Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The defence team of Vinko Pandurevic, a former Bosnian Serb army, VRS, commander, this week called for its client to be acquitted on all counts of genocide and other crimes committed in Srebrenica.
"The prosecution failed to prove Pandurevic's responsibility for crimes in Srebrenica and Zepa in July of 1995,” the defence told the Hague tribunal courtroom.
Pandurevic, who at the time relevant to the indictment commanded the Zvornik brigade of the VRS’s Drina corps, was the final defendant to present closing arguments in the trial.
He – along with Vujadin Popovic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Ljubisa Beara, and Drago Nikolic – is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, while two other co-accused Radivoje Miletic and Milan Gvero face allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The defendants, whose trial began on July 14, 2006, have each pleaded not guilty to all counts against them.
According to the indictment, the officials were involved in two separate but linked joint criminal plans, along with Bosnian Serb general and war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, to expel the Muslim population from the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves and “to murder all the able-bodied men captured from the Srebrenica enclave”.
In July 1995, approximately 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed after the United Nations-protected enclave of Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces.
Last week, prosecutors called for maximum sentences to be awarded to each of the accused, in the event of convictions.
However, this week, Pandurevic's defence lawyer Peter Hayens said that the case against his client had not been clearly set out by prosecutors.
The defence argued that the prosecution was not able to provide evidence to support the allegation contained in the indictment that on July 15, 1995, Pandurevic was kept closely informed about the transfer and execution of prisoners in Orahovac in the Zvornik area, which was located in the zone of responsibility of his unit.
According to the indictment, about 1,000 Muslim captives were executed near the school in Orahovac.
"Pandurevic had no effective control of the Zvornik brigade in the VRS operations from July 4 to 15, and this is a matter of fact and not of law, although you will not find a single argument in the prosecution's claims which discusses this matter," Haynes said.
The defence lawyer then said that it was particularly important to point out the defendant's character and upbringing.
"Pandurevic grew up in a multi-national environment. He was taught to believe in the principles of brotherhood and unity. It was his family's tradition to respect and practically assist its Muslim neighbours," he said.
"His upbringing and behaviour have particular relevance in this case, as his character was at the basis of many decisions he took during the war," he added.
The defence then claimed that it was precisely his character which led Pandurevic to intervene on a number of occasions during the war to prevent bloodshed.
"Many lives had been saved thanks to orders or interventions by Vinko Pandurevic," the lawyer said.
Hayens cited one incident which he said took place in Visegrad in eastern Bosnia in April, 1992.
"Pandurevic took several thousand civilians into protection from paramilitary formations which had come from Serbia. He disarmed them and ordered them to go back to Serbia," Hayes said. The lawyer added that this version of events was backed up by "a relevant statement" from a trial witness, Midhat Guso.
He then pointed to another incident which took place on July 16, 1996, when he said Pandurevic had defied Mladic's orders, resulting in a group of Bosniaks being allowed to escape after Sbrebrenica was overrun.
"Pandurevic, as a commander of the Zvornik brigade, contradicted General Mladic by acting on his own initiative and letting a column of Muslim soldiers and civilians who were trying to reach Tuzla through the woods, after the fall of Srebrenica," he said.
According to the prosecution, however, Pandurevic’s decision to open the corridor was the result of his assessment that the column, which consisted of civilians and armed Bosnian army, ABiH, members, represented a threat to the Zvornik brigade.
The defence said that the incidents mentioned were evidence of the accused's "lack of prejudice and his good character".
"Pandurevic was motivated by a desire to save lives, and that the chamber should take these examples into consideration, as actions speak more than words," the lawyer said.
"This proves that, contrary to what the prosecution alleges, he had no genocidal intent."
Following the defence's closing arguments and the prosecution's rebuttal, the largest trial to be conducted at the tribunal drew to a close, as judges retired to consider their verdict.
Presiding judge Carmel Agius said the case had been "a long, tough and sometimes very complex judicial review", adding that he hoped that judges would manage to reach a judgment "in a few months".
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.
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