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23 May 2008
News

Mejakic et al: Trial ends

BIRN BiH
At the end of the trial for crimes at the Omarska and Keraterm detention camps, Defence teams call for a verdict of release, claiming guilt has not been proved.
In their closing arguments the Defence teams called for verdicts of release to be announced against Momcilo Gruban and Dusan Knezevic, claiming that they consider that the Prosecution has not managed to prove their guilt.

The verdict is due to be announced on Friday, May 30.

The State Prosecution charges the two men, as well as Zeljko Mejakic, with having participated in murder, rape, beating and forcible detention of Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats in the Omarska and Keraterm detention camps in 1992.

"I was distributed to Omarska as a reserve policeman. I was not a guard shift commander in the detention camp. I treated all people in an equal manner, irrespective of their religion or ethnicity. This is how I was raised. I feel sorry for all men who suffered. Those people lived in difficult conditions and I tried to help them. Honourable court, my freedom is in your hands and I hope you will give it to me," Momcilo Gruban said, addressing the Chamber.

"We consider that the Prosecution has not proved that there existed shift commanders and that Gruban was one of them. Gruban saw the evil that was happening in the detention camp and he tried to change the situation. He brought food to the detainees, as he was aware of the fact that they were hungry. This was a humane gesture," his Defence attorney Dusko Panic said.

Gruban's Defence stressed that the three indictees did not have the real power in Omarska detention camp, but the investigators, who used to interrogate detained Bosniaks and Croats, and Simo Drljaca, former chief of the Public Safety Station in Prijedor, who was killed during an arrest operation in 1997, did.

"Gruban did not demonstrate his power, as alleged by the Prosecution. The investigators and Drljaca had the power and authority to release detainees," Panic said.

In his closing arguments, Panic said that "there are no direct witnesses" of the massacre when a large number of detainees were killed, which, according to the indictment, happened at the Omarska detention camp in late July 1992, and therefore it probably did not happen at all.

"Nobody denies that the horrible things did happen, but we have to determine who committed them. It is true that people were beaten in the detention camp but the fact is that this did not happen every day. Some Prosecution witnesses are professional witnesses, who say what is needed, instead of telling the truth," Panic said.

The Defence of the third indictee said that the State Prosecution had managed to prove the correctness of Knezevic's personal data contained in the indictment but it had not proved his guilt for the committee crimes.

"The Prosecution presented Dusko Knezevic as a sadist and a beast, which he is. However, we are not talking about the same person, as my client Knezevic is not the one they are referring to. It is very strange for a sadist to stop being one after 1992, but this is possible as the person is not correctly identified," said Knezevic's attorney Nebojsa Pantic.

"We defensibly claim that the name of the mentioned person is Dusan Gagic, also known as Duca. Some Prosecution witnesses mentioned his name in their earlier statements. We consider that it was Gagic who was described by the Prosecution witnesses," Pantic said.

The presentation of closing arguments by the Prosecution and Defence teams marks an end to the presentation of evidence at the trial of Mejakic, Gruban and Knezevic, which has been going on for more than one and a half years before the State Court.

In May 2005 the three men were transferred from The Hague Tribunal to local judicial organs for further investigation. The Court of BiH confirmed the indictment in July 2006. The trial began in February 2007.
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