Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Branko Djeric giving testimony in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
The Hague trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic continued this week with testimony from Branko Djeric, who in 1992 served as the first prime minister of the Bosnian Serbs’ self-declared Republika Srpska, RS.
The prosecution alleges that Karadzic, who was president of RS from 1992 to 1996, is responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”, including the planning and overseeing of major crimes such as the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, in which some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed.
Djeric, who appeared as a witness for the prosecution, is now an economics professor at the university of Istocno Sarajevo in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
He previously appeared as a witness at the Hague trial of former Bosnian Serb parliament speaker Momcilo Krajisnik. Djeric initially failed to appear before at that trial, after which a contempt of court indictment was issued against him and subsequently dropped after he appeared in court.
The central argument presented by Djeric during his testimony this week was that Karadzic was not interested in looking into abused committed by Serb forces in 1992.
"As chairman of the government, I had to take up responsibility for all the ministers,” Djeric said, stating that he had “very firm findings that Momcilo Mandic [then justice minister] and Mico Stanisic [interior minister] were involved in criminal activities."
Stanisic is also facing trial before the ICTY. Mandic has been indicted at Bosnia’s national war crimes court.
"When I asked President Karadzic to have these two ministers removed from office, I was publicly humiliated,” he continued. “It was Karadzic himself who prevented their dismissal.
"Mind you, our government's aim from the very first day was to ensure that the rule of law is respected and that everything goes legally, but apparently it didn't," said Djeric, saying this was why he left the post of prime minister in late 1992.
"We never felt like a real government, though," Djeric said, explaining that the administration just felt like a “technical apparatus belonging to President Karadzic, his office and his party.”
“In fact, Republika Srpska was at its beginning what you could clearly call a single-party state,” Djeric said. “Whenever Mandic and Stanisic wanted something, they would go directly to Karadzic, ignoring me and the government. For example, Mandic completely ignored my requests to file a report about what was going on with the prisoners, how the civilians were being treated – and there were reports coming in from the international community about crimes being committed by Bosnian Serbs.”
"As a government, we ordered any illegal detention centres to be dismantled, but the justice ministry simply ignored this request," he added.
Often, he said, Karadzic did “too little” to counter the negative influence of “persons and events” about which Djeric had tried to warn him.
“When I spoke to him about this issue, Karadzic’s answer was to leave it for a later time; that this wasn't pressing.”
“It was almost impossible to create the rule of law in such conditions, and I couldn't take part in that any more,” he concluded.
Djeric said Karadzic bore responsibility for what happened in areas that had come under Bosnian Serb control.
"President Karadzic had full responsibility – call it political responsibility if you wish,” he said, adding that Stanisic and Mandic “knew that they had Karadzic's backing” and that they even “publicly threatened to kill” Djeric.
In cross-examination, Karadzic countered the witnesses’ claims.
“Djeric wasn’t even the slightest bit aware of the organisational problems Karadzic was having with [RS army commander Ratko] Mladic and Stanisic," he said.
Arguing that his only intention had been to “create a working system”, Karadzic said, “I may have been opposed to sudden changes in the government, but I wasn't opposed to a restructuring.”
“That is not true,” Djeric replied, “because you explicitly told me that we can't fire those two as they are of key importance for the government and its work.”
Karadzic also tried to point out that “the conflict was a personal one and related to professional issues and arguments between Djeric and the two ministers”. He added that he had not had time to deal with their differences himself.
“That's ridiculous,” Djeric responded, “and it's just your attempt to find an excuse for not having done anything.
“You see, Mr Karadzic, had you then punished that what was supposed to be punished, many much worse things could and would have been prevented,” he continued. “You will remember me having tried to convince you and telling you, and in the end that was exactly the reason I left.”
Karadzic did not respond to this.
The defendant went on to suggest that the RS authorities had a positive approach towards people of other ethnicities, and had been “doing all they could to ensure them that they would be safe”.
“You see, for example in Pale, the Muslims left when they wanted to and because they wanted to,” he continued. “They started feeling uneasy when they were seeing bodies of dead Serb soldiers coming in.”
Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years in hiding from justice. The prosecution witnesses in his trial started giving their testimonies in April 2010.
The trial continues next week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.
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