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

An Unusual Initial Appearance

Tribunal Update 64: Last Week in The Hague (February 16-21, 1998)

Nonetheless, the proceedings got off to a familiar start when both accused, as announced beforehand, pleaded "not guilty" to all counts of the indictment. Out of the more than two dozen accused who have undergone the initial appearance procedure, only one (Drazen Erdemovic) has admitted his guilt.

Milan Simic (38) and Miroslav Tadic (60) were indicted on 21 July 1995, along with four other individuals who are still at large (one of whom may surrender this week), for their alleged involvement in the 1992 "campaign of terror" undertaken by Serb military and paramilitary forces against the Bosnian Croat and Muslim population of the municipality of Bosanski Samac, at the northeastern edge of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The outcome of that campaign is summed up in the first count of the indictment: out of 17,000 Croats and Muslims who lived in the municipality of Bosanski Samac (the total population of about 33,000) on the eve of the war, less than 300 remained there at the time the indictment was issued.

The others have been killed or "ethnically cleansed" from the part of Bosnia which was of great strategic importance to the Bosnian Serbs, and which lies in the famous "Posavina Corridor" - the land bridge between eastern and western parts of Republika Srpska.

According to the indictment, Miroslav Tadic's role was that of Chairman of the Bosanski Samac "Exchange Commission". In this capacity, he is accused of having "participated in the planing and preparation of the unlawful deportation and forcible transfer of hundreds of Bosnian Croat and Muslim residents, including women, children and elderly, from their homes in the Bosanski Samac municipality to other countries or to other parts of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina not controlled by Serb forces."

The "Exchange Commissions" were set up in order to create a semblance of legality for ethnic cleansing: the non-Serb population was not "expelled", but "voluntarily and humanely exchanged", normally after signing a document in which they "voluntarily" gave up their houses, flats, land and other property, which they could not or were not allowed to take along with themselves in the "exchange", i.e. exile. Tadic has been charged with a Grave breach of the Geneva Conventions (unlawful deportation and transfer) and with Crimes against humanity (deportation).

The other defendant, Milan Simic, is accused of having, together with several others, maltreated a detained Bosnian Muslim, Muhamed Bicic, in June 1992- "beating him repeatedly with iron bars and chair legs." By these actions, according to the Prosecutor, Simic "committed or otherwise aided and abetted": a Grave breach of the Geneva Conventions (willfully causing great suffering); a Violation of the laws or customs of war (cruel treatment) and a Crime against humanity (inhumane acts).

After their initial pleas, the accused suddenly, and most unexpectedly, expressed their infinite gratitude firstly to US diplomats and the members of NATO "who made it possible for us to come here without any coercion"; then to the Dutch police who waited for them at the airport; to the personnel of the Detention Unit, the UN guards and the entire staff of the Tribunal "whose correct treatment was a pleasant surprise."

Miroslav Tadic particularly thanked the drivers and the guards of the UN who, on the way to the Detention Unit, drove them through the city which he "liked a lot". He then announced that he would seek asylum from the Dutch authorities when the Tribunal releases him!

It was the first time that the accused thanked someone before the Tribunal: in a situation when they are asked to plead guilty or not guilty on the counts of the indictment they are usually very nervous, bad-tempered and ill-disposed towards everyone. The first appearance of Simic and Tadic was even more unusual owing to a contribution by Prosecutor Nancy Patterson.

She informed the Court that the Prosecution will "view favourably" the possible request by the Defence for the provisional release of the accused Simic. She added that the Prosecution's position on the issue is inspired exclusively by the medical condition of the accused, since both the Detention Unit and the Court itself lack adequate conditions for the stay of a person in a wheel chair.

Another surprise followed: thanking the "prosecution's disposition" with undisguised note of cynicism, Simic's defender, Belgrade lawyer, Igor Pantelic, said that the Defence deems that it is "at this moment too early to submit such a request". As Patterson responded that she will not submit it either, Simic will continue to stay in the Detention Unit in Sheveningen in spite of the Prosecution's favourable "disposition".

The capacity of that unit is almost filled: 22 out 24 cells are occupied. It has been announced at the Tribunal last week that there is no reason for concern about insufficient detention facilities.

Provisions have already been made by the Registry "in case the number of prisoners exceeds the number of cells", and measures have been taken in order to increase the capacity of the ICTY's Detention Unit.

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