ICTY Prosecution creates contemptible deplorable hiatus in Ratko Mladic genocide hearing

Ratko Mladic – Photo: Serge Ligtenberg/Getty Images


No system of justice is perfect, but in a case such as the ICTY case against Serb Ratko Mladic for Srebrenica genocide (1995) and other atrocities of war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Balkans War of 1990’s the prosecution’s adherence to rules of evidence (including disclosure) must be water tight and without errors, advertent or inadvertent.

The calamity that ensued in ICTY court on Thursday 17 May cannot be called an error, not even a monumental error, but a willful misconduct by the prosecution to favour the accused (or the Greater Serbia cause) and perhaps to even avoid “too much attention” on the UN Dutch peace-keepers in Srebrenica at the time who had been criticised for fatally contributing to the Srebrenica tragedy.

Certainly, had the ICTY prosecution kept its sights on the victims of genocide, as its supposed to, then the contemptible episode at ICTY on May 17 would not have occurred and Mladic’s hearing would have proceeded as scheduled. With the plans to shut down the ICTY in 2014 one wonders whether ICTY planned to finish the work it started, whether it plans to still or whether it’ll simply transfer unfinished cases to non-UN courts, to dark underground of memory loss, or what?

Justice for the victims of Srebrenica genocide and their families is once again on hold.

Ratko Mladic’s war crimes trial was suspended in only its second day, after it came to light that the prosecution had failed to disclose some evidence against Mladic to the defense as required. It’s not clear how long the hiatus will last.

According to UK Daily Telegraph, “court officials estimate that ‘millions of pages’ contained in ‘tens of thousands of documents’ were not disclosed to the defence as required under the UN court’s rules.

The deadline for disclosure was last November and despite complaints from the defence in February, the UN prosecutors had failed to hand over the documents by last Friday.

The case files relate to the first 24 witnesses that the prosecution had hoped to call between 29 May and July, when the court goes into recess.

The presiding judge Alphons Orie at the UN trial of Ratko Mladic said he was indefinitely delaying the presentation of evidence that had been scheduled to start later this month due to ‘significant disclosure errors’ by prosecutors in disclosing evidence to defence lawyers”.

The case got off to an incendiary start on Wednesday May 16 when Mladic, dubbed the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’, was warned after making a throat-slitting gesture towards the families of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre.

On Thursday May 17 he sat back, smiled and applauded as the court was shown footage of him haranguing UN peacekeepers and urging on his troops on the eve of Europe’s worst massacre since the Holocaust.

The video showed Mladic swaggering through the deserted streets of Srebrenica town centre after its residents had fled his troops’ advance in blind panic… ‘Go to Potocari,’ he shouts. ‘Straight to Bratunac.’ These were the killing grounds where thousands of Muslim prisoners would be butchered in the coming days.”

The adjournment was not a surprise reports The Daily Telegraph: “The delay was expected, after Mladic’s legal team had already tried to force the postponement of the trial on the same grounds. Prosecutors have admitted the errors, without yet providing an explanation, and did not object to the delay in the presentation of evidence.

Mladic faces 11 charges of war crimes, including genocide for the murder of 7,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, who were machine-gunned and bulldozed into mass graves in July 1995”.

Allan Little of BBC reports: “It has been an embarrassing day for international justice. As grieving relatives sat through the chilling detail of the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II, it emerged that the prosecution had failed to disclose thousands of pages of evidence that should have been shared with the defence”.

“Grieving” is not the right word to describe the relatives of genocide victims at the hearing. Words, in fact, fail to describe the pain and torture inflicted by the prosecution upon the families of the genocide victims who sat in the ICTY court as the suspension of Mladic’s hearing was announced.

It cannot be accepted that prosecution made an error, because a procedural error of this magnitude cannot be accidental or inadvertent. It cannot simply be called an error because that’s the acceptable language used in courts and gravity of such a word is not what this case requires.  It must be seen as purposeful and calculating behaviour, suggestive of deviant character, and political scheming by staff involved in the prosecutor’s office.

The same judge, Alphons Orie, was the judge at the trial of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac and the bias he showed in that trial towards the prosecution evidence is staggering, especially when compared to Ratko Mladic case. In the latter he suspends the hearing indefinitely for prosecution’s failure to produce evidence and in the case against Croatian generals he did not even bother directing the court that witness statements regarding  “bodies” alleged lying in the streets of Knin during Operation Storm must be tested in order to remove doubt, in order to reach the truth whether in fact there were civilian casualties. Of course, there were none, but he chose to leave that detail out as a matter of proven fact.

Orie should not have suspended the Mladic trial indefinitely – surely appraising the meaning of the prosecution’s rotten stunt in terms of rules of evidence is not a matter that takes “indefinite” time for such senior “legal eagles”! Also, Miladic’s defence team would require time to digest the new evidence, but that too can be limited to reasonable a time-frame.

Perhaps the fact that Orie is of Dutch extraction and the Dutch UN forces fatally affected the “success” of Srebrenica genocide might have some influence on the way things pan out at the Mladic trial. Certainly, given the whole circumstances in 1995 Srebrenica and current trial at ICTY one would have thought that a judge, no matter how fair he might be, of Dutch extraction should not be presiding over this genocide hearing and possibility of apprehended bias would surely cross the minds of victims involved?

The ICTY prosecutor’s office could possibly redeem itself from this cruel misconduct to some extent by adding new war crimes to Mladic’s charges, viz. those in relation to war crimes he was a participating perpetrator in Croatia. He perfected his war crimes “skills” in the genocide of Skabrnje (some 100 civilians massacred, November 1991 – February 1992). Although he has been convicted and sentenced to 20 years prison in Croatia, in absentia, he will never serve this sentence so at least, the ICTY prosecutor would do well if genocide in Croatia is also added to Mladic’s miserable criminal existence on international record. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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