Canadian parliament unanimously adopts the Srebrenica genocide resolution

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada

Appeals Filed in Trbic Case: Prosecution demands 45-year sentence, while defence calls for acquittal

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada
Published: October 26, 2010  

By Velma Saric - IWPR
TRI Issue 666, 25 Oct 10

Both the Bosnian prosecutor’s office and the defence for former Bosnian Serb commander Milorad Trbic last week filed an appeal against the October 2009 first-instance verdict sentencing him to 30 years in prison for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide.

The prosecution asked for his sentence to extended while the defence called for an acquittal.

Trbic, the former assistant chief of security of the Zvornik brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, is the highest-ranking army official to stand trial at the war crimes court in Sarajevo and the first indictee to be tried on genocide charges there.

He was found guilty of involvement in the persecution, detention and execution of Bosnian Muslims from the Srebrenica enclave, as well as in the burial and re-burial of bodies in order to hide evidence of the crime.

At last week’s court hearing, the prosecution also asked for a re-trial regarding parts of the verdict in which Trbic was originally found not guilty.

According to the October 2009 verdict, Trbic was acquitted of charges including the imprisonment, abuse and murder of Bosniaks at Potocari, and executions at different sites in the Bratunac area.

The court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to convict Trbic of crimes committed outside of the zone of responsibility of the Zvornik brigade.

But prosecutors now want him to be found guilty of those crimes as well, claiming “that there is a large [amount] of evidence which clearly shows Trbic acting within the joint criminal enterprise committed together by the Bratunac brigade, the Drina corps and the main staff of the Republika Srpska army”, according to prosecutor Eric Larson.

“Therefore, the prosecution considers a sentence of long-term imprisonment of 45 years to be more appropriate.”

Defence lawyer Milan Trbojevic asked for a new trial to be scheduled, claiming “that there were certain irregularities during the course of the [original] trial”.

Among the examples cited by Trbojevic were “illegitimate confessions by the accused” which he claimed had been taken by Hague investigators while Trbic was, according to the lawyer, under “house arrest”.

Trbic was arrested in 2005 in North Carolina, from where he was deported and, according to Trbojevic, put under house arrest somewhere in Holland before being transferred to the Hague tribunal detention unit at Scheveningen.

The defence claimed that, while under house arrest, tribunal investigators told Trbic he would not be accused, but would only have to testify and later transferred to Australia.

“It was then that the accused accepted everything,” Trbojevic said. “He simply admitted things which were not possible at all. The first-instance verdict says it doesn’t believe these confessions, but relies on them in the part which finds Trbic guilty. I claim that these statements are illegitimate and cannot be used as evidence.”

No further details were given about the alleged house arrest or the claims regarding Australia.

Trbic’s case was transferred to the Bosnian court from The Hague tribunal in June 2007, and the former confirmed the indictment against Trbic on August 9, 2007, although he failed to appear to enter a plea before the chamber, meaning that the court recorded a plea of not guilty on his behalf. The trial began in November 2007.

After statements by the prosecution and the defence last week, Trbic also addressed the chamber.

“I have been tormented and abused for many years by the prosecution and The Hague investigators,” he said. “They forced confessions from me. I don’t know why it is being concealed that I had been moved from city to city in Holland, that I had no personal documents on me and was exposed to constant pressure.

“In detention in The Hague I was under video surveillance and the light was always on, so I couldn’t sleep and concentrate.”

Trbic added that he believed in the fairness of the court and was hoping that his agony and torment would soon end.

“I never killed anyone, nor did I order anyone to be killed,” he said.

At the end of the original trial, the prosecution provided the chamber and the defence a copy of the report from the tribunal and the OSCE mission to Bosnia.

Larson cited the report last week, saying it stated that the “Trbic verdict is the best written so far” by the Sarajevo court.

The same report also commended the court for properly applying international law.

The defence intervened, arguing that “this is not relevant evidence and should therefore not be used in a trial of law”.

The appeals chamber of the Bosnian court will reach its decision at a later date.

Trbic was originally charged by the tribunal along with former senior Bosnian Serb police and army officers Vinko Pandurevic, Ljubisa Beara, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Milan Gvero, Radivoje Miletic, Drago Nikolic and Vujadin Popovic.

The seven were found guilty of genocide, murder, persecutions, forcible transfer and deportation committed in the Srebrenica enclave in July 1995.

All of them, apart from Miletic and Gvero, are also accused of extermination and genocide-related charges.

On June 10, 2010, they received varying sentences by the tribunal, which they all appealed apart from Borovcanin, who was sentenced to 17 years.

Popovic and Beara were sentenced to life, Nikolic to 35, Miletic to 19, Pandurevic to 13, and Gvero to 5 years imprisonment. The trial judgements are now pending appeal at the Hague tribunal.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in The Hague.

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada