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Murder at the Hague?
An investigation into the alleged suicide of
Slavko Dokmanovic

Historical and Investigative Research - 14 March 2006
by Francisco Gil-White


First published in Emperor's Clothes (4 Nov 2002)

1  |  2  |  3  |  4 

  Did Dokmanovic really commit suicide?


Slavko Dokmanovic, an ethnic Serb, and the mayor of a small town in what is now Croatia, was accused of war crimes, illegally abducted, and sent to the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia), at The Hague, Netherlands.

On June 29th, 1998, it was announced that Slavko Dokmanovic had committed suicide in his cell at the Scheveningen prison, where those being tried by the ICTY or 'Hague Tribunal' are kept. This was just one week before the Tribunal was to pass a verdict on the charges against Dokmanovic. According to the BBC, the Yugoslav government reacted to Dokmanovic’s death as follows:

“Bearing in mind the circumstances accompanying the Dokamovic case, including his arrest, trial, medical treatment and attitude of the prison authorities towards his health problems, the [Yugoslav] Justice Ministry considers the tribunal responsible for the death of Dokmanovic.

The ministry expresses its concern for the health of the other war crimes indictees, and demands that the tribunal undertake necessary steps to guarantee safety and treatment in keeping with international standards.

In regard with the above, the ministry has lodged a protest by Justice Minister Zoran Knezevic to the president of the tribunal, Louise Arbour.”[2]

As this analysis will show, the Yugoslav government could, and should have, leveled charges more serious than these.

Consider first that, on the day that Dokmanovic’s death was announced, the Associated Press wrote the following:

“…Dokmanovic had complained through his lawyers of feeling depressed and had been visited regularly by a psychiatrist, but he never hinted he was suicidal. In fact, he was seen as having a good chance at acquittal...[3] [my emphasis]

A man accused of war crimes (especially if he is innocent!) may naturally feel distraught and require psychiatric help. Feelings of apprehension may rise immediately prior to the verdict. But would a man expecting an acquittal commit suicide? Why not wait until the verdict?

Every alleged suicide is a possible murder, so if a man with good reason to live appears to have killed himself, the responsible authorities are supposed to investigate with zeal -- especially if there are suspicious circumstances, as was the case for Dokmanovic. About those circumstances, the same Associated Press wire wrote:

“The body of Slavko Dokmanovic, 48, was found hanging on the hinge of the door to his cell in the U.N. court's detention unit in The Hague shortly after midnight, tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier said.

…Chartier said Dokmanovic had complained to guards Sunday afternoon that he was not feeling well, and he was placed on a suicide watch. The guards checked on him every half-hour and last saw him alive at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, he said.

The lights were on in his cell at that time, but shortly thereafter, Dokmanovic managed to short-circuit the electricity in his cell using an electric razor, and the lights went out, Chartier said.

When a guard next passed by his cell just after midnight, the body was found dangling in the darkened cell.”

It is difficult to find anything here that makes sense.

First, if the guards last saw him alive at 11:30pm, and didn’t check on him again until midnight, when the body was supposedly found, then how can Chartier know that Dokmanovic shorted the light in his cell shortly after 11:30?

Is he psychic?

Second, if Dokmanovic never even hinted at having suicidal thoughts, why place him on suicide watch when he merely complains about not “feeling well”? But if he was placed on suicide watch, how could he hang himself without anyone noticing and stopping him?

A later wire, from Inter-Press Service, would have us believe that this was in fact relatively easy because Dokmanovic’s keepers obliged his supposedly suicidal intentions by leaving him his tie!

“…Slavko Dokmanovic, a 49-year-old Croatian Serb, hung himself with a tie …[at the] … detention center in Scheveningen, in the Netherlands, run by the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

.…Dokmanovic's death was pronounced ‘unfortunate’ by the ICTY, although it was never explained how a man who tried to commit suicide twice while in detention was left with a tie or an electric razor.”[4]

Notice that this is in direct contradiction to what we saw earlier: a man first described as never even hinting that he was suicidal is now alleged to have tried to kill himself twice before! Shall we pick our favorite version? And if Dokmanovic was placed on suicide watch, then it is not merely strange but downright incomprehensible that they should have left him his tie or razor.

I contacted the 18th District Philadelphia Police Department to obtain details about their policies in a suicide watch, and I learned the following:

1) The prisoner is placed in a separate, Plexiglas cell.

2) Anything that could be used as a weapon, or used by the prisoner to hang him/herself is removed. Ties, belts, shoe-laces, etc.—all must go. Only a safety razor would be provided (certainly not a real razor, or an electric razor which the prisoner could use to electrocute himself). The prisoner will be watched at all times while operating the safety razor.

3) In Philadelphia, even the prisoner’s clothes are removed and s/he is given a special jumpsuit made of paper that cannot be used for hanging.

4) The prisoner is checked every 15 minutes.

