Reporting Justice

III/5: Case Study – Balkans

III/5: Case Study – Balkans

Journalism Module 5: Case Study – Balkans


At the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, senior officials – including generals and politicians – has been put on trial for their suspected roles in war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in the Balkans in the 1990’s.  Covering the trials takes time and consistent effort. Blakans media, and some international agencies, have covered some of the daily events at The Hague trials.  But reporting accurately on the court process is harder than it may appear, especially when nationalistic sentiment can intervene.

Three Croatian generals – Ante Gotovina , Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak  were on trial from 2008, for  crimes committed by the troops allegedly under their command against Serb civilians in the Krajina region during Croatian military operation Storm in the summer of 1995.  350 Serb civilians were killed and 200,000 were forced to flee during this operation, which was aimed at regaining control over Croatian territory that had been held by rebel Serbs. The generals were acquitted in 2012.

In April 2008, Tori Munkelien, a UN observer in Krajina who investigated shell damage in the area ten days after the Operation Storm, was a prosecution witness. He gave his assessment of the damage he witnessed, including looting and burning of abandoned Serb houses.

The prosecutors wanted support for their arguments that shelling of the town of Knin by the Croatian Army (HV), in August 1995,  was not limited only to military targets and that the HV commanders did nothing to prevent looting and burning of Serb houses or punish the perpetrators.

The defence, on the other hand, tried to challenge the evidence Munkelien gave in the first part of his testimony and support their argument that Serb forces shelled Knin as well, causing considerable damage, and that looting and burning were not ordered from above.

What Munkelien said was covered differently by the media in Serbia and  Croatia, as well as by the international news organizations based in The Hague.

Croatian media, such as HINA news agency and Croatian state TV (HRT), gave more space to the defence arguments, and little or no space to the prosecution’s examination-in-chief. The Serbian media, such as BETA news agency, focused on the prosecution’s arguments and didn’t even mention what the witness said when cross-examined by the defence. Only news agencies, such as IWPR (weekly) and SENSE (daily), presented both sides in their reports.

International news organizations



A witness reports seeing more than 100 bodies during military operation, but defence disputes this claim.

By Goran Jungvirth in The Hague (18.4.2008)

Witnesses told the Hague war crimes tribunal this week that they saw dozens of dead bodies, many of them civilians, during a Croatian army offensive to retake Serb-held territory in 1995. They were testifying at the trial of three Croatian generals accused of responsibility for crimes committed by troops under their command in the south-east Krajina region. Prosecutors say Ante Gotovina, the most senior Croatian to be brought before the tribunal, was in command of Operation Storm, which took place from August 4 to 8, 1995, in the course of which 350 Serb civilians were killed and 200,000 were forced to flee.

Gotovina is charged, along with Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac, with orchestrating the permanent removal of Serbs from Croatia between July and September 1995. Rebel Serbs, heavily aided by the then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, had held some 25 per cent of Croatia’s territory since 1991.

At the beginning of the trial, the prosecution argued that Operation Storm was part of a joint criminal enterprise led by the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman with the intention of expelling Serbs from the region. This week, the defence argued that local Serb political and military leaders had planned a mass departure in the event of a Croatian army offensive – the implication being that the exodus was a premeditated strategy on the part of the Serbs. Prosecution witness Andries Dreyer, a former security coordinator at the United Nations base in Knin, the regional centre of Krajina, described seeing several the dead bodies of men and women who had been killed at close range, at the time relevant to the indictment. “If I say that we saw dozens of dead, that is because I can’t [say] how many exactly. We saw one dead man who was already in his seventies and one woman as old as that,” said Dreyer. “We found a shallow grave with a man whose arms were tied behind his back and he was also shot in the head. In the centre of Knin, we found one or two bodies, but we saw more killed in the suburbs – men and women of different ages who weren’t in military clothes.”

