((reprinted from Serbia Bulletin))

Serbia Bulletin - November 96

The Hague Tribunal - the Tadic Case

The debates by international law specialists concerning the right of
establishment and validity of the grounds therefor, and the statute of
the International Tribunal for Crimes Committed in the Former
Yugoslavia have been going on since the emergence of the idea of
establishing a tribunal which would be competent only for the crimes
committed in the war in the Balkans (and then also in Rwanda). The
existence of grounds for its establishment in international law is
disputed and words of criticism are addressed to the vagueness and
inconsistency of its procedure, not to mention the political influence
on its proceedings.

The so far the longest and occasionally heated trial of Dusko Tadic, a
Serb from a place near Prijedor (Bosnia and Herzegovina), shows that
the criticism addressed to the court procedure - the vagueness
regarding the procedural law under which the process is conducted and
the elements necessary for somebody to be found guilty, the vagueness
of the indictment and the non-existence of a jury - is completely

However, in late October 1996, the Tadic trial experienced an
unexpected quake, which according to the prosecutor from Australia,
Niyman, has jeopardised "the very survival of the Tribunal for Crimes
Committed in the Former Yugoslavia and the effort of the entire
international community to have the indicted criminals brought to
justice". Namely, the chief witness for the prosecution, Dragan Opacic,
who is better known in the Hague as Witness "L", admitted that he had
lied under oath about the crimes Tadic had allegedly committed in the
Trnopolje detention camp. On 25 October, the investigator Robert Reid
stated that "the authorities in Sarajevo had coerced Opacic into giving
false testimony against Dusan Tadic, a Bosnian Serb accused of
committing crimes against the Muslims and Croats in the early phase of
the Bosnian conflict". Opacic admitted to his investigator that the
Bosnian authorities had been "processing" him even for more than seven
hours daily, instructing him in what to say, i.e., what lies to tell,
in giving testimony against Tadic. Robert Reid disclosed his own
impression: "Opacic told me that he would have been liquidated had he
rejected their offer. I understood that a threat of murder was
involved, although I don't want to go here into the Bosnian
government's motivation for sending false witnesses to the Hague".

In giving his testimony, Dragan Opacic described in great detail the
crimes allegedly committed in the Trnopolje detention camp by Tadic or
on his orders or in his presence.

The Hague Tribunal Prosecutor instituted an investigation against the
authorities of Bosnia & Herzegovina because of Opacic's assertions.
Sarajevo's full and urgent co-operation was requested towards the
clarification of the whole case.

Evidently, the Muslim authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina have
demonstrated in this case, too, how much they are inclined to the
principle "that the end justifies the means", if it can win political
propaganda points for them. Although the war in Bosnia & Herzegovina
was basically a civil one, in which the death toll was paid by all
parties involved, the prevailing opinion in the world is that the Serbs
alone carry the blame for it and that it is their crime. Such an
opinion was formed largely also thanks to the media manipulations
carried out by the Muslim leadership which presented its own people as
the sole war victims in Bosnia and the Serbian side as the sole
culprit. It was to that end that the Sarajevo authorities resorted to
the shelling and killing of their own people, imputing their own
attacks on international forces to the Serbs or rigging bloody events
with a view to making a desired impression on the international public.
Suffice it to recollect that many world media reported the shelling of
a bread queue in Vaso Miskin Street (Sarajevo), when 16 people were
killed (after which the UN sanctions were imposed on the FR of
Yugoslavia although it had nothing to do with that), the two explosions
in the Markale market with 67 and 38 victims respectively (after which
the Serbs were bombed by NATO), the attacks on the Italian aircraft and
the murder of the journalist David Caplan, the alleged cannibalism
practised by the Muslims in Zepa because of the Serbian blockade or the
implantation of dog foetuses into pregnant Muslim women by Serbian

All of these incidents were imputed to the Serbs and they served
towards getting the world media and governments to lash out at the
Serbs. It was only after a considerable time that the attending
observers, international intermediaries (including the British diplomat
David Owen, American military officers, UNPROFOR officers and advisors
to Western governments) or journalists claimed that each of such acts
or stories originated from the Muslim authorities. However, such
admissions were always belated and they had little media coverage.

Is Tadic guilty and if so, of what?

The verdict in Dusan Tadic's case will be rendered early in 1997.

It remains to be seen how much the admitted manipulations in the
testimony of the chief witness will affect the verdict or perhaps even
the proceedings of the Tribunal itself. Following the false witness'
admission, the prosecution continued to accuse Tadic of the crimes he
had allegedly committed in the Omarska and Keraterm detention camps.
The false witness is kept in detention with the possibility of being
sentenced to a prison term by the Tribunal for giving false testimony.

