Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Oric Defence Rail Against Prosecution

Lawyers complain about late disclosure of evidence that may have boosted their case.
By Helen Warrell
As proceedings against Srebrenica war commander Naser Oric draw to a close, the defence have responded furiously to the prosecution’s sudden disclosure of a previously unseen batch of documents, which may help to prove the innocence of the accused.



Oric is charged with having led Muslim forces in attacks on over 50 Serb villages in eastern Bosnia between1992 and 1993.



A legal challenge by the defence says that the documents in question - which include “tens” of orders issued by another Muslim commander, Nurif Rizvanovic - could have been used as evidence that Oric did not have overall control in the larger Srebrenica area as the prosecution have consistently argued.



The defence says that the documents show that Rizvanovic, who was commander of the Bosnian army’s Drina Division, was controlling military activity in “the whole region covered by the indictment” during the relevant period.



There is also evidence of Rizvanovic issuing orders to Oric and thus treating him “as a subordinate”, the defence argue. Quoting from the prosecution’s pre-trial brief, which states that “Naser Oric was the only person who had control over the soldiers” and “took all decisions affecting the military”, lawyers representing the accused protest that such charges cannot be maintained in the light of new evidence to the contrary.



The defence consider it “scandalous” that this material has only been handed over on the last day of the trial, and have calculated from the numbering on the documents that the prosecution must have had this material in their possession for two or three years.



In court proceedings on March 10, which were called to deal with a different administrative matter, defence co-counsel John Jones began the hearing by re-voicing his argument against trial prosecutors. Referring to the late disclosure of the documents, he said, “It is difficult to imagine an action more in breach of a fair trial.”



Prosecutor Patricia Sellers then explained that far from helping to prove Oric’s innocence, some of the 400 “new” documents were in fact incriminating. She then went through a selection of documents signed by Rizvanovic in which the commander was issuing orders to the accused.



This, Sellers claimed, showed that there was an “obvious chain of command” of which Oric was a part.



Interrupting to dispute these assertions, Jones said that to hear “Patricia Sellers’ interpretations of these documents [was] futile”, because the whole point was that there were many different interpretations which could be made.



A similar situation arose in October last year, when it was found that the prosecution had failed to hand over to the defence a newspaper article containing information which, according to the defence, could have helped to prove the innocence of the accused.



Although presiding judge Carmel Agius ruled that the defence could recall selected prosecution witnesses and examine them again in the light of new evidence, the prosecution received little more than a slap on the wrist for their breach of tribunal rules.



Oric’s lawyers suggest in their legal challenge that this latest violation is a “reflection of a culture of impunity” which has been evident so far in the trial.