Ewa Tabeau, prosecution expert witness.
They say expert witness’s methods “inappropriate” and “irrelevant” for case.
By Rachel Irwin in The Hague
A statistician who prepared the initial list of victims allegedly killed by Bosnian Serb cousins Milan and Sredoje Lukic came under fire this week from defence lawyers, who pronounced her report “irrelevant” and asked judges to dismiss it.
“What does a ‘proof of death’ project [carried out to identify victims] have to do with demographics?” Jason Alarid, Milan Lukic’s lawyer, asked expert witness Ewa Tabeau, a statistician in the prosecution’s demography unit.
Confusion on how exactly a statistical report can prove that a person is dead was rife throughout the expert witness’s testimony.
Tabeau’s report, outlining the results of her Proof of Death project, has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks after the defence produced evidence that three of the allegedly deceased victims named in it were likely to be alive.
The report cross-references the alleged victims’ names with available census information, voting records and lists of missing persons, among other sources.
Other than eyewitness statements collected by the prosecution, her report provides the only proof that the victims in the indictment are, in fact, dead.
The Bosnian Serb Lukic cousins are accused of murdering about 150 Bosniaks in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad during the summer of 1992.
The three so-called living victims are alleged to have died in a house fire in Pionirska Street on June, 14, 1992, after the Lukic cousins allegedly barricaded a group of 70 Bosniaks into the house and set it alight.
The prosecution asked judges last week to remove three names from the Pionirska victim list, conceding that it was possible that they did not die in the fire.
Confusion over what exactly the report proves compelled presiding Judge Patrick Robinson to ask Tabeau the same question – slightly reworded – three times in a row.
“How does demography establish that Mr Lukic killed someone?” asked Robinson.
“We can’t help establish whether Mr Lukic killed these people or not,” she finally responded. “[But] we can help establish whether these people were killed or not.”
“Isn’t it fair to say that has nothing to do with statistics?” retorted Alarid.
Tabeau defended her report, as well as the lengthy written “clarification” she produced on March 16, after the allegations surfaced that some victims were still alive.
She conceded only that it was “possible” that three people originally on the victims’ list did not die in the Pionirska fire and strongly denied Alarid’s suggestion that up to 18 alleged Pionirska victims might be alive.
Tabeau responded to a defence submission, in which it presented details of 18 living people that it said had been mistakenly included on the list of those killed in the fire.
She said that while these people had the same names as the recorded victims, she reiterated that their ages and other biographical information did not match those listed in the indictment.
When Alarid pressed Tabeau about the lack of death certificates – or any other physical evidence – of the fire victims, she responded that methods are much different in times of conflict.
“You’re saying that a death certificate is the ultimate proof,” she said. “Maybe in peacetime, but we’re speaking about a conflict, where people are on the move and many things are happening. You can’t expect that those cases will be documented the same way as in peacetime.”
Alarid also brought up the fact that some of names on the list seemed to have no other identifying information corresponding with a “real, live person”.
“Can we consider those people non-persons?” asked Alarid.
“Absolutely not,” responded Tabeau. “Witness statements are not perfect, but that doesn’t mean the victims never existed. There will be errors, but it doesn’t mean that the war never happened and people were never killed.”
When Alarid repeatedly claimed that some of the alleged victims had never existed, Tabeau grew exasperated.
“What would you say about victims of the Cambodia [genocide]?” she asked. “[There are] no names. Does it mean that crimes never happened?”
Alarid brushed off her remark, saying her methods were “inappropriate” in a “first commission” case, where the defendants are personally accused of killing over 100 people.
“[My client] could go to jail for killing someone that’s alive. Isn’t that true?” asked Alarid.
“I’m not going to allow that,” interjected Judge Robinson.
During the short cross-examination, prosecutor Maxine Marcus criticised the defence’s methods of obtaining information about victims on the deceased list – including looking up names in the phonebook.
“There is no reason to believe you’d ever be able to narrow down your search [by pursuing such methods],” said Tabeau. “It’s impossible.”
She also said that the police and government authorities in Visegrad – whom the defence asked for assistance in locating alleged victims – had no access to the 1991 census. It was unclear, she said, what sources they used for providing any information they dispensed.
At the end of her testimony, Alarid asked Judge Robinson to “strike” Tabeau’s report and subsequent clarification.
“It’s statistically not relevant,” said Alarid.
Judge Robinson criticised Alarid for making such a request verbally and said the chamber would deal with the matter at a future date.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.