While the prosecution does not dispute Croatia’s right to reclaim Krajina region as part of its national territory, it condemns the methods that were used. The three former senior officers are accused of presiding over “deportation and forcible transfer, destruction and burning of Serb homes and businesses, plunder and looting of public or private Serb property; murder [and] other inhumane acts”. Prosecutor Alan Tieger told the court at the beginning of the trial that the Croatian army used excessive shelling to “demoralise civilians and get them to flee”, leaving behind a “scarred wasteland”. …[snip]

A third witness, Tor Munkelien, who was a UN observer in the area in August 1995, testified that he investigated shell damage in the area ten days after Operation Storm. He said the first thing he did when he arrived in Knin was to analyse six shell craters in a residential neighborhood 350-500 metres away from the military barracks. A preliminary UN report concluded that the shelling was concentrated on military targets. But Munkelien said it later appeared that the bombardment had caused more damage than was initially reported. Munkelian said he did not think that the looting and burning of abandoned Serb houses was ordered from above, but rather that the Croatian soldiers engaged in this on their own initiative. “Most of the looters were in military clothes, but… they were driving civilian vehicles,” he said. However, he added that the Croatian authorities could easily have prevented this disorder “if they had wanted to”. The defence argued it was impossible to have complete control over everything that was happening in a large area. But Munkelien replied that the authorities need only have controlled the roads, because the looters “weren’t on foot”.

The trial continues next week.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained reporter in The Hague.


SENSE News Agency, 15.4.2008.

“Who Shelled Knin?”

UN military observer testifying for the prosecution analyzed the craters of the six shells that hit a residential area. In his cross-examination, Ante Gotovina’s defense argued that those six shells were fired from positions held by the Serbian Army of Krajina in the afternoon of 5 August 1995, since by that time there were not many Serbs left in Knin.

From 14 August to 1 December, Norwegian officer Tor Munkelien patrolled the so-called Sector South of the Knin Krajina as a UN military observer registering violations of human rights – killing of civilians, arson, destruction, looting of houses and killing of livestock – after Operation Storm. Everything he had seen and established during his patrolling was described by Munkelien in the two statements that were tendered into evidence, together with other UNMO documents from that period, today at the trial of Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac. The three Croatian generals are charged with crimes in the course of Operation Storm and its aftermath.

In his brief examination-in chief, Munkelien stated that the first thing he did upon his arrival to Knin was to analyze the craters left by the impact of six shells. He did this with his colleague Antil. The shells had hit a residential neighborhood some 350 to 500 meters away from the military barracks. He described how the military observers made the ‘preliminary estimate of damage’ caused by the shelling of Knin at the beginning of Operation Storm. They concluded that the shelling was concentrated on military targets. Civilian facilities were damaged only if they were located in the immediate proximity of military facilities. Parts of town with no military targets were hit only three to five times. In the view of the witness, the estimate was done ‘hastily’, under the pressure of the UNMO command who wanted an urgent report. That is why, he added, it turned out later that the shelling had caused more damage than was described in the preliminary report.

At the beginning of his cross-examination, Greg Kehoe, the defense counsel of the first-accused Ante Gotovina, challenged the witness’s expertise in analyzing craters and the impact of various artillery weapons noting that the witness had served in a medical unit of the Norwegian Army. According to the defense counsel, Munkelien misidentified the shells that had made the craters as M-63 shells. Kehoe contends they were M-77 shells, fired from multiple rocket launchers. Both M-63 and M-77 are used with multiple rocket launchers and have the same caliber, 122 mm, but M-77s are three times bigger than the M-63s and have stabilizers. On a photo of a shell, Kehoe pointed to bent metal pieces that, according to him, were parts of the shell’s stabilizer.

Kehoe didn’t contest all of the witness’s expertise. He accepted his estimate of the angle at which the shells fell and the direction from which they were fired. According to Kehoe, it showed that the shells were fired from Strmica area, where the SVK had its positions on 4 and 5 August 1995. Unlike the Croatian Army, the SVK used M-77 shells. Kehoe used a UN military observers’ report of 5 August 1995 to corroborate this claim. The report states that until 18:05 hours, eight artillery weapons opened fire from the SVK positions in the direction of Knin. By then, there were few if any Serbs left in Knin. The witness replied that he was not aware of the report. He confirmed that he had no knowledge as to who fired the shells whose craters he had analyzed.

The cross-examination of Tor Munkelien continues tomorrow.


SENSE News Agency, 16.4.2008.

