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21 February 2008

A Long Way from Surrender to Verdict

Merima Husejnovic BIRN BiH

Sixteen months since Mitar Rasevic and Savo Todovic appeared at the Court of BiH for the first time, the evidence presentation process against the former Foca Correctional Facility management team members has been completed.

After the Prosecution and Defence have presented all pieces of evidence at the trial of Mitar Rasevic and Savo Todovic, the Trial Chamber has announced that the verdict for Foca crimes might be pronounced on February 28.

The Prosecution considers that Todovic and Rasevic participated in maltreatment of more than 700 detainees in the Foca Correctional Facility from April 1992 to October 1994. Rasevic was commander of guards, while Todovic was deputy commander of the Facility, which had "all characteristics of adetention camp".

Both were initially indicted by the ICTY in The Hague. In October 2006, aspart of ICTY's exit strategy, the case was referred to Sarajevo for further processing. In early 2007 the Court of BiH confirmed the amended indictment.

Although the evidence presentation process against the former Foca Facility management staff has lasted for nearly ten months, the two indictees have been held in custody for several years already. Mitar Rasevic surrendered to Serbian authorities in the summer of 2003, while Savo Todovic did it almost tow years later. He surrendered to the Republika Srpska authorities in January 2005.

Since December last year the Defence of the two indictees have examined a total of ten witnesses. Six of them were invited by Mitar Rasevic's Defence and four, including the indictee himself, testified in favour of Savo Todovic.

Through out the evidence presentation process, Savo Todovic complained about Mladen Sarenac and Jovan Debelica, ex-officio attorneys appointed by the Court of BiH.Since the beginning of the process he has refused to establish cooperation and communication with them.

"They can do their work as they wish, but I shall not communicate with them and this is a matter of principle," the indictee said, adding that there are some issues, which he "cannot ignore so easily".

"I am shocked by the fact that they do not have one single document from The Hague. They have never even seen the ICTY's indictment against me. From my point of view, this is intolerable," Todovic reiterated.

The attorneys have also filed complaints with the Trial Chamber, indicating that there is no communication with the indictee and asking to be released from their duty.

"It is very difficult for us to prepare the defence under these circumstances. This is the third or fourth time that we are asking to be released from our duty," Chief Defence Attorney Mladen Sarenac said.

However, his colleague Jovan Debelica considers that the appointment of new Defence attorneys would cause harm to the indictee.

"This would be a bad move for the indictee," Debelica said.

Unlike Todovic, Mitar Rasevic did not complain about the way his Defence attorney Slavisa Prodanovic represented him. They jointly examined the witnesses who testified in his favour without any problems.

Most of them testified under appropriate protective measures – they testified under pseudonyms at open sessions, except for first witness M.R. Most of his testimony was done with no presence of the public. At the open part of his testimony, he spoke about "harmonious relations in Foca" in early 1992.

Witness 5T, who spent more than two years in the Foca Facility, told the Court that all detainees "felt relieved" when Rasevic was in the detention camp.

"I was wounded when I first arrived to the detention camp, and nobody did anything to help me. The following day, Mitar Rasevic drove me in his car to the hospital, and he stayed with me there for a few hours," 5T said.

Another protected witness, former detainee, said nice things about Rasevic.

"I remember Mitar sitting next to me and feeding me like a little child, because my arms were injured. He insisted on me getting a double portion of bread, so that I could recover faster. He used to give me cigarettes and matches," 4E said.

Protected witness 3O, intelligence officer of the Army of BiH, spoke about the indictee with people who had been detained in the Foca Facility.

The Trial Chamber determined that there was no need to appoint new Defence attorneys, particularly because the indictee said, on several occasions, thathe would not communicate with them either.

"I asked them about Rasevic, as he was my neighbour, and I knew that hehad worked in the Facility before the war. None of them said anything bad about him. Some even told me that he had helped them," said witness 3O, who was"surprised" when the indictment against Rasevic was filed.

Milutin Tijanic also testified in favour of the first indictee. He was deputy commander of the Foca Facility as of September 1993. His testimony was based on denial of any responsibility of the Facility management team for the detainees who were held there.

"The Facility management team did not have anything to do with prisoners of war," Tijanic said, adding that the security service, commanded by Mitar Rasevic, did not have any responsibility for meals, hygiene or medical assistance provided to the detainees. He also said that the indictee "was equipped with unwitnessed human virtues".

"If there was a measurement unit for honesty, international or local, it could be Rasevic. His mental structure is more appropriate for a humanitarian than for a criminal association," Tijanic said.

The indictment alleges that, in mid 1992 the guards, commanded by Mitar Rasevic, and policemen and soldiers, "who had been given a permission by Todovic and Rasevic", visited the Facility, took out some prisoners and beat them up. Some of those detainees have been missing since then.

Savo Todovic's witnesses, who also testified under certain protective measures, provided him with an alibi, by saying that they were with him at the frontlines in Preljuca village near Foca in June 1992 and that they saw him in his "native village", at his parents' farm, until the end of July that year.

"I know I went to Preljuca on May 20, 1992. Savo arrived a day or two later. We were there together for about 40 days," witness DJ6 said. Witnesses M5 and P7 confirmed this statement and added that Todovic was in the village during the "mowing" season and that, as of August 1992, he was no longer member of their Unit.

The indictee also appeared as a Defence witness. He asked that his examination be conducted behind closed doors most of the time, "in order to protect his family". During the open part of his testimony, he said that he was recruited as a soldier in the Foca Facility at the end of April 1992. This is when he first met Facility manager Milorad Krnojelac.

"I had not known the Manager, who is now unfortunately a convict, before that. I knew he did not fulfill the formal requirements for the post, so he must have been appointed by the Crisis Committee," Todovic said.

The Hague Tribunal sentenced Milorad Krnojelac, former manager of Foca detention camp, to 15 years imprisonment.

At the end of the process the Defence presented its material evidence. It's evidences, which included some photographs and a video recording taken inside the building and the rooms in which detainees were held, presented even Chamber. Indictee Todovic was present during the crime scene inspection. At the request by the Trial Chamber, he showed them the office, which he had used during the war.

According to the official timetable of the Court of BiH, both parties are due to present their closing arguments on Friday, February 22.

Merima Husejnovic is BIRN - Justice Report journalist. [email protected]

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