ICTY - Tribunal Update
Milosevic Trial Testimony
By Ana Uzelac in The Hague
(Tribunal Update No 411, 17-Jun-05)
The cross-examination of Dragan Jasevic, a Serbian police investigator from Kosovo testifying in defence of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, has dented both the credibility of this potentially important witness and his evidence, at the same time painting a disturbing picture of systemic police repression in Kosovo in the run-up to the war there.
Jasovic returned to the Hague this week roughly a month after he finished his testimony in chief, in which he claimed that the majority of people killed by the Serbian forces in an infamous incident in Racak in January 1999 were Albanian fighters.
The Racak incident is widely regarded as a turning point in recent Kosovo history – after an apparent Serbian police raid, the bodies of some 45 people were found strewn this Albanian village, about 25 killed apparently execution-style in a gully nearby. The incident triggered international pressure on Milosevic to find a political solution to the violence in the province. After this attempt failed two months later, NATO launched air strikes on Serbia.
Milosevic consistently claims that the Racak massacre was staged to bring about the strikes, and that the people killed were Albanian guerilla fighters later dressed up as civilians and brought to the gully to look as if an execution had taken place.
Jasovic, a police inspector in the Urosevac police station, under whose jurisdiction Racak fell at the time, brought documents to the court in April to show that the local Albanians he and his colleagues interviewed and interrogated after the Racak event identified 30 out of 45 people killed in Racak as Albanian fighters.
The accused probably hoped that the evidence would suggest that the Albanians were fighters killed in a regular battle, not executed.
But Hague tribunal prosecutors spent this week dissecting the exact methods with which these statements were obtained, showing a pattern of police abuse in the Urosevac station, in order to cover up the massacre.
Jasovic consistently denied this, but in such a way that by the end of this week’s hearings the judges seemed to have lost all trust in his testimony.
To counter the witness testimony, the prosecutors used the statements they obtained in March this year from a number of people whose testimonies figure in documents brought by Jasovic. All of them have insisted they were made under duress – after they’ve been tortured by electroshocks, beaten up or intimidated by the police.
The video tapes of these interviews were shown in court during a cross-examination of an earlier witness, and the judges have declined to admit them into evidence.
This time the prosecutors brought more fresh evidence of police abuse in the Urosevac police station – including the testimony of several “former colleagues” of Jasovic, one of which was referred to only as SS-375.
In the statement submitted by the prosecutors, SS-375 claimed that beatings of the people brought for questioning were “a normal, regular activity” in Urosevac station.
Another apparent police station insider recounted how he entered a room there to find three policemen abusing a young Albanian. One was beating him on the soles of his feet with a truncheon or a bat, another was pinning his torso to the ground and this weeks witness, Dragan Jasovic, was holding the boy’s head.
Jasovic repeated only that he knew nothing about such events and that he never participated in them. He suggested that the Albanians were now lying to the prosecutors out of fear of retribution from their fellow Albanians, if it emerged that they were being helpful to Serbian police in 1999. He insisted a number of Albanians came voluntarily to give statements.
But the prosecutors brought evidence of checkpoints being raised all over the area in the aftermath of the Racak killings, and people being stopped there and forcibly brought to the Urosevac police station.
A statement of a person whose identity was revealed only in a private session went on to explain how they and a number of relatives were stopped at such a checkpoint on February 5, 1999 and “escorted” to the station, where they were interrogated by this week’s witness personally. This person was not beaten but had told the prosecutors of baseball bats he saw in Jasovic’s office, and bloodstains on its walls.
Jasovic denied all that and said this person came to see him voluntarily on a matter relating to an earlier investigation.The prosecutors then went on to dissect Jasovic’s list of the alleged Albanian guerilla fighters that were killed in Racak, revealing that one of them was in fact mentally ill, one aged 77 and the other 13.
Jasovic insisted he got the information voluntarily, and could not say why anyone would voluntarily name a 77-year-old as a fighter.
The prosecutors also focused on the Racak event itself, trying to elicit from the witness whether the Serb forces were shot at by the guerillas -as Milosevic and his previous witnesses claim.
Jasovic insisted that the Albanians he interviewed in the aftermath of the attack told him that the Kosovo Liberation Army fighters were the first to open fire at the police. But under a barrage of questions both form from the judges and the prosecutors, asking him to point at a concrete statement he took where this is being said, the witness got increasingly evasive and claimed that there were too many testimonies too long ago for him to remember concrete ones.
Jasovic insisted that he knew no details of the Racak operation as he did not participate in it and the preparations for it were confined to the his superiors. He insisted he didn’t know whether the army was in any way involved in it, as the prosecutors suggest, and kept repeating that at the time of the operation he was in his office in the police building in Urosevac.
Somewhat irritated, Judge Iain Bonomy of Scotland asked the witness how a police investigator whose core duty was investigating terrorism would not know about such a major operation taking place in his very area of responsibility.
The prosecutors then tried to question Jasovic on the issue of the presence of the high-ranking Belgrade police general Vlastimir Djordjevic in the Urosevac station in the days after the Racak events. The prosecutors obtained a statement by another witness, SS-376, who claimed that Hague fugitive Djordjevic, indicted for crimes in Kosovo, and an unknown member of a Serbian security service from Belgrade, were in Urosevac and Stimlje police stations respectively, coordinating the cover-up of the Racak massacre.
Djordjevic was allegedly operating form from the office of the Urosevac police commander Bogoljub Janicevic, SS-376 claimed. Jasovic -who earlier in the case claimed he never met Djordjevic in person -said he didn’t know whether Djordjevic was there or not. “I wasn’t in my boss’ office to tell you whether Rodja was there or not,” he said, using the general’s private nickname.
Both SS-375 and SS-376, potentially crucial in dismantling Jasovic’s credibility, have never appeared in the prosecution case, and it wasn’t initially clear whether their testimonies were obtained just for the purpose of this cross-examination.
Their testimonies had been disclosed to the accused before the cross-examination started, but have not yet been introduced into the evidence. The prosecutors are expected to ask for their introduction after they finish the cross-examination of the witness.
Ana Uzelac is IWPR’s project manager in The Hague.