Preparations for Epic Srebrenica Trial

New courtroom development will enable defendants to be tried jointly.

Preparations for Epic Srebrenica Trial

New courtroom development will enable defendants to be tried jointly.

Six out of a total of eight men currently awaiting trial for their alleged roles in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre pleaded not guilty this week at a status conference to a new joint indictment, which will allow them all to be placed on trial together.

The accused in what will be the largest trial ever before the Hague tribunal - Ljubisa Beara, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Milan Gvero, Radivoje Miletic, Drago Nikolic, Vinko Pandurevic, Vujadin Popovic, and Milorad Trbic - were all senior Bosnian Serb police and army officers at the time of the atrocity.

The two who were not present in court - Miletic and Gvero - have been allowed to return to their homes on provisional release.

If the judges authorise a prosecution request currently under consideration to make further alterations to the indictment, the eight can expect to return to court again to repeat their pleas.

All of the men involved in the case are accused of taking part in a conspiracy “to force the Muslim population out of the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves to areas outside the control of the [Republika Srpska]”.

Six of them - Beara, Borovcanin, Nikolic, Pandurevic, Popovic, and Trbic - are further alleged to have taken part in a joint effort to kill able-bodied Muslim prisoners, and face genocide charges as a result.

At least 8,000 Muslim men and boys are thought to have been murdered after the UN safe area around Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serb forces.

This is the first time that the accused, who were initially charged under a series of separate and joint indictments, have been asked to enter pleas on the joint charge sheet, which was first published in November.

The further amendments that prosecutors hope to make include adding Borovcanin’s name - apparently missed out by mistake - to the list of those charged with conspiracy to commit genocide.

Another proposed change relates to a recent appeals chamber decision which rubbished the use at the tribunal of a legalistic concept known as “direct or indirect co-perpetratorship”. The judges hearing the appeal in the case of Milomir Stakic, a senior Bosnian Serb official responsible for crimes against humanity in Prijedor, decided that it wasn’t a mode of criminal liability that should be used at the tribunal.

The prosecution therefore wants to excise references to it from the Srebrenica indictment and replace it with the less controversial concept of “joint criminal enterprise”.

Sources close to the defence teams confirmed to IWPR that this move would have “significant legal implications” and that they planned to file a formal objection to any such changes. They have been given until April 12 to do so, after which the prosecution will have a week to reply.

Before asking each of the accused to plead to the current indictment this week, Judge Carmel Agius explained the differences between the previous charge sheets against each of the men and the new indictment which they now face together.

The main changes involved removing charges of complicity to commit genocide, instead of which six of the accused are now charged with conspiracy to commit genocide.

All of the defendants are now also explicitly charged in connection with the separation of Srebrenica’s male residents from the women and children, and with bussing the males to the sites where they would eventually be executed. In addition, all the defendants now all face charges in relation to deportations at Zepa - another UN protected enclave south of Srebrenica.

Borovcanin refused to plead to a count against him which included the error where his name had been missed out. Judge Agius gave him another 30 days to do so.

The remaining accused who were present pleaded not guilty to all the eight counts.

The judge also said that he would like to organise a pre-trial conference to start on August 28 and for an opening statement by the prosecution to get underway a week later. He promised the defence teams that they would then have “a further breathing space”. This assurance appeared to relate to an issue that had been discussed in private session, and for which no further public explanation was given.

The defence teams, jointly represented by Stephan Bourgon, who is acting for Drago Nikolic, said that they could only be ready by November 1, and that an earlier date would cause potential delays later.

Bourgon also mentioned that if the prosecutor requested a “further person be joined” to the trial between now and the beginning of the procedure, that could have “consequences” for the amount of time needed for preparation.

The current indictment includes another senior Bosnian Serb army officer, Zdravko Tolimir. He remains on the run.

One of the tribunal’s most wanted indictees - Bosnian Serb war time general Ratko Mladic - also faces charges in relation to the events at Srebrenica and Zepa if and when he arrives in The Hague.

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