted, along with his claims to be entirely ignorant of apparently self-evident facts, Judge Agius’ patience eventually ran out.

“I am not going to ask you any more questions and I hope very few more questions will be asked [of] you,” he told the witness, “because I am not believing you [one] little bit.”

At the end of his testimony, not long after, an undeterred Bogilovic took the unusual step of asking if he “could possibly be allowed to greet the accused”.

“No,” Judge Agius replied. “That goes beyond our jurisdiction and our powers.”

Still, the witness remained apparently unmoved by the whole experience.

“Once again, my thanks to all of you and my best regards,” he said, before exiting the courtroom.

Merdijana Sadovic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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