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

Will Tolimir Stand Trial With Srebrenica Seven?

Prosecutors warn Tolimir’s trial would not start before 2009 unless his case is joined with the on-going trial of seven high-ranking Bosnian Serb officials.
By Lisa Clifford
Judges hearing the case against Bosnian Serb military and police officials accused of crimes in Srebrenica have refused a defence request that the case be put on hold pending a decision on the trial of Zdravko Tolimir.



Tolimir – the former assistant commander for intelligence and security of the Bosnian Serb army, VRS – is now in The Hague’s detention unit, after being arrested on the border between Serbia and Republika Srpska, RS two weeks ago.



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 last July.



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



Following his May 31 arrest, prosecutors moved to have the cases rejoined.



Judges, however, have yet to make that decision, as Tolimir – one of the tribunal’s most wanted men who prosecutors say reported directly to war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic – has not appointed a defence lawyer yet.



Stephane Bourgon, who represents the former chief of security of the Zvornik Brigade’s Nikolic, told the court on June 13 that the prosecution case should stop until the decision on joining the cases is made.



“Proceeding in [Tolimir’s] absence amounts to a trial in absentia,” said Bourgon, pointing out that upcoming witnesses were scheduled to testify about the “acts and conduct” of Tolimir.



The judges decided, however, that witnesses’ testimonies could continue until the end of the month, though Judge Carmel Agius urged that a decision on joining the cases be made as soon as possible.



The seven – now eight – accused are all high-ranking officials from the Bosnian Serb army and the military police and are alleged to be among the most responsible for the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were summarily executed.



They all face charges for two separate but connected plans: one to “force the Muslim population from the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves” and the second “to murder all the able-bodied men captured from the Srebrenica enclave”.



Should the trials be joined, prosecutors have asked for a four to five month delay to ensure both sides are properly prepared.



Miletic’s lawyer Natacha Fauveau Ivanovic told the court that a long delay could cause financial problems for the defence. She expressed concern that lawyers for the accused would not be paid during the adjournment – affecting their client’s right to a fair trial.



Prosecutor Peter McCloskey said he shares defence concerns about financing, saying any postponement of the trial would mean more work for lawyers on both sides, not less.



In asking that the cases be joined, prosecutors point out that the additional four to five months required pales in comparison to the time needed to conduct separate cases.



They say a trial for Tolimir alone would take at least one year to complete and would be unlikely to start before 2009, “at which point the very existence of the tribunal itself is unclear”. All Hague trials are supposed to be completed by 2008 and all appeals by 2010.



If a separate trial is held, the vast majority of witnesses who’ve already testified in the Popovic case would have to be recalled, prosecutors say. This would create trauma and hardship for people who, in some cases, have already testified several times before the tribunal and would be a poor use of resources, according to prosecutors.



They point out a substantial portion of the evidence in both cases is the same and say that Tolimir’s lawyer would be free to recall any witnesses necessary for his defence. “Numerous witnesses common to both cases remain to be called,” said prosecutors.



The trial continues next week.



Lisa Clifford is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.