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23 March 2016
Analysis

Karadzic Trial: Competing Versions of the Truth

Erna Mackic BIRN BiH Sarajevo

During Radovan Karadzic’s marathon trial, the prosecution brought witnesses to prove he was guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, while testimony from the defence disputed the crimes or tried to show he wasn’t responsible.

Radovan Karadzic’s trial began in 2010 and heard testimonies from 585 witnesses – war victims, politicians, peacekeepers and experts – as both sides sought to prove their claims at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

The hearing of the evidence continued for around four-and-a-half years, and then the Hague judges took another year to consider their decision in advance of the verdict on Thursday.

The witnesses that the prosecution and defence put on the stand offered sometimes contradictory views of the crimes that were committed during the war and who was ultimately responsible for them.

The prosecution sought to prove that the political orchestrator was the Bosnian Serb president, Karadzic, while the defence tried to dispute the nature of the crimes or to suggest that he could not have been in control of the men who committed them.

According to the charges, Karadzic, as supreme commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, was guilty of responsibility for a campaign of sniper and artillery attacks on the population of Sarajevo which lasted for 1425 days.

In order to prove this, the Hague prosecutors called to the stand both victims and people involved in investigations at the sites of mortar blasts and sniper attacks.

Most of the witnesses testifying about the siege were former members of UN peacekeeping forces who were in the Bosnian capital during the war.

High-ranking officers or peacekeepers like Harry Konings, John Wilson and David Fraser said that Bosnian Serb forces, especially the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, randomly attacked the city and targeted civilians.

Fatima Zaimovic, the former chief nurse at the child surgery department of the Kosevo hospital in Sarajevo - where Karadzic once worked as a psychiatrist before the war - also recalled that in 1992, more than 150 children were “wounded by sniper fire”.

But testifying on Karadzic’s behalf, the former president of the Bosnian Serb parliament Momcilo Krajisnik – who was himself convicted by the Hague Tribunal – said that the Republika Srpska military and its politicians were not guilty of crimes in the city because they only “returned fire when provoked”.

“No one supported the shelling of Sarajevo. On the contrary, the presidency of Republika Srpska in June 1992 decided to totally stop the artillery attacks,” said Krajisnik.

The former commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, Stanislav Galic - who was also sentenced by the Hague Tribunal to life in prison - denied that units under his control killed civilians and halted water, gas, electricity and aid supplies to the city. He also testified that Karadzic told him to allow convoys of humanitarian aid to enter Sarajevo.

The Hague prosecution also presented evidence which it hoped would prove the allegations that genocide was committed in seven Bosnian municipalities in 1992 and crimes against humanity in 20 Serb-controlled municipalities.

Experts Dorothea Hanson, Robert Donia, Richard Butler, Christian Nielsen and Reynaud Theunens said that Karadzic had control over the Serb military, police and crisis committees in the municipalities where the crimes were committed.

Military expert Theunens said that Karadzic gave directives to the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Headquarters, while Hanson said that the Republika Srpska authorities expelled Muslims and Croats in an organised manner.

Bosniak war victims Ibro Osmanovic from Vlasenica and Ahmet Zulic from Sanski Most and British journalists Ed Vulliamy and Jeremy Bowen spoke about crimes committed by members of the Bosnian Serb military, police and paramilitary groups.

BBC journalist Bowen said that ethnic cleansing during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina “cannot be disputed” and that Bosnian Serb forces committed most of the crimes.

But testimony from one of Karadzic’s witnesses, former judge Jefto Jankovic, disputed this.

Speaking about a massacre at the Koricanske stijene cliffs on Mount Vlasic in 1992 when 150 Bosniaks from Prijedor were killed, Jankovic claimed that the crime was committed by Serb criminals under the orders of foreign intelligence services, “to show Serbs are animals”.

After the prosecution completed the presentation of its evidence in May 2012, Karadzic asked to be acquitted of all the charges. The trial chamber decided that the prosecutors had failed to prove Karadzic guilty of genocide in 1992 in Sanski Most, Kljuc, Vlasenica, Prijedor, Zvornik, Bratunac and Foca and acquitted him, but this decision was later overturned by the appeals chamber.

Testifying about the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, when more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed, expert Richard Butler said that the order to kill the captives must have come from the military commanders and that the supreme commander was Karadzic.

But wartime Bosnian Serb Army Main Headquarters intelligence officer Zdravko Tolimir testified that Karadzic had no knowledge about the executions of captives from Srebrenica in July 1995. Tolimir was sentenced to life in prison by the Hague judges, but died in prison after testifying in Karadzic defence.

The final part of Karadzic’s trial concerned the taking of UN peacekeeping forces as hostages in 1995.

The former commander of British UN forces in Gorazde, Jonathon Riley, told the court that Bosnian Serb forces took 33 of his soldiers captive in May 1995.

But Karadzic tried to prove that the UN peacekeepers were not neutral but active participants in the fight against the Bosnian Serbs.

Karadzic is also charged with being a member of a joint criminal enterprise aimed at persecuting non-Serbs, together with other high-ranking Republika Srpska police and army officials and political leaders in local communities, as well as leaders of paramilitary and volunteer fighting units.

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