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Oric Handwriting Testimony Questioned

Judges call independent forensic advisor after hearing defence assessment of key documents.
By Helen Warrell
Judges presiding over the trial of Srebrenica war commander Naser Oric announced this week that they would appoint an independent handwriting expert to resolve the differing verdicts of previous forensics specialists enlisted by the prosecution and defence.

The defence’s forensic expert, Professor Esad Bilic, who testified this week, and the prosecution’s investigator, Dr W P F Fagel, who gave evidence in October 2004, have submitted conflicting analyses of ten exhibits known as the “ten questioned documents”.

However, in an unusual move, the chamber has decided that the evaluation of the questioned documents will occur only after the defence rejoinder, when the hearing of evidence has officially ended.

The chamber’s order follows a week in which Bilic, who specialises in the forensic examination of documents and is also the official forgery investigator for Bosnia’s central bank, cast doubt over the authenticity of handwriting and signatures in prosecution exhibits.

Over the past few months, Bilic has studied multiple handwriting samples given by the alleged authors and signatories of prosecution documents which the defence had identified as being “contested”.

The witness then compiled a report on which he was subsequently examined in court. Referring to the contested exhibits, he said, “In my opinion, these are all suspicious documents. They are not signed by those who are alleged to have signed them.”

Some of the contested documents, which date from the early stages of the war in Bosnia, are military orders apparently signed by the accused. Prosecutors have presented this evidence during the examination of witnesses in attempts to establish that Oric was commander of an organised Muslim territorial defence force, TO, in Srebrenica.

Proof of the accused acting in such an official capacity would support the indictment’s claim that Oric should bear “command responsibility” for crimes committed by his subordinates while the Srebrenica enclave was besieged by Serb forces.

The other documents under discussion seemed to be signed by Hamed Sahilovic, the commander for security and intelligence in the Srebrenica TO. Bilic observed that these documents contained discrepancies, which suggested that Salihovic was not the true author.

Bilic’s findings, if accepted by the judges, could provide a significant boost for Oric, who is charged with leading Muslim forces in the destruction of over 50 Serb villages surrounding Srebrenica between June 1992 and March 1993.

The accused’s lawyers have repeatedly argued that the contested documents are false, and were in fact forged by Serb authorities after the fall of Srebrenica in 1995.

Many of the documents are written on thick, watermarked paper which, the defence claims, was simply not available during the siege, when supplies were running low and paper and pens were scarce.

Previous defence witnesses have testified that at the height of the conflict, even official documents were often written on the backs of old bits of paper.

In cross-examination, prosecutor Jan Wubben asked Bilic whether he should not have had his findings corroborated by a “shadow examiner”. The witness answered that it was “absolutely” a good idea to consult more than one expert, but added that the engagement of a second investigator had not been in his mandate.

When Wubben questioned Bilic’s doubts over documents signed by Hamed Sahilovic, the witness protested that the differences between the war documents and Sahilovic’s usual writing were so obvious, “they would be visible from outer space”.

Helen Warrell is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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