At a hearing before the Trial Chamber today, the defense asked for the provisional release of two Croatian generals, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac. The prosecution opposed the motion.

Ivan Cermak i Mladen Markac in the courtroomIvan Cermak i Mladen Markac in the courtroom

Lawyers for Generals Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac presented oral arguments before the Trial Chamber today in support of their motion for the provisional release of the two accused pending trial; prosecutors presented their arguments against granting the motion.

On the day of their initial appearance before the Tribunal, on March 12, the generals’ defense lawyers submitted their motions for provisional release to the Trial Chamber. Before ruling on the motions, the Trial Chamber ordered that not only the defense and prosecution appear before it at a hearing, but also representatives of the Croatian government. The latter were expected to furnish guarantees that Croatian authorites will arrest Cermak and Markac if they refuse to obey the court’s orders and that the accused will not present any danger to victims and witnesses.

The Croatian Justice Minister, Vesna Skare Ozbolt, presented the guarantees to the Chamber, saying that there are no problems with cooperation between Croatia and the Tribunal, and that the Tribunal should therefore have no doubts about the pledges given by the government.

Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, however, expressed certain reservations on this issue. At the hearing today, she reminded the court that Ante Gotovina – the third person indicted in the same indictment as the Generals for crimes committed in the course of and after Operation Storm – "is still missing and that the Government has been unable to do anything about it, and that there is a possibility that the other two accused could also disappear.”

The defense stressed, however, that unlike Gotovina, Cermak and Markac surrendered to the Tribunal immediately after their indictment was made public and that they cooperated with the Tribunal in the past; they were interviewed by Tribunal investigators and Cermak even gave them documents. The defense feels that Cermak and Markac should not be "punished because of Gotovina's conduct.”

Opposing the motion for provisional release, prosecutors argue that the accused have a motive not to return to the Tribunal because the charges against them are serious and may result in severe punishment. They also say that after the prosecution discloses its evidence to the defense, they will have access to the names of victims and witnesses and will be able to try and influence them.

Cermak's defense counsel, Cedo Prodanovic, called the arguments offered by the prosecution "routine" and cited the conduct of the accused to date in their favor: in the past years, he said, they had not tried to influence victims or witnesses, despite the high positions they held and their awareness they might be indicted by the Tribunal.

When asked by Judge Carmel Agius whether the views of the prosecution were subject to change, prosecutor Mark Ierace noted that it was "possible that the prosecution might take a different stand later, if the accused agree to be interviewed by the Office of the Prosecutor and if some other changes are put in place.” The defense, on the other hand, feels that agreement to give interviews should not be a prerequisite for provisional release.

The Chamber stated that it would rule on the issue as soon as possible.