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avgust 20, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eyewitness, Erdemovic

Not anxious to exhume the suspected graves, and lacking other material proof of mass executions, the tribunal turned once again to its mainstay: "Eyewitness'" testimony as "evidence." This is the most unreliable form of evidence, because it is the easiest to be manipulated and tailored to fit the desired circumstances. One need only affirm having been a witness to something. As long as the accused cannot prove the contrary - and the tribunal will not search for corroborating evidence to support the allegations, the defendent will be convicted. This turns the basic rule of "proof of a crime being with the prosecution" on its head.

When the "eyewitness" Drazen Erdemovic, came forward in March 96, asking to go the the Hague, this caused a great sensation of enthusiasm in the Hague. Erdemovic described himself, in a confession to the French daily, "Le Figaro", as a "soldier in the Bosnian Serb Army." He said that he had participated in mass executions of Muslim civilians from Srebrenica, describing in details the massacres of 1,200 people on one field of a farm in Pilice, near Janja, on the road Bjeljina- Zvornik. According to him the executioners "used 7,62mm bullets."1)

With such detailed information, one would think that the Tribunal would finally have what it would need to be able to locate and secure the necessary evidence to bring concrete charges against those who participated. They would have to simply exhume the bodies and in a forensic examination verify if they had been killed with 7,62mm bullets. That is of course, if the tribunal wanted to learn if Erdemovic was a reliable witness or giving false information out of some personal or political motivation.

In 1992, in his native Tuzla, Erdemovic "first joined HVO (The paramilitary Croatian Council of Defence), then he went over to the Serbian side. In Serbia came in contact with ABC TV- station,2) and (...) offered his story, and his testimony to Tribunal in The Hague.3)" The International Herald Tribune adds: "Mr. Erdemovic, who (...) had been an ordinary soldier, said that after a falling out with his commander in Bosnia he decided to move to Serbia and tell his story, apparently in revenge."4)

Is this a reliable witness? Is it plausible that an ex-HVO paramilitary Croatian nationalist would have joined - would have even been accepted in - the Bosnian Serb army? It has also been reported - and denied - that chief prosecutor Richard Goldstone had offered Erdemovic benefit of the "state's witness" regulation, freedom from prosecution for himself and was guaranteed a new life abroad for his valuable testimony.5)

Erdemovic came to The Hague as a witness and became himself, the defendent charged with crimes against humanity, for his role in the executions that he described.

In an article in "The Nation," Diana Johnstone described the conviction as being:

"heralded as a great "first" in establishment of global justice. [The Erdemovic] case is considered of great importance to the Tribunal since his confession of taking part in executing over a thousand Muslims after the Serb capture of Srebrenica is considered prime evidence in the Tribunal's "main event," the future trial of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. 6) She also points out the catch: However, inasmuch as he confessed to his crimes, there was no formal trial and no presentation of material evidence to corroborate his story. In any case, since he had turned "state's evidence," there would have been no rigorous cross-examination from either a contented prosecution or a complaisant defense regarding the discrepancy between the number of Muslims he testified having helped execute at a farm near Pilica -- 1,200 - and the number of bodies actually found there by the Tribunal's forensic team: about 150 to 200.7)

He was given an original ten-year sentence. Upon appeal, he changed his plea from "guilty" to a crime against Humanity, to "guilty" to a war crime. Citing among other things, "honest disposition; this is supported by his confession and consistent admission of guilt"8) his change of plea was accepted and his sentence was reduced from 10 to 5 years. (Does the "honest disposition" cited by the tribunal, would mean that those who defend their innocence would be particularly punished, particularly when the tribunal makes no effort of verifying the evidence?)