Srebrenica Trial Date Brought Forward

Judge sets July date for Hague’s biggest trial, but concedes that it will only get under way properly in August.

Srebrenica Trial Date Brought Forward

Judge sets July date for Hague’s biggest trial, but concedes that it will only get under way properly in August.

The biggest trial the Hague tribunal has ever conducted, in which nine men will stand accused of responsibility for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, has had its formal start date set for July 14, more than a month earlier than the August date mentioned at the last status conference held in April.

Judge Carmel Agius set the date last week at the latest status conference on the trial. But he acknowledged that “nothing will happen” on July 14, because the prosecution will not be ready to give its opening statement until 20 August, leaving a two weeks empty on the tribunal’s schedule after the summer break. The judge suggested that there may be important housekeeping matters to be discussed during that period.

The accused - Ljubisa Beara, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Milan Gvero, Radivoje Miletic, Drago Nikolic, Vinko Pandurevic, Vujadin Popovic, Zdravko Tolimir and Milorad Trbic - were all senior Bosnian Serb police and army officers at the time of the killings in July 1995.

Two of the defendants - Miletic and Gvero - were not present in court because they have been allowed to return to home on provisional release. Tolimir is still on the run.

Judge Agius made it clear that he wanted the full panel of judges hearing the case to be in place before the summer recess, which begins on July 16. The panel will include two temporary or “ad litem” judges, one of whom will join Agius and the other permanent judge, Judge O-gon Kwon, on the bench, while the second will act as a reserve.

The judge told the parties that he wanted to get the trial moving because other proceedings were in the pipeline and the later this one started, the longer others would have to wait.

But he stressed, “I want to make it clear that the completion strategy is not at the back of my mind”, referring to the pressure the tribunal is under from the United Nations Security Council to wind up its trials and appeals by 2010.

Judge Agius also confirmed that he expected to produce decisions soon on a number of important motions relating to the case. The most important of these is whether the prosecutor’s latest proposed amendments to the indictment will be accepted.

As expected, several of the defence teams have argued strongly against the prosecution’s attempt to remove a legal concept known as “direct or indirect co-perpetratorship” from the indictment and replace it with the more usual “joint criminal enterprise”.

This request followed a decision by the tribunal’s appeals chamber which threw out all references to co-perpetratorship in the case of Milomir Stakic, a senior Bosnian Serb official, who was found responsible for crimes against humanity in Prijedor.

The defence in the Srebrenica case say that allegations of joint criminal enterprise have to be supported by evidence of an agreement between the alleged participants. They say the prosecution is trying to present the same arguments under a different name.

The prosecution has cited previous tribunal decisions to argue vehemently that no such agreement is necessary.

In acknowledgment of the importance of the issue, Judge Agius reassured all parties that this issue was something the judges were actively working on, and was “not something we’ve shelved”.

He also confirmed that the judges would also be providing an answer to the defence request that all major documents be translated into Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, BCS, for the use of the indictees.

The prosecution acknowledged that at least 30 of the statements it has disclosed to the defence still need to be translated into BCS, and that it was using translators from its own and other investigation teams to help get all the material ready. The judge gave the prosecution a three week deadline to get all the translations finished.

Another issue that needs to be decided is that in part of the indictment which charges the accused with conspiracy to commit genocide, Borovcanin’s name has apparently been left out by mistake.

The judge asked the prosecution to start preparing a chart linking various pieces of evidence to the individual allegations. Such a chart was first used a few months ago in the final preparations for the case against six Bosnian Croats for crimes against humanity.

Judge Agius made it clear that he was in favour of such an approach and that he understood that the Association for Defence Counsel, which represents many of the defence lawyers at the tribunal, was also supportive of such aids.

The prosecution did not commit themselves to producing a chart, saying they had only just completed their lists of exhibits. This drew a concerned response from Nikolic’s defence lawyer Stephan Bourgon, who wondered why the prosecution was still collecting statements more than ten years after it first began investigating events at Srebrenica.

He called on the judge to be “quite firm” about requiring the prosecution to draw a line in providing new evidence.

Judge Agius confirmed that at the start of the case, he would set a deadline for the prosecution to conclude its case, and that he would make similar provisions for the defence.

Finally, one of the accused, Trbic, a former officer with the Bosnian Serb army, raised the question of his own potential transfer to face trial in Bosnia. The prosecutor has recently filed a motion asking for his case to be passed to Bosnia under a rule that allows low and middle ranking cases to be tried locally.

In statements to the prosecution and testimony in previous trials, Trbic has already implicated several of his fellow officers in crimes at Srebrenica, according to documents provided by the prosecution last year.

In recent weeks, the Office of the Prosecutor has confirmed that if Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic arrives in The Hague in time, it would want to join his case to that of the other Srebrenica indictees in this case.

Janet Anderson is the director of IWPR’s International Justice Programme in The Hague.
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