By Rachel Irwin
The Hague tribunal’s president has rejected a request from lawyers for former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic to disqualify the presiding judge in his case and issue a stay of proceedings.
In a May 11 submission, Mladic’s lawyers gave 17 different grounds why Judge Alphons Orie should be removed from the case.
These included the claim that Judge Orie was biased in favour of the prosecution and against the accused in numerous ways, and that his Dutch nationality created a conflict of interest regarding the charges relating to the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, in which some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed.
A battalion of United Nations peacekeepers from The Netherlands, known as “Dutchbat”, was tasked with protecting the eastern Bosnian town, a designated UN safe area, when Bosnian Serb forces captured the town on July 12, 1995.
Mladic’s defence also said that Judge Orie had, “without any reasoning”, rejected earlier requests to postpone the trial, and accused him of “pushing the early start of the trial despite very serious problems in the disclosure of required materials to the defence”.
Judge Theodor Meron, the tribunal’s president, said on May 15 that Judge Orie would remain.
“After review of each of Mladic’s arguments for Judge Orie’s disqualification and Judge Orie’s responses thereto, I am not satisfied that Mladic has demonstrated that a reasonable observer, properly informed, would reasonably apprehend bias,” Judge Meron said. “I accordingly find Mladic’s request for Judge Orie’s disqualification to be unmeritorious.”
The defence filed another motion on May 14 for a stay in proceedings, this time for six months, due to the prosecution’s alleged late disclosure of some documents. It remains unclear when judges will rule on this request, but the tribunal press release announcing Judge Meron’s decision said that the trial would commence on May 16 as planned.
The prosecution’s opening statements are due to be made on May 16 and 17. The defence has chosen not to present opening statements at this time, but will have the option to do so before it begins making its own case.
Mladic was arrested in Serbia in May 2011 after 16 years as a fugitive. He was commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, and is alleged to have been responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Bosnian war.
These include the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, as well as the shelling and sniping campaign against Sarajevo, which killed about 12,000 civilians.
He is also charged with crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer. The indictment against him was reduced last December at the judges’ request, and it now deals with a total of 106 crimes instead of 196, and the number of Bosnian municipalities involved has been cut from 23 to 15.
The core elements of the case – the siege of Sarajevo, the massacre at Srebrenica, crimes committed in various municipalities, and the taking of United Nations hostages – remain the same, and the indictment still contains 11 counts.
The prosecution has stated that it intends to call a total of 410 witnesses, 158 of whom are expected to appear in court. The first witness is due to begin testifying on May 29.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague. This article was published at IWPR’s TRI Issue 740.