Is the Tribunal a legal or political institution?

Some jurists or journalists specialising in court-reporting claim that
the Hague Tribunal is not politically independent. Namely, if states
such as the USA, Malaysia, Pakistan or Vatican cover a large portion
of the costs incurred in the course of two years of the Tribunal's
operation (a hundred or so million dollars), can one expect of the
Tribunal to have no political motivations? If twenty or so FBI men are
conducting the investigation, can one expect that American interests
in the Yugoslav crisis won't be expressed also through their work?
They illustrated it also by the fact that in the first year of
operation, indictments were presented against 47 Serbs for crimes
committed in the civil war in Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia, and
several against Croats, though for crimes committed against the Muslim
population, while not a single Muslim was indicted in that year.

Milan Martic, the former president of the Republic of Serb Krajina,
some parts of which were taken by the Croatian armed forces in May and
August 1995, was indicted in connection with seven Croatian victims,
while not a single Croatian official or officer was indicted for the
thousands of Serbs killed during the attack on the Serbian territories
in Croatia. On 3 May 1995, while the Croatian assault against Western
Slavonia was in progress, Martic ordered some military targets in
Zagreb to be rocketed as a deterrent to further assaults, in
consequence of which also seven people were killed (interestingly
enough, the names of these victims weren't mentioned in the indictment
presented against Martic!). Croatian units attacked towns and villages
in Western Slavonia in the morning of 1 May. Large columns of
civilians in motor cars and other vehicles were fleeing towards Bosnia
for the purpose of seeking shelter from the Croatian assaults. On the
road from Okucani (Western Slavonia) to Stara Gradiska (on the Bosnian
side of the River Sava), these columns were shelled and bombed by
Croatian artillery and aircraft. According to eyewitness accounts,
several hundred people were killed in these attacks, while only 51
victims were named, including quite a number of children.

Moreover, more than thirty male and female inmates of the Muslim
detention camps in Eastern Herzegovina (Celebici, which used to be
visited also by the Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic, Konjic, Tarcin
and Dretelj) presented to the Hague Tribunal investigators accounts of
their ordeals and the crimes committed by their guards. So far, the
Tribunal has indicted only four torturers of the Serbs in the Celebici
camp for five murders, although eyewitnesses claimed that 18 Serbs
were killed in that camp alone.

So far, documents from the Serbian side about civilian victims have
not been taken into account sufficiently in the presentation of
indictments against the Croatian and Muslim criminals. The Tribunal
made excuses to the effect that documents are lacking and that the
Serbian side is not co-operative, although seven long reports about
Serbian victims have been presented to the United Nations and all
international organisations through the Yugoslav diplomatic channels

The Serbian side is not saying that among the Serbs there have been no
criminals who deserve to be tried and punished. However, the Serbs
want conditions to be created for such trials to be fair and be
conducted by unbiased prosecutors and judges on the basis of
high-quality legal norms...Another important issue relates to the
modification of the national legislation which doesn't allow its
citizens to be extradited, as is the case with legal systems of most
Western countries. (The issue of trying foreign mercenaries for the
war crimes committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia - in
view of the existing evidence that mercenaries from Germany, France
and Netherlands on the Croatian side had committed crimes against the
Serbs in Croatia - is also calling for the extradition of some foreign
nationals. Will these countries be prepared to extradite their
nationals to the Hague Tribunal without amending their laws and
constitutions or would they do so at all?)

Sadly enough, the chief prosecutor at the Tadic trial, Grant Niyman
from Australia, didn't concentrate only on proving Tadic's guilt, which
is the only thing he is expected to do, since he also tried to define
the character of the conflict in Yugoslavia. For this item of the
indictment presented by him, he produced a number of witnesses,
allegedly experts on the Balkans and some topics of political science,
who started their accounts from the thesis about the Serbs' primary
blame for the war in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. In
negating the basic axioms of the international law and political
theory, these select experts had to prove that the war in the former
Yugoslavia is an international conflict, because in local, internal
conflicts, it is difficult to prove war crimes, so that it was
necessary to secure the broadest and strongest possible political and
legal frames for the "definite cementing of the Serbian blame" for
everything which has been going on in the former Yugoslav republics in
the last few years.

The ambitious prosecutor's task had yet another facet: should he manage
to prove that the conflict in the territory of the former Yugoslavia
was of an international character, not a civil war, he would be able to
assert that aggressors and victims of aggression exist, which would be
a guideline also for all future trials in the Hague and for determining
all future culprits.