“Authorities Could Have Prevented Arson and Looting”

Croatian soldiers or civilians who burned down Serbian houses and looted them, ‘weren’t on foot as they did it’; the Croatian authorities could easily have prevented it by posting check points along the roads in Krajina, former UN military observer Tor Munkelien contends

Croatian authorities could easily have prevented the burning down and looting of Serbian houses after Operation Storm, if they had wanted to do it, Norwegian officer and former UN military observers in Knin Tor Munkelien was categorical today. When the defense teams of Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac objected that it was all happening in a large area that was impossible to fully control, Munkelien replied that it was not necessary to control the territory, but just the roads because those who burned looted houses ‘weren’t on foot as they did that”. They drove civilian or military vehicles.

General Cermak’s defense alleged that establishing check points on Krajina road was the primary responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior and civilian police but the witness disagreed. He noted that civilian authorities didn’t function at the time and that it was the army that had de facto control over the area.

In his statement to the OTP investigators, the witness said that he had never seen any attempts to put out the fires as the houses burned in Knin and surrounding villages and hamlets. Cermak’s defense counsel read several entries from a dairy of the Knin Police Administration pointing to the contrary. Fire brigades, the defense counsel quoted, intervened when fire broke out at the UN warehouse, when a house very close to the Knin Hospital caught fire and in two more cases outside of the town. The witness agreed that the fire brigade was deployed ‘in some cases’ and ‘on certain locations’. But, he remarked, he could match the four examples the defense counsel quoted with ‘four hundred and more cases in which they didn’t even try to put out fires’.

As today’s hearing drew to a close Andries Dreyer, former member of the South African army, began his evidence. In the summer of 1995, during Operation Storm, he was the security coordinator in the UN Knin base. His evidence continues tomorrow.



Croatian reports on Munkelien’s testimony

HINA [Croatian state news agency]:

“Munkelien Admitted He Was Not Sure Who Had Shelled Knin”

Zagreb, 15 April 2008, 3:31 p.m.|, Hina


Former UN military observer, Tor Munkelien, said at the Hague trial of three Croatian Army generals, Ante Gotovina, Ivan Čermak and Mladen Markač, that Croatian forces used inappropriate weapons in their attack on Knin at the beginning of the 1995 Operation Storm. However, during the cross-examination by the defence he said he did not really know who had shelled Knin from a multiple rocket launcher.

The witness analyzed the craters in Knin in August 1995, and together with his colleague from UNMO he concluded they were caused by 128-mm shells fired from multiple rocket launcher M63. The craters were found  in the residential part of Knin, 350 to 500 meters from the military barracks. According to the witness’s assessment, M63 was not an appropriate weapon for shelling military targets in areas where there were civilian facilities too.

During the cross-examination, the defence challenged the witness’s expertise required in making such conclusions, and the witness replied he had served in a medical unit of the Norwegian Army for 39 years, after which he completed a one-year course for UN observers. Greg Kehoe, the defence counsel for General Ante Gotovina, presented in court evidence indicating positions of Serb forces around Knin, which corresponded to the trajectory of the rockets that had caused the analyzed craters.

‘You do not really know who fired from these weapons’, he asked the witness.

‘No’, Munkelien replied briefly.

Kehoe presented evidence on technical characteristics and differences between multiple rocket launchers used by Croatian and Serb sides, and compared them to photographs of the remains of a rocket discovered by UN observers in August 1995. He said it could not have been fired from a multiple rocket launcher M63 because it contained traces of stabilizing wings which Croatian  M63 did not have, but the Krajina Serbs did. However, in the end the witness could not confirm that the remains of the rocket seen in the presented photograph were the ones he had found on 17 August 1995. Ante Gotovina’s defence will have to ask another UNMO team member to confirm that this was indeed the shell Munkelien found that very day.

In the analysis of the attacks on Knin conducted by the witness on 17 August 1995, a conclusion was made that the shelling had been concentrated on military targets. Parts of town with no military targets were hit only three to five times.

Testifying this week, Munkelien said that, as far as he knew, at that time the military targets in the town were two military barracks and a fort. He did not know whether there were other facilities used by the Republic of Srpska Krajina forces right before the Operation Storm. During the cross-examination, he said that he arrived in Knin on 14 August 1995 and did not know whether Serb forces had been passing through the area, which would have made it a legitimate target. The witness confirmed that reports did not precisely mark locations of damaged or destroyed civilian facilities, which is why it could not be said whether there were any military targets there. He also confirmed that he had not checked whether any exchange of fire took place there, which might have caused damage on the  houses as well.

