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

Perisic Trial Told of Commanders' Accountability

Expert witness says military doctrine means commanders are ultimately responsible for army’s behaviour.
By Velma Šarić

An expert witness told the trial of former Yugoslav Army, VJ, chief Momcilo Perisic this week that a military commander would retain responsibility for his troops even if they were operating in another country.



British army major general Mungo Melvin was giving evidence at the Perisic war crimes after it resumed following a break of several weeks.



Perisic, the most senior VJ officer to be charged with war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia, has pleaded not guilty to 13 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.



These include aiding and abetting the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, the shelling of the Croatian capital Zagreb and the July 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.



Perisic’s indictment alleges that he provided financial, logistical and personnel support to Serb forces in both Croatia and Bosnia between 1991 and 1995, by personally establishing two personnel centres within the Yugoslav army to covertly deploy officers to those two break-away republics and pay their salaries.



Melvin had compiled a military expert report on the doctrine of troop command and management, based on the materials and sources from NATO and the British army.



“I used generally accepted principles and doctrines on the functioning of military troops in different countries, and adopted a principle which basically analyses the general, and not the concrete, concept of command,” the witness said.



During his testimony, the expert witness said, “Every country which deploys its troops to another has the responsibility to undertake certain steps after it gains knowledge of violations of international law or of crimes committed by its members.



“This responsibility exists even then when the troops dispatched to another country are serving under the command of the receiving state.”



Explaining that the sending state retained responsibility for the conduct of its troops, he continued, “Discipline is an absolutely vital part of military work, as without it, armed forces cannot properly function. Therefore, individuals within the armed forces have the obligation to act in a disciplined manner, and their commanders have the responsibility to ensure that discipline is enforced and upheld.”



Melvin said this command model was “almost identical in all armies”, and added that “the commander is always the one in charge of taking command decisions.



“As I defined in my report, it is the commander’s duty to intervene as soon as he finds out that there had been breaches of discipline. It is his obligation to ensure order and discipline.



“The commander must use all available means to follow the discipline of the troops. It is important to send regular reports in the vertical chain of command, meaning that information must flow upward from below.



“The commander is also responsible for undertaking regular, active steps with his subordinates to ensure that they effectively try to ensure discipline.”



Cross-examined by defence counsel Gregor Guy-Smith, the witness confirmed that his report was a “largely generalised” account.



“I didn't dwell much on concrete issues related to this cases and the indictment against General Perisic,” Melvin said. “I did not want in any way to define the command principles and system of the former Yugoslav army as I didn’t have the time to write a longer detailed expert report on that issue. Had I had the time, I would be able to claim that my report speaks relevantly of this army, too.”



The defence counsel thus put forward an objection against including Melvin’s report into evidence, arguing that Melvin had been asked by the chamber to create an expert report regarding the relations between the armies of Yugoslavia, Republika Srpska and Krajina, as well the competences of Perisic in relation to these forces.



“We consider this document not to be worthy of introduction onto the record of evidence, and of no assistance to the clarification of the status of the individual armies mentioned,” the defence continued.



The objection was, however, overruled.



Asked by presiding judge Bankone Moloto as to how far the report was applicable in the Perisic trial, Melvin answered that he thought “certain aspects of his expertise to be certainly applicable” to the case. He went on to clarify that this particularly related to issues of the concept of command and control in multinational forces.



The trial continues on November 2.



Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.