Jezik / Language:
28 January 2014

No Winners in Mladic-Karadzic Courtroom Face-Off

BIRN Team BIRN BiH Sarajevo
Radovan Karadzic gained nothing when Ratko Mladic refused to answer questions at his trial, while anyone seeking the truth about either man’s wartime role was left none the wiser.
The two men who led the Bosnian Serbs politically and militarily during the war years appeared in a courtroom together for the first time on Tuesday, but the outcome added little to anyone’s understanding of what really happened during the 1990's conflict.

Ordered by the court to testify in Karadzic’s defence despite protestations of ill health, Mladic took his oath but then refused to answer Karadzic’s questions, apart from to explain that he was 71 years old and a military man, which was not exactly secret information.

Karadzic’s legal adviser Peter Robinson told BIRN that the former Republika Srpska president was disappointed with the fact that he had not managed to coax Mladic into testifying in his defence.

“We were hoping that he would listen to our request for testimony, but we understand that he should listen to his attorneys’ advice. We, of course, understand his defence,” Robinson said.

Karadzic asked Mladic all the six questions that he had announced in advance – which were presumably aimed at getting support for his position that he neither committed genocide or terrorised Sarajevo – but Mladic simply repeated again and again that he would not answer because of his health problems and because of his own case at the Tribunal.

Mladic’s attorney Miodrag Stojanovic said Karadzic had gained nothing by coercing his former military chief to take the stand.

“What has he achieved? It does not go anywhere. It does not lead to anything good,” Stojanovic told BIRN.

He said if Mladic had testified, it could have harmed his defence strategy and also damaged the Bosnian Serb cause in general.

“We are afraid of scoring a sort of an own-goal, not only in terms of the defence of General Mladic, but also in the entire context of the Serbian people and the events that happened there [in Bosnia during wartime],” he said.

‘A devil’s court’

Vasvija Vidovic, a lawyer with a lot of experience working at the Tribunal, said that Mladic’s defence had assessed that his testimony would be detrimental to his own case.

“This means that Mladic’s defence is very concerned about protecting his own interests, so it did not allow him to be subjected to cross-examinations, which would disclose the strategy of his defence on the basis of his responses,” Vidovic said.

In the courtroom, Mladic became angry and opened fire verbally at the Tribunal, calling it a “devil’s court” which was created only to prosecute Serbs – an outburst that made his legal team nervous.

“Honestly, I got scared that he would testify simply because I know that none of the members of his defence team can control General Mladic, and when he undertakes to do something, it is difficult to control whether he would do it in the way that was previously agreed with us,” Stojanovic said.

At the beginning of the hearing, Mladic asked the Tribunal to let him read a seven-page statement, but was refused. The document, his attorney said, explained why his rights are being violated by the court.

“As far as the motion which Mladic wanted to read is concerned, it speaks about a long-lasting theory of conspiracy against the Serbian people and the way the Hague Tribunal behaves when depriving him of his elementary rights related to his health condition,” Stojanovic said.

“It further says that, in that sense, he still considers that he cannot be an objective witness of events about which his memory does not provide enough certainty,” he added.

Faida Rahmanovic, a journalist for SENSE Agency who follows trials at the Tribunal, said she did not understand why the court allowed Mladic to refuse to answer questions after issuing him a subpoena to testify.

By doing so, Mladic “deserted from the front lines” of Karadzic’s defence, she said.

“Mladic’s desertion is, of course, a disappointment to Karadzic’s defence. It is, however, not surprising, considering the fact that Karadzic, although supreme commander of the Bosnian Serb military forces, has often said he was not responsible for crimes which according to the indictment were committed by Mladic’s forces,” said Rahmanovic.

Silence as a strategy?

Wartime victims were not impressed either by Mladic’s performance or the few words that he did utter in the courtroom on Tuesday.

Kada Hotic of the Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves association said that even if he had testified for Karadzic, he would not have told the truth.

“They are both in the same stew. They cooperated with each other. Mladic is now using his bad health condition as an excuse… They are in the same trap. They would most gladly keep silent,” Hotic said.

“I have a feeling that the Tribunal is playing with us, because how can one expect him to be a normal and objective witness, knowing that he is on trial as well. Had he spoken, the Tribunal is aware that he would have told lies,” she said.

Fikret Grabovica, president of the Association of Killed Children in Sarajevo, said that the meeting of Karadzic and Mladic in the courtroom was a “farce”.

“With these games in the courtroom, both of them are humiliating [the concept of] justice and the Hague Tribunal, and offending victims,” said Grabovica.

Karadzic and Mladic are on trial, in separate cases, for genocide in Srebrenica, the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, terrorising the population of Sarajevo and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

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