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Tolimir Will Not Stand Trial With Srebrenica Seven

Judges said it would not be in the interest of justice to try Tolimir together with seven other officials charged with crimes in Srebrenica.
By Lisa Clifford
Tribunal judges hearing the case against Bosnian Serb military and police officials accused of crimes in Srebrenica have denied a prosecution request to join their trial with that of the recently captured Zdravko Tolimir.

The former assistant commander for intelligence and security of the Bosnian Serb army, VRS, was arrested on the border between Serbia and Republika Srpska, RS, on May 31 and sent to The Hague the following day.

He was supposed to stand trial with Vujadin Popović, Ljubiša Beara, Drago Nikolić, Ljubomir Borovčanin, Radivoje Miletić, Milan Gvero and Vinko Pandurević but was still on the run when their trial started in July, 2006.

Tolimir’s indictment, which includes allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, murder and extermination, was separated from the others in August 2006.

Following his arrest, prosecutors moved to have the cases rejoined.

But the judges have said no, citing concerns that trying all eight accused together would affect their rights to a fair trial.

“The trial chamber concludes that any possible advantages resulting from joinder does not outweigh the adverse affect that it would have on the rights of Tolimir as well as on the accused in the Popovic case in that it will unduly prolong the length of the trial,” the judges wrote in their decision

Prosecutors had proposed a four to five month delay to allow both sides to prepare, saying that would “pale in comparison” to the time needed to conduct separate trials. Tolimir’s trial is expected to last at least one year.

They said a substantial portion of the evidence in both cases is the same and that joining the cases would minimise duplication.

If the cases were separated, witnesses common to both would have to be recalled, they said, a waste of scarce resources and traumatic for those involved. If the joinder was granted, Tolimir’s lawyer would be free to recall any witnesses necessary to his defence, said the prosecutors.

Both Tolimir and Nikolić opposed the idea of joining the cases, while the others took no position.

Nikolic cited his right to be tried without undue holdup, saying the delay “could easily slip to more than 12 months”. He was also afraid that the court would not allocate enough money to pay his lawyer during the adjournment.

Tolimir - still without a permanent lawyer - was also concerned that joining the trials would prolong the case against him. He mentioned his poor health and said separate cases and proceedings would allow him adequate time to prepare.

The judges accepted that argument, pointing out that given the gravity of the charges and the complexity of the case “Tolimir will need considerable time for the preparation of his defence”.

Like Nikolic, they questioned the prosecutions’ estimate of a four or five month break in the trial, citing possible delays due to Tolimir’s health which “may further affect the rights of the accused to a fair and expeditious trial”.

“The trial chamber is not convinced that a joint trial would take less time than two separate ones nor that it would be in the interest of judicial economy to try the accused together,” concluded the judges.

Lisa Clifford is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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