Nando Times
War crimes tribunal lowers sentence in landmark trial

By JEROME SOCOLOVSKY


THE HAGUE, Netherlands (January 26, 2000) - U.N. appeals judges on Wednesday struck five years from a 25-year sentence for Dusan Tadic, bringing an end to the first and longest international war crimes prosecution since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials in the wake of World War II.

Tadic, 44, a Bosnian Serb reserve policeman, was convicted for the torture and murder of Muslims and Croats at detention camps in Bosnia.

Judge Mohammed Shahabuddeen, reading out a summary of the verdict, said the original sentence against Tadic was too harsh, given his relatively low position in the Bosnian Serb hierarchy.

"Although the criminal conduct underlying the charges of which the appellant now stands convicted was incontestably heinous, his level in the command structure, when compared to that of his superiors, or the very architects of the strategy of ethnic cleansing, was low," the judge from Guyana said on behalf of the five-justice tribunal.

Shahabuddeen said Tadic would also get credit for nearly six years spent in pretrial custody in Germany and the Netherlands.

Despite the reduced sentence, the ruling was welcomed by Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte.

"We are hoping that this is the last the tribunal will hear of Dusko Tadic, that he will be able to start serving his sentence," said the prosecutor's spokesman, Paul Risley, using the defendant's nickname.

Tadic's case, which began May 7, 1996, was the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal's first and longest trial. It has become a symbol of the sluggish pace of justice at the U.N. court, established in 1993 to prosecute suspects of atrocities in the Balkans.

Initially sentenced in July 1997 to 20 years for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Tadic had his term increased to 25 years in November by the appeals chamber, following a prosecution appeal to reinstate dropped charges.

At a Jan. 14 hearing on a defense appeal of the higher sentence, lawyer William Clegg argued the court was putting too much emphasis on the deterrent value of the sentence.

"It's very doubtful that you can have a deterrent effect on foot soldiers in a war situation," said Clegg.

Tadic, a former pub owner and karate instructor, was arrested by German police in Munich on Feb. 13, 1994, after refugees recognized him from the Omarska and Trnopolje prison camps in northwestern Bosnia.

It was the televised images of bony, emaciated detainees clinging to barbed wire fences at those camps in 1993 that shocked the world and put pressure on the U.N. Security Council to set up the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal.

The opening of the case before the tribunal came as it was still struggling to establish its credibility. That prompted allegations that the court was making Tadic a scapegoat for the crimes of his superiors, who were still at large. Critics echoed Tadic's lawyers' contention that he was a mere "tadpole in a pool of sharks."

Richard Goldstone, the tribunal's first prosecutor, conceded the point in a 1996 interview.

"Tadic was the only accused available to bring before the tribunal at a time when the judges, the media, and the international community were clamoring for us to begin prosecutions," the former South African judge said.

Since then, the court has gained custody of dozens of suspects, including several Bosnian Serb leaders held responsible for some of the worst massacres in the 1992-95 war.

Two of them, Gen. Momir Talic and Serb politician Radoslav Brdjanin, allegedly masterminded the bloody ethnic purges in the area where Tadic operated.

On Tuesday, NATO forces arrested yet another suspect on behalf of the tribunal. Mitar Vasiljevic was captured in Visegrad on charges of torture, mass murder and attempting to exterminate Muslim civilians in and around the eastern Bosnian town.

More than 30 suspects wanted by the tribunal remain at large, including Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief, Ratko Mladic.

Wednesday's ruling effectively exhausted all of Tadic's legal recourses at the tribunal.

The case may be reopened only if significant new evidence is uncovered or if judges hearing a related contempt of court proceeding against Tadic's former lawyer, Milan Vujin, order a review. Neither scenario is likely, tribunal officials said.




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