Sunday, July 23, 2006

Case File: Prosecutor v. Oric


What is a case file?
A case file is an overview of an ICTY case, which gives a summary of the case/verdict, as well as summary and article links (thanks to IWPR) of witness testimonies as well as the verdict and judgment. This first case file looks at the recent case of Prosecutor v. Naser Oric. The purpose is to give a good general overview of the case-especially for people who are not familiar with it.


On June 30th after hearing from over 80 witnesses and looking over 1,500 pieces of evidence; the trial chamber delivered their verdict in the case of Prosecutor v. Naser Oric. The trial chamber found Mr. Oric guilty of failing to prevent the murder and cruel treatment of Bosnian Serbs in the Srebrenica prison after Dec 27th 1992; but acquitted of failing to prevent murder and cruel treatment before Nov 1992 and of wanton destruction against Bosnian Serb villages As a result of what the trial chamber found to be the overwhelming mitigating circumstances presented in the case, they gave Mr. Oric a sentence of two years in prison. Because he had already been in custody for 3 years he was released immidiately.

The trial was perhaps one of the most debated, emotional and dramatic trials to commence in the Hague. There were: “dead” witnesses who turned out to be alive, a prosecution witness who swore and cursed at one of the defense lawyers, and an incident in the courtroom where the accused jumped up and yelled at one of the prosecution witnesses, accusing said witness of having killed thousands of “my people” in Srebrenica in 1995.
To say this trial was not routine would be the understatement of the year.

The reaction to the verdict, in both BiH and Yugoslavia reflected the emotional rollercoaster that was the trial.

For example, Politika, A Belgrade based daily, mentioned that the decision to give Oric a sentence of two years was the first time that the ICTY recognized youth, inexperienced and "bloodthirsty mood" as mitigating factors. (info from HRW article)

Obviously, the editors of Politika did not pay attention to the trial, the verdict or even the verdict summary. First of all, as Bogdan Ivanisevic pointed out in his article, the Oric case is not the first case where youth is seen as a mitigating factor, the Erdemovic case for example looked at the young age of the accused as a mitigating factor. Secondly, the trial chamber never made any mention of any "bloodthristy-ness" or anything remotely similar; and obviously, being blood thirsty is not considered a mitigating factor.

The reaction of the Politika editors gives a good overview to just how emotional some people have reacted to the verdict. For people not familiar with the case, that emotional reaction might have been a bit suprising. After all, Oric was only a 25 year old low ranking officer at the time of the period covered in his indictment. Furthermore, while I am taking away nothing from the suffering of the victims listed in the indictment, his indictment was one of the tamest ones in the Hague. So, why has this verdict caused such contention among some people?

Of course for people familiar with the case, the answer is obvious. Naser Oric was also the commander of the Srebrenica forces. Srebrenica where Bosniaks were under siege for 3 years. Srebrenica where the civillian population was starved. And most importantly, Srebrenica-where in July 1995, General Ratko Mladic went on a genocidal killing spree, killing 8,000 men and boys.

Even since the 1995 killing spree, there has been an effort by Serb radicals and their friends on the extreme right & left to use Bosniak war crimes to justify overtaking the enclave and to mitigate Mladic's slaughter. This "genocide justification" theory has been so ingrained into a revisionist view of Srebrenica, that there are probably many people who are convinced that Mladic's attack on Srebrenica was driven because of revenge for massive Bosniak war crimes, and not because Srebrenica was the missing link for "greater Serbia." According to Ivanisevic, that revisionist viewpoint of Srebrenica has been too thoroughly engrained into too many people's minds for too long.

To be absolutely clear, Bosnian Serbs were victims of war crimes in the Srebrenica area. The trial chamber in the Oric case found so. Furthermore, Oric's defense team acknowledged that certain Bosniaks soldiers and civilians committed war crimes; they just said that these crimes had nothing to do with their client. Therefore, while on the war crimes committed against the Bosnian Serbs can not be compared to the VRS's genocidal campaign waged against the Bosniaks; it is important to acknowledge that indvidual Bosnian Serbs were the victims of war crimes and that these individuals suffered.

However, as the evidence in the Oric trial showed the narrative of Srebrenica as Ivanisevic pointed out, and specifically the narrative of Bosniak war crimes is much more complex than the narrative accepted by political extremists in Banja Luka or Belgrade.

Because this trial is important to the greater narative of what happened in Bosnia, and because the verdict has caused such emotional reactions and confussion, it is important to look more indepth at the trial, and at the evidence produced during the trial.

