The row erupted after presiding judge Carmel Agius of Malta decided to take over the questioning of surgeon Nedret Mujkanovic – a key prosecution witness at Oric’s trial.
The judge questioned Mujkanovic on the significant differences between his testimony in court and the statements he gave to the Hague prosecutors in the early stages of their investigation, when he appeared to be much more critical of Oric’s role in the events the indictment refers to.
The 37-year-old defendant is charged with overseeing the plunder and burning of houses in Serb villages around Srebrenica in 1992 and 1993, and of the murders and mistreatment of Serb detainees in the Srebrenica prison, allegedly run by Oric’s men, during the same period.
Mujkanovic, who was the only surgeon in the besieged town between August 1992 and April 1993, was a member of Oric’s inner circle. He admitted in court that he personally treated wounded Serb prisoners at Srebrenica hospital, some of whom have already testified that they suffered beatings and torture in the town's prison.
Difficulties arose after previous statements made by the witness, which were mentioned by the presiding judge, appeared to show discrepancies with the testimony he gave in court last week.
Under the tribunal’s rules of procedure, written statements are not automatically admitted into evidence, and since they are not taken under oath, oral testimonies given in court have much greater value.
At this stage, Judge Agius decided to question the witness himself, infuriating Oric’s defence counsel John Jones, who did not appear to want the earlier statements to be admitted into evidence.
Judge Agius, visibly annoyed, warned the lawyer that he was “becoming paranoiac”, while Oric’s defence lawyer accused the judge of “doing the prosecution’s job for them”.
While last week Mujkanovic told in court that Oric “was fiercely against the looting and burning of Serb houses” in the villages around Srebrenica, in his written statements - parts of which were read by Judge Agius in court - he said that “Oric should have been strict enough to stop the destruction of property during the attacks; however, he chose the easy way out”, because he “didn’t want to annoy people and lose respect”.
Also, in his court testimony last week, Mujkanovic said no one, including Oric, “could have exercised effective control over armed forces and civilians in Srebrenica”.
But in his written statements he claimed the opposite, “Oric was the top authority; he was like a king to the people. If [his] theory was to burn the buildings to the ground, then both soldiers and civilians did that…of course, not everyone participated.”
As for the storage places in which food and weapons were kept, Mujkanovic told the court last week that Oric had only one such cache, which was located in his family house. But in his written statements the witness claimed that “the entire town of Srebrenica’s storage houses were under [Oric’s] control”.
Whenever Mujkanovic was confronted by Judge Agius with these apparent discrepancies in his statements, his replies were “that’s not what I said” and “this was taken out of context”.
The trial has been adjourned until March 7.
Merdijana Sadovic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.