My informant, one Sergeant Walsh, was not sure why the regulation time between checks is exactly 15 minutes, but he agreed with me that this is probably so that especially crafty prisoners will not find time enough to suffocate. Asked how he felt about a 30 minute interval, he reacted with surprise -- no, that was much too long. We’ve been told, however, that Slavko Dokmanovic was checked only every 30 minutes.

Sergeant Walsh also impressed upon me that suicide-watch regulations are not flexible in the least, as failure to follow them to the letter will result in suspension without pay. And when asked what the procedure would be in case a prisoner died while on suicide watch, he said: “To give you an idea of how serious this would be, any time there is a cell block incident it is investigated by a homicide unit.”

Now compare this to what the tribunal spokesman, Christian Chartier, said to the press and see if you can find anything that looks plausible. One version has Slavko Dokmanovic on suicide watch even though he never hinted he was suicidal and merely complained of not feeling well. The other version has him trying to commit suicide twice before, but he is nevertheless given long, 30-minute intervals between checks, his clothes are not removed, and -- most scandalously -- his tie and electric razor are left in his cell! Why? To give him a better chance on his third try?

We have nothing but suspicious stories here, and all the worse for not being mutually consistent. But, troubling as these questions may seem, they pale compared to those raised by glaring inconsistencies in other reports of the discovery of Dokmanovic’s body.

This, for example, is from Deutsche Presse-Agentur:

“On Sunday evening, Dokmanovic had again complained about feeling unwell and was examined by a doctor. He was immediately placed under surveillance and a guard had checked on his condition every half hour.

At 11.30 pm, everything had been normal, Chartier said. But at midnight the accused had been found dead.

Chartier was quoted by the British BBC as saying: ‘Dokmanovic used an electric shaver to short-circuit the light in his cell. When the prison guard went to check on him he could not see in, so he opened the door. That was when he discovered the body.’”[5]

Notice what a different picture we get here. So casual. The guard opened the door because...he could not see in! There was no particular alarm about the light being out.

That is consistent with Dokmanovic complaining about not feeling well and getting checked by “a doctor,” not by a psychiatrist. Very casual. Health problems: routine.

But this contradicts the Associated Press wire cited earlier, which said that Dokmanovic was seen by a psychiatrist and placed on suicide watch. And yet, both reports are from the same day, and both cite the same Christian Chartier as their source.

The report below, which appeared the next day in The Scotsman, is also inconsistent:

“The judges were expected to deliver their verdict on 7 July. After a visit the next day, his lawyer, Domo Fila, was so disturbed by Dokmanovic's mental condition that he asked for his client's medication to be increased and for a warder to check his condition every 30 minutes.

According to Zoran Jovanovic, a legal colleague in Belgrade, Mr Fila had been confident of securing Dokmanovic's release. ‘But he was not at all well during that time,’ said Zoran Jovanovic from Belgrade.”[6]

This account has Dokmanovic’s lawyer (Toma Fila, not as written above) worrying about the supposedly suicidal Dokmanovic, and requesting medication and checks every 30 minutes. The Scotsman’s information supposedly comes from Jovanovic, a colleague of Fila’s, not from Chartier.

What are we supposed to believe?

Concern about Dokmanovic was raised either by a psychiatrist, a doctor, Dokmanovic complaining to his guards, or by his lawyer. Subsequently, either the prison guards, or his lawyer, decided to either put him on suicide watch or on informal monitoring. The reason for this was either because of depression or a health concern, and he was either given medication or not (but either way they left him his tie and razor even though in one of these universes he had already attempted to commit suicide twice!). The source for all of this is mostly one Christian Chartier, who is reported to have said in one account that Dokmanovic was placed on suicide watch, but in another (as we shall see), that he was not placed on suicide watch! If people are straightforwardly reporting the facts from mostly one source -- one man, Christian Chartier -- is it possible to get this many different stories in two days?

ğğ Continue to part 2:

Footnotes and Further Reading

[2] BBC Worldwide Monitoring, June 30, 1998

[3] AP Worldstream,  June 29, 1998; Monday,  International news,  670 words,  AP Photo AMS101,  JENIFER CHAO,  THE HAGUE, Netherlands

[4] Inter Press Service,  September 22, 1998, Tuesday,  844 words,  RIGHTS-YUGOSLAVIA: DEATHS IN THE HAGUE "JUSTIFY" BELGRADE STANCE,  By Vesna Peric-Zimonjic,  BELGRADE, Sep. 22

[5] Deutsche Presse-Agentur,  June 29, 1998, Monday,  International News,  497 words,  Serb war-crimes suspect found hanged in cell days before verdict due,  The Hague

[6] The Scotsman,  June 30, 1998, Tuesday,  Pg. 9,  601 words,  SERB WAR CRIMES SUSPECT FOUND HANGED IN CELL,  Alex Blair Foreign Affairs Reporter































































































































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