As, I have already said that the trial was one of the more divisive ones in ICTY history, it was also one of the weakest and sloppiest Prosecutions in the Hague; and was the only one where based on the evidence the trial chamber saw, the defendant actually came across in a better light after the Prosecution's case than he did at the start of the trial (and in case you are wondering, that usually is never a good sign for the Prosecution.)


As it is in all cases, there are two defendants on trial. The defendant that the prosecution promised to present in the opening trial-a "warlord" who had effective control over his subordinates and even more importantly, was instrumental in waging a policy of plundering against Serb villages.

Then there was the defendant that the defense promised would emerge from the trial-a "brave, but desperate" young officer who under impossible conditions tried his best to keep his people alive.
Indeed, one of the key factors of the defense was the horrific conditions in Srebrenica at time of the indictment (1992-1993). This was not, in the words of the defense, to excuse or to justify any Bosniak war crimes committed during this time period, but to show how the conditions, such as severe starvation and famine had made it impossible for Oric to effectively control the Bosniaks in Srebrenica.
The testimony that was given in the court showed that there were Serb villages that were ransacked. But, there was also testimony (in the forms of documents from the VRS and videos) that several of the villages were used by the VRS to launch attacks on Bosniaks from, thereby making them legitimate targets. There were also testimony which proved that Serb prisoners were abused and killed in the Srebrenica prison. While two of the witnesses seemed to indicate that the defendant was aware of abuse taking place; other witnesses (women & children) held prisoner testified that they were treated humanely by the Srebrenica forces. Furthermore, evidence produced showed that the defendant was one of several rival commanders in the region, and therefore, could not be held responsible for the crimes committed by people not under his direct command. Above all, the testimony showed the horific conditions of Srebrenica in 1992-1993, particularly the massive starvation, which often compelled people to do anything to get food.

unless underwise stated, articles are from IWPR.
(_) means that the info comes from the actual transcript-as well as article. Transcripts can be found via
sense-agency also has some good, brief summaries of the witnesses as well.
Note: these are not all of the articles from IWPR, several articles, if they didn't add anything new, or if they were from unimportant witnesses-were left out. has all of the articles on their site.


1. Article: Prosecution & Defense Opening Statement.


2. Article: Doubts on Prosecution's evidence. Deceased witness turns out to be alive.

3. Article: Prosecution tries to show that attacks were on weak Bosnian Serb peasants. Elderly man testfies about attack on his village. However, the defense also produces evidence that several of these villages were well armed, and at least one of the witnesses was a VRS soldier.

4. Article: Prosecution witnesses testify about Bosniak forces destruction.

5. Article: Prosecution witness, Professor James Gow supports defense notion of massive ethnic cleansing campaign against the Bosniaks; and of the strong VRS presence in the Bosnian Serb villages (I have no idea why the prosecution called him-because all he did was help the defendant).

6. Prosecution witneses testify about village destruction; while defense points out that many of these villages were very well armed and were legit. targets.

7. Oric yelled at witness, who admited being part of a Bosnian Serb unit that took part in the massacre in Srebrenica, but denied direct involvment in the massacre.

8. Article: Witness testifies about abuse, but also testifies that the defendant did not seem to know about the abuse.

9. Article: More witnesses testified about being taken prisoner, but also testified to the defendant's humane treatment.

10. Article: Witness who was abused in Srebrenica prison gives the strongest evidence to date implicating that the defendant was aware of the abuse.

11.Dr. Mujkanovic, a surgon based in Srebrenica called by the prosecution testifies about the horrific conditions in Srebrenica at the time. He also testifies that the damage to the Serb villages were caused by the civilians. During his testimony, he also testified that the defendant helped the hospital a great deal. He said that there were many rival commanders, and not one of them had command over the other. Prosecutors showed that was inconsistant with his previous statement, where he said defendant was "King of the People" Dr. Mujkanovic said he was misquoted.
2nd Mujkanovic testimony article
(And ICTY transcripts)

12. Bosnian judge testifies that no war crimes were reported to him, thereby indicating that defendant failed to notify authorities about war crimes. But, also testifies to the poor conditions in the town and severe lack of communication between Tuzla and Srebrenica.

13. British Col. Tucker paints a complex picture of the defendant. He testified about a very malnourished Bosnian Serb prisoner, whom he says the defendant was present at the time of the exchange. Thereby, indicating that the defendant was aware of the abuse. He also testified that the defendant admitted that his men were a bit "trigger happy" at times. But, Tucker also testified that the defendant seemed to regret Serb deaths, and that Oric was doing his best in an impossible situation, and trying his best to defend the town. Col Tucker also testified about the horrible situation in Srebrenica.
(Tucker testimony)

14. Elderly Bonsiak policeman called by prosecution to show defendant had command responsibility over the military police & soldiers. The witness seemed very reluctant to testify, although he did concede some points of the prosecution's case; while other statements he made during his testimony helped the defense's case. Judges doubted his testimony.