The Tadic trial was indicative of just one thing right from its
beginning - of a crave for Serbian guilt. The witnesses for the
prosecution presented him as a nationalist, a man who had absolutely no
friends among the Muslims even before the conflict broke out and who
played a big role in the ethnic cleansing of the place in which he
lived and elsewhere.

The defence acted as the defence of Dusan Tadic, not as that of the
Serbian people, so that one could hear only a few opinions (in the
cross-examination of expert witnesses or a small number of witnesses
for the defence) which throw a different light on the developments in
the territory of the former Yugoslavia, showing that secession and
civil war were involved, that the Yugoslav army was a federal
institution with a multi-ethnic rank and file and that international
recognition of the former Yugoslav republics was premature. James Gow,
a British historian who tried to put blame on the Serbs for the
overthrow of all monarchies in this century, didn't know the answers.
At one point, one of the judges asked Gow the following question in a
contemplative tone and with a dose of amazement: If Texas were to
secede from the USA, would the American Army be in that case the
occupier of Texas?!

A dose suited for Western taste

The witnesses for the defence were heard in Banja Luka with the means
of a direct video-link with the Hague Tribunal. Something which
besides the legal impact, should have undoubtedly produced also a
special media effect, has apparently turned into its opposite, since
the exclusive right of reporting from that "enclosed" place was
granted to COURT TV, an American TV station specialising on court

So, instead of being allowed to hear at least approximately and
authentically the witness accounts in favour of Tadic, the
international public got already "packed", "retold" and instantly
commented on "reports from the spot", transmitted through the most
diversified information network - Internet.

For the sake of comparison, the COURT TV reports from the hearing of
witnesses for the prosecution, i.e., "Tadic's victims", were broadcast
practically unabridged, in dramatic direct speech, the way the
prosecutor wanted it to be done in order to arouse the public's
emotions and form their opinion. On the other hand, the interpreted
statements without a single question put by the attorneys and answer
given by the witnesses were intended to create with the viewers and
readers the impression that there are no irrefutable facts which could
serve as an alibi for the accused Tadic.

The interpretation of the statement made by a Serb witness for the
defence, whose coded name is "Z", can serve as an example of the
practice of dual standards and a non-professional attitude reflected
by a melodramatic sympathy for the Muslim victims and an almost
scornful indifference for the Serbian victims and witnesses.

"A Serbian mechanical engineer spoke about how his family was forcibly
driven away from a district with a majority Muslim population, after
his house had been burned down. He said that 70 SERBIAN FAMILIES went
from there to Prijedor, where they were allotted Muslim houses. Dusan
Vajagic, a mechanic and fireman, told a similar story, the only
difference being in the fact that about 100 SERBIAN FAMILIES had fled
to Kozarac...".

The reporter from this part of the trial didn't highlight the Serbs'
plight and expulsion from the Muslim-controlled territories, but the
INCRIMINATING fact that the Serb refugees were allotted ethnically
cleansed, unoccupied Muslim houses..."The most important man in that
business and in village life in general, was Dusko Tadic" - concluded
the reporter!

Simonida Simonovic,

Politika ekspres, 23.10.

The defence endeavoured to show that the presented evidence is
unreliable and that the indictment must be quashed, because the
prosecutor was dwelling exclusively on non-substantiated statements of
the Muslim victims of the war in Bosnia. Tadic's attorney, Vladimiroff,
is of the opinion that the witness accounts are not sufficient grounds
for conviction and that most witnesses are Muslims who are prejudiced
against the Serbs. He tried to prove with the aid of witnesses that the
developments in the part of Bosnia associated with Tadic's indictment
had all the characteristics of a civil war - the expansion of extremist
nationalist tendencies on both sides, and as far as the guilt of Tadic
is concerned, that he is a man for whose guilt there is no reliable
evidence, despite the many though very unreliable witnesses (of the
Opacic type) and probably the Tribunal's wish to convict him.

In any case, it is surprising that the relevant international factors,
primarily those dealing with the protection of human rights, not to
mention the international media, haven't been paying more attention to
the fact that in this manhunt, it is resorted also to presentation of
false witness accounts, for the purpose of accusing also a whole
nation. Had that been done by the Serbs, not the Muslims, it is more
than certain that all international media would have attributed unheard
of proportions to it and drawn far-reaching conclusions. That is why
this case is yet another proof of the biased attitude taken not only by
the Hague Tribunal, but also by the international factors and media,
and their openly taking the side of one party to the conflict in Bosnia
& Herzegovina and in the territory of the former Yugoslavia as a whole.

Marko Djuric