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

Prosecutors Appeal Halilovic Acquittal

By Rebekah Heil in London (TU No 510, 13-July-07)
Prosecutors this week asked the Hague tribunal’s appeals chamber to reverse the acquittal of the former chief of staff of the Bosnian army, saying he was in control of the troops that murdered 33 people in Grabovica in 1993.

Peter Kremer told the appeal hearing of Sefer Halilovic that trial judges had placed too much importance on evidence about Halilovic’s formal title.

Halilovic was acquitted in November 2005 of charges of murder and violations of the laws and customs of war.

Prosecutors had alleged that Halilovic was in charge of the September 1993 Operation Neretva in the villages of Grabovica and Uzdol where Bosnian Croat civilians were murdered, and that he knew about their deaths

Trial judges found the murders had happened but said the prosecution’s evidence was not sufficient to prove Halilovic’s role as a commander of the operation.

Kremer said this week that the trial chamber erred, because although it accepted orders had been given by Halilovic, it did not acknowledge them as proof of his command role.

Since Halilovic gave orders that were followed by subordinates, that showed that he was in command regardless of his actual title, argued Kremer.

He said that although Halilovic operated outside the formal command structure, he gave orders that were followed by other troops.

“All of the facts point to the conclusion that he was in command. What the trial chamber did is they turned the facts on their head by looking for formal commands,” he said.

“He had all of the trappings of a commander, but he doesn’t have the title. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t in charge.”

The prosecution concluded by asking judges to find Halilovic responsible for failing to prevent the murders and failing to punish his subordinates after the crime was committed.

Halilovic’s lawyer Peter Morrissey argued that Halilovic had no real control over the troops who committed the murder and suggested prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

“It was a failure of evidence, not a failure of focus by the trial chamber,” he said.

Rebekah Heil is an IWPR reporter in London.