The defence for seven Serb fighters accused of mass killings of civilians in Zvornik in Bosnia in 1992 said key prosecution witnesses could not be trusted.
|Belgrade Special Court I Photo by Beta|
During its closing arguments at Belgrade’s special court on Tuesday, the defence called for the dismissal of evidence given by three crucial prosecution witnesses who survived rape and torture by a Serb paramilitary group known as ‘Sima’s Chetniks’.
“I am turning to you, trial chamber, and asking you to bear in mind that these witnesses changed statements at least three times so far, and therefore we cannot consider them reliable and truthful,” said defence lawyer Gordana Zivanovic.
Former Serb paramilitaries Damir Bogdanovic, Zoran Stojanovic, Tomislav Gavric, Djordje Sevic, Zoran Alic, Zoran Djurdjevic and Dragana Djekic are being tried for the killing of 28 Roma civilians from the villages of Skocic, Malesic and Setic, near Zvornik in north-eastern Bosnia in 1992.
The leader of Sima’s Chetniks, Sima Bogdanovic, died in custody before being sentenced.
The testimony from the three protected witnesses, codenamed ‘Alpha’, ‘Beta’ and ‘Gamma’, is key to the prosecution’s case.
The three witnesses were held in a house in Malesic between July and December 1992, where they were abused and repeatedly raped on a daily basis by various members of the paramilitary group.
But the defence said that their testimony should be thrown out.
“The prosecution didn’t present any other evidence besides the testimony of these protected witnesses, that proved that [the defendants] have in any way broken the Geneva Convention or proved that they committed rape, torture, imprisonment and other inhume acts,” defence lawyer Zivanovic said.
But the lawyer for Zijo Ribic, the only survivor of the killings, insisted that the prosecution had proved its case.
“I consider this indictment proved. This crime is horrific and extremely evil. It started with the destruction of the local mosque, and then the killing of one entire [ethnic] community,” said lawyer Marina Kljajic, referring to the deaths of 28 Roma in the village of Skocic.
“Zijo survived because he was lucky, but his family was not. Elderly people, women and children were killed,” said Kljajic.
This is the fifth case to be launched by Serbia’s special prosecutor over attacks in Zvornik, where some of the most brutal crimes of the 1992-95 Bosnian war were committed.
After Zvornik, a town on the River Drina close to the border with Serbia, was seized in May 1992, Arkan’s Tigers, a Serb paramilitary unit, expelled most of the non-Serb population. More than 1,000 people were killed during the fighting.
Arkan’s Tigers are alleged to have cooperated closely with the paramilitaries of Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party who is facing trial for war crimes in The Hague. The two paramilitary groups went on to attack numerous towns in Bosnia and Croatia with the help of the Yugoslav Army.
It remains unclear under whose command Sima’s Chetniks acted, since some of the witnesses claimed that they received orders from the headquarters of the Serbian Radical Party.
Seselj, however, has denied that he had any control over units in Zvornik, accusing Arkan (Zeljko Raznatovic), who died in a gangland shooting in 2000, of having command responsibility.
The closing arguments continue on February 13.