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22 June 2009
Analysis

Hodzic: Cerska Commander ‘Had No Power’

BIRN BiH
At the trial of Ferid Hodzic, defence witnesses maintained the indictee could not have been responsible for any crimes committed in the ‘Stala’ prison in Rovasi.

By Aida Alic

The presentation of evidence by the Defence of Ferid Hodzic, former commander of the Territorial Defence, TO, in Vlasenica, eastern Bosnia, finished one year after it began. The two parties are due to present their closing arguments on June 23.

Hodzic is charged with having taken part in crimes against civilians and prisoners of war in the village of Cerska, in Vlasenica municipality, from May 1992 to January 26, 1993.

In defence of the indictee, witness Vahid Karavelic described the situation in Cerska as unimaginably difficult.

“There were many self-appointed commanders because the General Staff of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina did not appoint any [for the area],” he said.

“If Hodzic did something under the circumstances, he did it only because he wanted to help. His intentions were good as he wanted to save the civilians in that area,” the witness added.

The Defence examined six other witnesses and one court expert during the course of its evidence presentation, which lasted a year. Many hearings had to be postponed after Hodzic suffered a heart attack in June 2008.

Although a member of the Trial chamber was replaced in November 2008, both Prosecution and Defence agreed the evidence presentation by Hodzic’s defence should continue.

The indictment alleges that Hodzic issued an order for Bosnian Serb civilians and prisoners-of-war to be held in the “Stala” (“Barn”) prison in Rovasi, a hamlet, where they experienced inhumane treatment. It alleges that he was aware that crimes had occurred but failed to prevent them or punish the perpetrators.

The indictment further alleges that members of the TO of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina used to come to Stala and physically and mentally abuse the Bosnian Serb detainees. Hodzic was allegedly apprised of these events. In the meantime, one person died as a result of injuries sustained in a beating.

However, the Defence witnesses insisted Hodzic had no official role in the Vlasenica TO and that Stala was not a prison in any case but a “local detention unit” where both Serbs and Bosniaks were detained.

According to Vahid Karavelic, Hodzic had commanded the [Bosniak] Patriotic League in Vlasenica and was commander of the TO in the municipality before the war.

But on April 8, 1992, the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina ordered the abolition of the Patriotic League. “New commanders of the municipal TO forces were appointed. However, Hodzic was never appointed to that function,” Karavelic said.

Witnesses recalled that experts among the refugees had decided to form a wartime court, prosecution and detention sites in Cerska.

“Ramiz Duric, a wartime court judge, appointed Radif Mujanovic as the detention camp manager, so the Army [of Bosnia and Herzegovina] did not have any competencies over the detention unit,” Sejfudin Hodzic said.

Defence witnesses maintained Hodzic had no “effective control” over the prisoners held in Stala and further claimed some people were detained there of their own volition.

Salih Jusic mentioned one such detainee, named as Rade Pejic, known as Miso, who allegedly had not wanted to hand in his shotgun.

“He agreed to be detained in Stala until an exchange was organised [because] he did not want to become a member of the Territorial Defence or Civil Protection Unit,” Jusic said.

The same witness insisted he did not hear of any beatings or abuse of prisoners while he and Hodzic were members of the crisis committee in Vlasenica.

He also said the conditions experienced by the detainees were no worse than those experienced by the rest of the population.

“The living conditions were the same for all of us,” Hodzic said. “We too slept in barns. There was no way one could provide better life conditions for anyone.”

Witness Fajko Kadric spoke about Hodzic’s functions in the course of 1992.

He recalled that the indictee had led the Joint TO Command in Vlasenica, but added that he “could not give any orders. All he could do was provide support in case some village was set on fire or something like that”.

Dzemail Babic, a former policeman from Cerska, visited the Stala prison. Also testifying in Hodzic’s defence he said he never noticed any signs that prisoners were being mistreated. He said that following the death of one detainee, Dusan Cestic, an investigation determined that this man took his own life and “hung” himself.

“There was a code of conduct for the guards. Prisoners used to get food every day. I remember watching this through my window. It was hard for me to watch that, as I was so hungry at the time,” witness Babic said.

Towards the end of the evidence presentation, the Trial chamber invited in the courtroom together Merima Telalovic, defence witness, and Bego Uvalic, additional prosecution witness, who spoke about the happenings in Cerska and the responsibility of the indictee.

Telalovic said Uvalic had been head of the wartime presidency of Cerska. On the other hand he also insisted that the indictee had been the president, and that the presidency was established as per his order.

As Uvalic denied having been the wartime chair of the presidency, the defence called in a graphologist, Zlatko Dugandzic, to conduct an expertise involving a few handwritten documents issued by the presidency and TO in Vlasenica. After analysis of the documents, Dugandzic determined that Uvalic had indeed signed them.

Testifying as a prosecution witness, Uvalic said the indictee had decided on the location of the prison at Rovasi, adding that from April 1992, “everything was under Hodzic’s control”.

Telalovic, on the other hand, described Uvalic as a man who “liked power”.

In mid-July 1992, he added, “he [Telalovic] appointed Becir Mehanic as commander of Cerska Squad. This person was much more active and popular than Hodzic. From that date on, Hodzic played a marginal role and did not have any power”.

Aida Alic is a BIRN – Justice Report journalist. [email protected] Justice Report is an online weekly BIRN publication.




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