Naser Oric's defense notes that in order to understand events in Srebrenica, one needs to comprehend four crucial words: genocide, siege, starvation and sickness. Was Oric accused of "stealing TV sets"?

Naser Oric during the trial Naser Oric during the trial

As Naser Oric's defense co-counsel, Briton John Jones, stressed in his opening statement, events in Srebrenica in the period relevant to the indictment cannot be understood without a "broader picture" of what was going on in that part of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the outbreak of war in the spring of 1992 to its bloody finale in July 1995.

The defense contends that to get a "broader picture," one needs to comprehend four crucial words: genocide, siege, starvation and sickness. The "four riders of the Apocalypse" turned Srebrenica into "a real hell" and, added Jones, the Trial Chamber "would have to put itself in Naser Oric's shoes in order to see what he could realistically have done in Srebrenica."

During his opening statement, the defense counsel showed several video tapes giving a striking picture of the “hell” in Srebrenica in the winter and spring of 1993: starving people "with sunken bellies and empty stares"; desperate women trying to get onto trucks to be evacuated, or at least to put their children on them; wounded boys and girls dying in their parents' arms or in the arms of UN soldiers--all because Bosnian Serbs were firing shells to prevent medevac helicopters from landing.

Jones described the accused Oric as an "outstanding warrior who fought back the Serbs to protect his people" and as someone who was "persecuted by Serbs for doing that in war and peacetime." The defense counsel warned against any "warped thinking" whereby Oric's conviction for the crimes he is charged with – the destruction and plunder of Serb villages and the murder and abuse of Serb detainees in the police station in Srebrenica – would "absolve Serbs from the responsibility for what happened in July 1995," since one could conclude that "Muslims brought the genocide on themselves." Jones claims that there is similar "warped thinking" among some in the international community, which also bears part of the responsibility for the July 1995 events in Srebrenica.

The British lawyer tried to minimize the charges against Oric in his opening statement, claiming he is charged with "property crimes: stealing cattle, furniture and TV sets" and wondering why the Office of the Prosecutor in a Tribunal established to prosecute people responsible for the most serious war crimes "elected to charge Naser Oric with stealing TV sets." The defense counsel also asked several rhetorical questions:

"Is it a crime when civilians steal food from those who are trying to starve them to death?"

"Is it plunder if one steals weapons and ammunition from an enemy of superior strength who is trying to destroy you?"

"Is it wrong to resist ethnic cleansing?"

At the end of his opening statement, Jones urged the Chamber to "separate facts from fiction and myth from man."

The Chamber will issue instructions to the parties about the future conduct of the trial. The first prosecution witness will be heard Friday.