Dusan Tadic, the Lone Defendant,
to Stand Trial for Atrocities
THE HAGUE, May 5, (Reuterss) History will be made on Tuesday when the United Nations criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia opens its first war crimes trial. Hearings, expected to last several months, will focus on alleged atrocities by Serbs against Muslims and Croats in 1992 at the notorious Omarska prison camp in northern Bosnia. The lone defendant, Bosnian Serb Dusan "Dusko" Tadic, is the first person to be tried by an international war crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials held after World War Two.
Prominent war crimes trials held since then such as that of Adolf Eichmann in Israel in 1961 and Klaus Barbie in France in 1987 have all been held in national courts. Created by the Security Council in May 1993, the tribunal marked the first attempt by the U.N. to enforce international treaties on the conduct of war and the protection of civilians.
Tadic has been accused of killing, torturing and raping Muslim and Croat civilians during the ethnic cleansing of the Prijedor region of northwest Bosnia, which began in May 1992. Prosecutors allege that he helped Serb forces round up thousands of his Muslim and Croat neighbours and herd them into three prison camps: Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje.
He has been charged with murdering 16 named victims inOmarska and at other locations near his home town of Prijedor. Tadic, 40, was arrested in Germany in February 1994 after Bosnian refugees identified him as their tormentor. Since then he has awaited trial for crimes he insists he did not commit. "He's saying it might have all happened, but he wasn't there when it took place," defense lawyer Michail Wladimiroff said. Tadic denies ever having set foot in Omarska or Keraterm, though he does admit to having visited the Trnopolje camp twice.
Wladimiroff said that after two years in jail his client had mixed feelings about the start of the trial, but was keeping his spirits up and was working hard with his lawyers on his defence. "His mood is a mixture of relief and tension. On the whole I would say he is dealing with the situation quite well." Tadic missed his wife Mira, a nurse, and their two daughters but was delighted when they visited him for 10 days in January. He also speaks to them regularly by telephone, Wladimiroff said.
The trial before a chamber of three judges from the United States, Australia and Malaysia, will begin on Tuesday with opening statements by the prosecution and the defence. Prosecutors and the defence are expected to call over 100 witnesses, some of whom might be allowed to testify over a video link between The Hague and a remote studio in Bosnia.
Omarska was brought to the world's attention in August 1992 when haunting television pictures of skeletal prisoners behind barbed wire fences led to comparisons with Nazi death camps and provoked an outcry against the Bosnian Serbs. The prosecutor's indictment against Tadic depicts a savage regime of random violence against the camp inmates. "Living conditions at Omarska were brutal... Severe beatings were commonplace. Both female and male prisoners were beaten, tortured, raped, sexually assaulted and humiliated."
Tadic, a cafe-owner and karate teacher before the war, is portrayed in the indictment as a sadistic killer who took pleasure in humiliating his Muslim and Croat neighbors. "Dusko Tadic ordered prisoners... to drink water like animals from puddles on the ground, jumped on their backs and beat them until they were unable to move." An early version of the indictment told how Tadic forced two unnamed prisoners at Omarska to mutilate the genitals of a fellow prisoner who later died from his injuries.
"H covered Fikret Harambasic's mouth to silence his screams and G bit off one of Fikret Harambasic's testicles."
The tribunal has indicted 21 people for offences committed in or near Omarska, including camp commander Zeljko Meakic who was charged with genocide. But so far Tadic is the only Omarska indictee whom the tribunal holds in its jail cells and one of just three in its custody from a grand total of 57 indicted suspects.
Since its creation three years ago the tribunal has been dogged by various problems, including the reluctance of foreign peace-keeping troops in Bosnia to arrest war criminals. Recently, however, there have been signs of progress, including the arrest in Bosnia last week of two Muslims charged with killing Serbs at a camp in Bosnia in 1992.
Professor Cherif Bassiouni of DePaul University in Chicago said the tribunal had established its authority in the world's eyes but that the capture and trial of Bosnian leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic still posed an important challenge. "I think the true test of legitimacy, not only of the tribunal, but of the will of the NATO powers whose troops are there, is going to be in those two cases," he said. Karadzic and Mladic have both been indicted twice for genocide for the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica and the shelling of civilians during the siege of Sarajevo.
Richard Dicker, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch in New York, said the Tadic trial marked an important step in ending the cycle of violence that had fuelled the Balkan conflict. "This is a start but much more needs to be done in pursuing the arrest of those indicted," he said.
Key Facts about the War Crimes Tribunal
War Crimes Profile: Dusan Tadic
War Crimes Tribunal May Pale Compared to Nuremberg
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia from the United Nations
Coalition for International Justice
Reports concerning human rights abuses in Bosnia published by Intac Access
Major War Criminals/Suspects from CalTech's Bosnia Site
Reports on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia from CalTech's Bosnia Site
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