In his cross-examination of the witness,  General Ante Gotovina’s defence counsel presented conclusions made by the head of the UNMO in Croatia and Munkelien’s superior, Steinar Hjertnes,  who said there had not been any mistakes in attacks of Croatian forces on targets in Knin. The Hague prosecution gave up on his testimony.

The witness participated in evaluation of damages in Knin conducted on 17 August, and prosecution presented this as just an initial assessment, while the prosecutor Edward Russou claimed it was later established the evaluation pertained to a wide scope of damages.

In their opening brief at the beginning of the trial, prosecution claimed that during Operation Storm 44 buildings were damaged, out of which 21 heavily, and that all of them were in vicinity of military targets in the town.

Through this witness, prosecution presented a number of UNMO reports on violations of human rights in the UN sector. During his tours of the sector North, conducted from 14 August to 1 December 1995, the witness participated in preparation of a report on killings of elderly people, looting, burning and the killing of cattle, and he himself witnessed lootings and burning committed both by members of the Croatian Army and civilians.

Munkelien said he did not believe there was an order to loot, describing how on one occasion unarmed UN military observers “discouraged” soldiers in their attempt to loot Serb houses.

The trial will continue on Wednesday with cross-examination of the witness.



Croatian TV HRT [state TV] video report:

Among the prosecution witnesses testifying in the trial against Croatian generals was the former UN military observer Tor Munkelien. His testimony was aimed at confirming the thesis that Knin was shelled excessively during the Operation Storm, although his superior, in his report, stated there had not been any mistakes in Croatian attacks. In defence’s cross-examination, Munkelien admitted he was not sure who had opened fire on Knin, since the trajectory of the shells indicated they came from the Serb positions. Defence also presented evidence that remains of the rockets did not match the multiple rocket launchers used by the Croatian military.



Serbian news agency Beta.

Beta News Agency:

“Villages in Krajina Were Burnt Down, Elderly People Were Murdered”

Wednesday, 16 April 2008


At the trial of three Croatian generals in The Hague, prosecution witness Tor Munkelien said that in summer and autumn 1995 Croatian forces had been burning and looting Serb villages and killing old people in the Knin region.

General Ante Gotovina, who commanded the Operation Storm, Ivan Čermak, who was a military administrator in Knin, and Mladen Markač, commander of the Croatian Military Police, have been charged with crimes of persecuting Serb population from Kninska Krajina and other crimes committed in August and September 1995.

From August to December 1995, Munkelien was a UN military observer, gathering evidence on violation of human rights in Kninska Krajina, after Croatian forces took control of the area. He testified that, at the time, UN patrols which he was a part of saw widespread burning and destroying of villages and killings of elderly people.

To illustrate these claims, he stated that on 4 September 1995, the patrol he was in found the body of Sava Babić in the hamlet of Babići. The witness said that he himself on multiple occasions saw lootings and destruction of houses by Croatian forces. He emphasized that the UN patrols evaluated damage in around 400 villages in the region of Knin. Munkelien said he had participated in analyzing six craters of shells that had fallen on Knin. He also said that the crater closest to the military barracks was 350 meters away, and the farthest was about 500 meters away. He added that 120-mm shells were fired from a multiple rocket launchers not intended for precise shelling in urban areas, but artillery shelling of uninhabited zones.

The trial against Gotovina, Čermak and Markač will be continued today.


Key Questions:

Who conducts examination-in-chief and cross-examination of a witness? Do you know the difference between the two and their purpose?

Is it necessary to cover both examination-in-chief and cross-examination in a courtroom report? Why? Explain why selective reporting can be not just unprofessional, but harmful as well.

Analyze reports on Munkelien’s testimony in the Croatian and Serbian media and explain the differences between them. In your opinion, what impression did their respective audiences get upon reading or seeing these reports?

Why do you think the reports on the same hearing differ so much?

How would you write a balanced courtroom report on this hearing? Write a list of the evidence you would put into a news piece report on this hearing and provide the title and first sentence.