ICTY - Tribunal Update
Milosevic Trial Testimony
By Ana Uzelac in The Hague (TU No 399, 25-Mar-05)
Another witness to appear in the Hague this week focused the defence case of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic on the massacre of some 45 Kosovo Albanians in the village of Racak – the event which eventually triggered NATO air strikes on Serbia in 1999 and marked the beginning of Milosevic’s political demise.
Former Kosovo investigative judge Danica Marinkovic, who conducted the official state investigation into the Racak massacre, gave testimony, which aimed to support Milosevic’s view that the massacre was staged in order to serve as an excuse for the air strikes.
But her testimony failed to bring any important new material or factual evidence to the case, and she ended up presenting just a different interpretation of the facts that were mostly already heard in court during the prosecution part of the trial.
Marinkovic was the third witness since the beginning of Milosevic defence case whose testimony focused mainly on the Racak massacre – two German reporters testified earlier about their investigations into the outrage and the misgivings they harboured about it.
The Milosevic indictment states that on or around January 15, 1999 the Serb security forces first shelled and then raided the village of Racak, situated in the south of the province. These forces killed fleeing villagers and took a group of some 25 Albanian men found hiding in a shed to a nearby hill, executing them there and leaving their bodies in a gully. All in all some 45 people were killed in the operation.
Milosevic appears to attach great importance to the Racak incident – he has repeatedly stated that he considers this case as the ultimate proof that the western countries conspired to destroy his country.
But Racak is only one of the 17 mass executions committed by Serb security forces in Kosovo that figure in Milosevic’s indictment. The other 16 were all allegedly committed after the beginning of the NATO air strikes and some involve a much larger number of victims – over 100 in a few cases. With one exception, Milosevic has not addressed any of them yet.
During her two-day long testimony, Marinkovic told the Hague judges that Racak was in fact an Albanian guerrilla stronghold and that at least some of the victims of the killings there were Albanian fighters and not civilians, as the indictment alleges. She also claimed that the OSCE mission that monitored Kosovo at the time prevented her from conducting a proper on-sight investigation in Racak.
At the time, Marinkovic was an investigative judge in the Kosovo capital Pristina, and had attempted to conduct an official investigation into the Racak case immediately after it happened.
She said that on the early morning of January 15 she was told by a local police officer that the Serb police clashed with terrorists in Racak and that there were possibly victims. She set out on a half-day long journey to investigate the allegations. When she reached the place in the early afternoon hours, she says she entered a deserted village, but saw no signs of shelling or any other big damage to the houses there. She also said she saw no sign of Yugoslav troops. Prosecutors’ allege that the latter shelled the village the night before.
In addition, she claims she saw no women or children in the village and explained that she thought the reason for this was because it had been used as a guerrilla stronghold.
The witness told the court she and her team had to leave Racak quickly because they were fired at from the surrounding woods. The following two days, she said, they tried and failed to return, stopped both times by similar small-arms fire from the surrounding hills.
The bodies of murdered civilians were found only the following day by the members of the OSCE verification mission.
Marinkovic’s attempts to reach the village at the time, she said, were hampered by both the members of the OSCE mission, which had a mandate to record all similar events in Kosovo at the time, and the people shooting at her form the villages around Racak.
The deputy head of mission, Karol Drewienkiewicz, had insisted she conducted her investigation under the OSCE escort, taking with her only a pathologist and no armed police officers, explaining the Serb police presence would likely trigger fire from the armed people in the woods around the village, and thus endanger the members of his mission. She refused.
“We saw orange OSCE vehicles parked on the hill above the village,” the witness repeated several times, insisting she found it “suspicious” that the OSCE had access to the place, to which her team didn’t.
After finally entering the village on January 18, the judge and her team found 40 bodies already lying in the mosque. She ordered that they be taken to Pristina for identification and forensic research. The research revealed, she said, that at least seven of them were suspected terrorists.
It also showed, she said, that they were killed by “fire from a distance” – contradicting the findings of the Finnish pathologist team that came to investigate the massacre and concluded that many victims were killed from close range.
