Serb General Milosevic Appeals

He seeks acquittal on all charges while prosecution calls for life sentence.

Serb General Milosevic Appeals

He seeks acquittal on all charges while prosecution calls for life sentence.

Bosnian Serb general Dragomir Milosevic tried to have his conviction for his part in the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo quashed at the Hague war crimes tribunal this week while prosecutors sought a life sentence.



Both sides are appealing against a judgement given on December 12, 2007, that Milosevic was guilty of terror, murder and inhuman acts. Now aged 67, Milosevic was sentenced to 33 years in prison. Prosecutors are calling for a sentence of life imprisonment while the defence seeks an acquittal on all counts.



The court found that between August 1994 and November 1995, the Bosnian Serb Sarajevo Romanija Corps, SRK, under Milosevic’s command, was responsible for continuous sniping and shelling in Sarajevo.



The judgement said throughout this period, Milosevic ordered the targeting of civilians in Bosnia’s capital, resulting in thousands of deaths and a climate of extreme fear and insecurity. An estimated 10,000 civilians were killed and nearly 50,000 were wounded as a result of the siege.



In its submission, which puts 12 grounds for appeal, Milosevic’s defence team argues that trial judges wrongly applied the law on the crimes of terror, murder, and inhuman acts.



The defence also alleges that the court failed to establish essential elements of crimes beyond reasonable doubt, and also included in the judgement incorrect factual findings that areas of Sarajevo were “civilian zones” and that the SRK was behind specific sniper and artillery fire.



The prosecution, meanwhile, is appealing against what it calls the “manifestly inadequate sentence”.



During this week’s hearings, presiding judge Fausto Pocar asked prosecution and defence attorneys to clarify parts of their submissions.



The defence began its oral arguments by focusing on Sarajevo’s wartime status, arguing that the judgement provided insufficient evidence to support the judges’ conclusion that at the time of the siege, Sarajevo was a “civilian zone”.



In challenging this conclusion, it was seeking to show that SRK attacks could not be considered to be targeting the civilian population.



To support its argument, the defence highlighted testimony and evidence during the trial which, it argues, demonstrates that areas of Sarajevo were under the control of the Army of Bosnia and Hercegovina, ABiH, at the relevant time.



According to the defence, the trial chamber erred in its judgement because it did not adequately take into consideration the “large number of regular soldiers of the ABiH who were constantly present in [Sarajevo]”.



Trial judges also erroneously concluded that the Bosnian police didn’t play a supporting role in military operations, the defence claims.



Defence lawyers also argued that mortars were deployed throughout Sarajevo by the ABiH, including in the vicinity of United Nations headquarters, making it extremely difficult for the Serbs to return fire.



“Can such an area, with such activities, be qualified as a civilian zone?” defence attorney Branislav Tapuskovic asked.



Judge Pocar sought further explanation.



“When a civilian city is under attack and uses armed military forces to defend [itself], does it lose, thereby, its civilian character and become a military objective? And in what situation or constellation of forces would an essentially civilian city retain its civilian status while using armed forces defensively?” he asked.



In response, the defence said that beginning in late 1994, Sarajevo was no longer a civilian area. During this time, “there was not a house to be found that did not have weapons”, Tapuskovic said. “Every house was a military target,” he added.



To counter this, the prosecution said that international humanitarian law does not refer to military and civilian “zones”.



“What the law states is that civilians and civilian objects cannot be directly, indiscriminately, or disproportionately targeted. The presence of military objectives in an area does not change this… A civilian population can never become a military target,” prosecution attorney Paul Rogers said.



Later in the hearing, the defence said it disagreed with the trial chamber’s view “that the infliction of terror could serve as the evidence of the intent to terrorise”.



Pointing to the commission of a crime in order to establish intent “is reversing the entire philosophy of criminal law”, argued the defence.



However, the prosecution said close attention should be paid to the treatment of the crime of terror in the appeals judgement in the case of Stanislav Galic. As the commander of the SRK before Milosevic, Galic was sentenced by the Hague tribunal to life imprisonment on appeal in 2006.



“The Galic appeals judgement explains that acts or threats of violence constitute the actus reus [the guilty act] of the crime of terror… but does not find that [those] acts or threats of violence must result in death or serious injury to civilians,” the prosecution said.



The last submission of the defence concerned Milosevic’s alibi at the time of the Markale market shelling, which killed or injured dozens of people and is widely considered to be one of the worst incidents of the siege.



Tapuskovic argued that Milosevic should not be held responsible for this attack, even if the shells were fired from SRK positions, because he was in Belgrade at the time undergoing eye surgery.



The prosecution contends that the court failed to consider “the magnitude of these crimes, their cruelty and brutality, their effect on the entire population of Sarajevo for 14 months, Milosevic’s leading role, and his abuse of a high position of authority”. These factors, according to the prosecution, merit a life sentence.



At the conclusion of the appeal hearing, Milosevic briefly took the floor to say a few words in his own defence, asserting that the situation the SRK found itself in “was even worse than hell”.



He also expressed regret for the number of people who were wounded and killed.



“I feel this deeply in my soul,” he said, and committed his “full readiness to pray on the graves of those who were killed and to pray for the fate of seriously disabled persons”.



The date of the appeal judgement has not yet been set.



Andrew W Maki is an IWPR contributor.
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