Literature of the Holocaust
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First International War Crimes Trial Since World War II Examines Bosnian Atrocities

New York Times, May 7, 1996

The first international war crimes trial in 50 years opened on Tuesday with a Bosnian Serb accused of taking part in a systematic reign of terror, described by a prosecutor as ''events of unspeakable horror.'' Grant Niemann, the prosecutor, told the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, that the lone defendant, Dusan Tadic, committed crimes against humanity in connection with "a widespread or systematic attack against the non-Serb population" of the Prijedor region in northwest Bosnia. Niemann, an Australian, told the three-judge panel that Serbs committed atrocities in Prijedor in 1992 aimed at driving Moslems and Croats away and claiming the territory for themselves.

Tadic, the first person to face an international war crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II, is charged with killing and torturing Moslems and Croats in and near the Omarska prison camp in Bosnia in 1992. The 40-year-old defendant, married with two daughters, has denied the charges. Dressed in a dark suit and tie, he appeared tense and waved to a spectator in the courtroom but showed no emotion as presiding judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald of the United States opened the proceedings, Reuters reported. Niemann accused Tadic of participating in gang rapes and described one incident in which the defendant, a martial arts expert, allegedly helped to beat prisoners to death with karate kicks. Prosecutors will provide witnesses who claim to have survived beatings by Tadic. Some witnesses are so terrified of the defendant that they will be allowed to testify from outside the courtroom via a video link.

Defense lawyer Michail Wladimiroff described the Yugoslav tribunal as an experiment in justice that could fail. ''The tribunal must be wary of desires for revenge and the need for a scapegoat,'' Wladimiroff said. The court-appointed lawyer said he would call witnesses to show Tadic was in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka when the atrocities were committed, The Associated Press said. The Dutch lawyer also plans to call character witnesses and survivors of detention camps to deny Tadic's involvement in crimes he is accused of committing there. The trial is likely to take months with over 100 witnesses. If convicted, Tadic faces life in prison.

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