The video footage made by her team and shown in court showed automatic weapons, spent cartridges, ammunition, uniforms they found upon reaching the village. It also showed long lines of trenches surrounding the village and an underground bunker, presumably used by Albanian fighters.
Hague prosecutors never denied that the Albanian fighters were present in Racak at some point -in fact some of the most high-profile prosecution witnesses, including Drewienkiewicz and a local Albanian guerrilla commander confirmed that.
But both of them also testified that the Albanian fighters retreated form the village before Serb forces entered it. A number of witnesses of the massacre testified that the people found in the gully were civilians that remained in the village. The youngest was 12, the oldest 70-years-old.
Marinkovic will continue giving her testimony when the trial resumes after the Easter break on April 6.
Earlier this week, the Hague tribunal prosecutors managed to chip away at the credibility of the potentially strongest witnesses yet to testify in defence of Milosevic.
During the cross-examination of the former Yugoslav army’s chief legal officer Radomir Gojovic, prosecutors presented documents that showed him as Milosevic’s loyal political commissar in the army and cast doubts over the motives that guided him in his legal work.
Last week, Gojovic presented the court with documents that were aimed to show that army leaders sent out orders to their troops to obey the laws of war during their stay in Kosovo in the spring of 1999, and that it also prosecuted those who failed to obey them.
At that time, a large amount of Serb police and army troops was sent to Kosovo allegedly to counter the NATO air campaign that began in March 1999. But the prosecutors allege that the troops were in fact used to expel and murder the province’s majority Albanian population.
Milosevic – who is running his own defence – was seemingly hoping that Gojovic’s testimony would lend credibility to his thesis that there was no plan to kill or expel the Kosovo Albanians, that the murders of the latter were in fact investigated and that their mass flight from the province was brought about by the air strikes, not army actions.
Gojovic admitted in the cross-examination that the mass flight of the Kosovars was never properly investigated by army prosecutors, although he agreed that forcible movement of population was a crime according to the Yugoslav law books. “Military prosecutor found no elements of this crime,” he said. He added that numerous international news reports suggesting that the Serbs were behind the movement of civilians were not sufficient to open an investigation.
Hague tribunal prosecutors insisted that after going through the records of some 18,000 different criminal investigations initiated at the time, they managed to find only a handful of cases that could be roughly classified as war crimes. The most high-ranking of those prosecuted was a major.
Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice put to the witness that the army prosecutors’ efforts in Kosovo were in fact a “sham” designed to give a semblance the law some semblance of credibility, while covering the real extent of crimes committed. Gojovic insisted that such allegations were “offensive for the [Yugoslav] army’s justice system”. The ultimate value of the army’s war crimes investigations would now be for Hague judges to determine.
Potentially very damaging to the witness was the prosecutor’s revelation that in the year following the end of the NATO bombardment he was involved in attempts to sue for defamation a Serbian human rights organisation that publicly revealed the extent of the crimes committed in the Kosovo.
Prosecutors presented the witness with a request he signed in September 2000 for the military prosecutor to start an investigation against another army prosecutor who sided with the findings of a Serbian NGO about the extent and the character of army’s crimes in the province.
This officer, named in court only by his surname Djorovic, refused to issue charges against the head of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre, who publicly spoke of army crimes in Kosovo. Djorovic was a member of the military prosecutors’ investigative team in Kosovo in 1999, and he told his superiors what he saw during the three months of his work there tallied entirely with the NGO’s claims.
The witness then signed a request for disciplinary action to be taken against Djorovic for refusing to obey direct orders. He confirmed in court the authenticity of his signature on this request, and insisted the colonel’s duty was “to obey direct orders, and not to decide for himself whether they were warranted or not”.
The prosecutors then also showed a written complaint filed by the same officer against the witness. The complaint, filed just a month after Milosevic’s regime was toppled, accused Gojovic of “forcing everyone in his department to vote for Milosevic in presidential elections”.
Ana Uzelac is IWPR’s project manager in The Hague.