THE HAGUE | 16.10.2014.

SHEPHERDS EXCHANGED FOR PRISONERS, SHEEP BURIED IN OVCARA

Hadzic’s defense witness Savo Strbac says that Croats would capture shepherds in the fields or women and the elderly, whom they accused of being snipers, and then exchanged them for prisoners of war. The prosecutor tried to discredit the witness noting that in a legal brief Strbac argued it was lawful to kill civilians in war. The court also heard about the stories that sheep were buried on Ovcara and the general reliability of information collected by Strbac’s NGO, Veritas

In his statement to Goran Hadzic’s defense, Savo Strbac said that Croats would capture Serb civilians to exchange them for captured Croat soldiers. Strbac was the government secretary of the Republic of Serbian Krajina and president of the Commission for the Exchange of Prisoners and Mortal Remains.

When he was questioned in court by the defense counsel, Strbac said that Croats would often arrest the elderly and women, accusing them of sniping at Croat civilians and troops from their apartments and roof tops. Croats, Strbac noted, also detained ‘shepherds tending sheep, horses and cattle’ and kidnapped ‘Serb rebels’ in the UN protected zones. It was impossible to prevent kidnapping because the peace keepers were deployed deep inside the zones like ‘ink stains’ and the border was too long to be controlled completely.

The prosecutor then asked a series of questions to show that Hadzic as the Republic of Serbian Krajina president had powers and used them. He then went on to present various documents in a bid to contest the witness’s credibility. First the prosecutor quoted from an appellate brief Strbac filed as a lawyer against the judgment in the case against Nikola Gagic who was tried for double murder. In the brief, Strbac argues that it is lawful to kill civilians in war. Strbac tried to explain his position, saying that in the document, which was ‘pacifist’, he condemned ‘war-mongers’ who ‘brought this young soldier to the front line and told him that everyone on the other side was the enemy. He then painted his face as the special units all over the world do, went to the other side and killed people. He then danced some kind of an Indian dance shouting that he had killed the Ustashas’, Strbac recounted. He explained that there was a difference between the statements he made ‘in my capacity as a defense lawyer and as a human being’. As a human being, he is against killing civilians and soldiers, but as a lawyer he has to defend his client as best he can.

The prosecutor noted that Strbac had been a member of the Territorial Defense in Benkovac, reminding him about the crimes in the villages of Skabrnja and Nadin in the fall of 1991. Strbac didn’t mention the crimes in his statement, the prosecutor argued, because this was part of his strategy of ‘minimizing the suffering of Croats and amplifying the Serbs’ ordeals’. Strbac replied that it ‘is not true’. It is well known that he handed over the bodies of 48 victims to Croats and that he then brought the women and children who had been moved from the combat zone by the JNA and the Territorial Defense to be exchanged, Strbac emphasized. Strbac also said that in late 1991 he didn’t know about the grave in Ovcara. After he learned about the grave, Strbac still didn’t know who was buried there, Serbs or Croats. Moreover, there were rumors that the grave was filled with dead sheep, Strbac noted.

At the end of the cross-examination, the prosecutor brought up some inaccurate information from the missing person reports produced by Strbac’s non-governmental organization, Veritas. The prosecutor concluded the cross-examination by putting it to Strbac that he had never testified before the Tribunal as a prosecution witness. The witness confirmed it. The trial of Goran Hadzic continues next week with the evidence of another defense witness.