15. Prosecution witness-Bosniak police chief/rival commander, Hakija Meholjic testifies that Oric was technically the commander of the Srebrenica forces, but besides his own group in Potocari, his role was to cordinate rather than command. Testified that the raids were necessary to get food for the town. Also testified that he thought that the defendant was too young to command the Srebrenica forces; and that he never listened to the defendant and that he never considered the defendant his commander.
(Meholjic testimony)

16. Enver Hogic, senior Army BiH offical testified that the ABiH published info on the Geneva conventions in their newsletter. But also said that communication with Srebrenica was impossible, and that the defendant wasn't able to get the info.On cross, also testified that the Srebrenica forces were not organized at all.

17. An excellent overview of the flaws and problems the prosecution had with their case.

18. Judges acquitted Oric for plundering-noting that it was necessary to feed the starving population.


19. Defense wants to be given more time to present their case.

20. Appeal bench rules in favor of defense's request for more time/witnesses

21. A young man who was blinded in a VRS attack in 1993 testfied that there were many rival commanders in the town-who didn't get along or listen to each other. He testified that each commander had his own rag tag army loyal to him. Thereby helping the defense's assertion that Oric did not have effective control over all of the forces.Dr. Dachy, an international aid worker who worked in Srebrenica, testified about the horrific conditions in Srebrenica. He also testified to the defendant's character, saying that he visited people in the hospital, and was very kind to them; and that the doctors & nurses loved Naser Oric, and spoke about him as a friend-and not someone they feared.
Dachy Article
(Dachy Testimony)

22. Bosniak soldiers testify that the Srebrenica forces were poorly organized.

23. A witness, who judges described as very important; testified about the ethnic cleansing in 1992; and the Srebrenica forces. He testified that the group had no significant weapons and the military superiority of the Serbs. On cross, prosecutors produced a sales contract where Oric promised to buy 800 guns on behalf on the TO (territorial defense) witness said it did not correspond with events on the ground.

24. Soldier testifies that defendant did not have control over rival groups. British, Dr. Mardel testifies of the horrible conditions in Srebrenica-calling it a "holocaust."

25. Witness backs up prosecution assertion that defendant was in charge of Srebrenica forces; but also testified that defendant was not there at meeting to create a war presidency.

26. Tesitmony of Bosnian Serb soldier from 1997 helps defense case. Soldier interviewed in 1997 about massive atrocities committed against Bosniak civilians; and the fact that the village of Fakovici (which is listed in the indictment) was used to launch these attacks. , Prosecution, which had this testimony since '97 is repremanded by court for not producing this evidence-which helps the defense. Prosecution said it was a accidental oversight.

27. Two witnesses, testify about the defendant's role as commander.

28. US military official based in Srebrenica testifies about the poor condition of the Srebrenica forces; the fact that it was difficult to see who was in charge, and the horrible conditions in Srebrenica. And that the defendant was only "first among equals." Journalist Tony Birtley testfied on horrible conditions in Srebrenica; and that one of the rival commanders did not seem to rate to the defendant very highly, and never listened to him, or considered him his boss. Both witnesses cast aspersions on testimony of previous prosecution witness-Col. Tucker that Oric was present during prisoner exchange.
(Dudley Testimony)

Surprise, surprise, Prosecution and defense handwritting experts come to different conclusions.

30. US col describes defendant as a "gentleman" who was very helpful to NATO forces in 1998; and knew a lot about the political situation/potential riots in the country. Prosecution wonders how the defendant, who had a construction business at the time-was able to have access to such sensitive/important political info to help the US col.

31. Constroverstrial video interview with Oric and prosecutors in 2001 kept into record. Defense points out to several flaws in the transcript; and that the defendant was not given accurate translation.Prosecution has relied heavily on this video tape testimony to support their case.

32. Handwritting expert called by the court testified that out of 11 signatures, 5 were strongly likely to be the defendant, 1 probably and 5 inconclusive.

33. Defense rails against prosecution for not producing evidence that might have helped the defendant.


34. Emotional closing arguments, prosecution asks for 18 years in prison. Defense counters that the prosecution does not have one ounce of compassion


Verdict Summary

Includes case info sheets, transcripts, and judgment in pdf form.

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