Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Bosniak Detainee Speaks of Beatings
Prosecution witness Hajrudin Karic. (Photo: ICTY)
A Bosniak witness testified this week at the Hague tribunal that he was severely mistreated in Bosnian Serb-run detention facilities and that conditions only temporarily improved in one of them when Radovan Karadzic made a personal visit with journalists and diplomats.
The prosecution played video footage of Karadzic’s visit to Kula prison, outside Sarajevo, in August 1992, which was part of a news report by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
The camera pans over a group of male detainees in civilian clothes, while Amanpour states that “all the prisoners we’ve seen appear to be in good shape” though a “few look desperately thin”.
In the footage, Karadzic is accompanied by British politician Paddy Ashdown, who would eventually became the High Representative for Bosnia and Hercegovina, a position created as part of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords which ended the war.
Amanpour tells viewers that “Karadzic made a great show of standing aside while Ashdown interviewed prisoners”.
Karadzic decided to release “just ten prisoners” and “handed out release papers as if he was handing out rewards”, Amanpour says in a voiceover.
He tells cameras that “if we release all those people without [a prisoner] exchange they will be mobilised” once again.
Prosecution witness Hajrudin Karic was detained at the Kula prison when Karadzic came to visit, and he said that the prison staff “kind of camouflaged it so it didn’t look like they were mistreating us”.
“They wanted to make it look like they were taking care of us, but only for one day when Karadzic was making a visit with journalists and the Red Cross,” he said.
Usually, Karic said, the detainees were made to work for food – and this involved burying the dead or digging trenches. He said that because of a severe beating he sustained as a prisoner in Pale, he wasn’t able to go out and work, and had in fact lost some 50 kilos by the time Karadzic came to visit.
“We saw at the end of that clip Mr Karadzic stating that he would not release those who would likely to be mobilised again,” Prosecuting lawyer Patrick Hayden put to the witness. “When you were arrested, were you a member of a militia or an armed group?”
“I wasn’t a member of any group and I was not armed, and I was not a member of any party,” Karic said. “Were you aware of other detainees who were not members of a militia or any armed group?” Hayden asked.
Karic said that “none” he knew were from any armed group.
“These people were not on the front lines,” he said. “[The Bosnian Serbs] just rounded up civilians and brought them in.”
Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska 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".
He is also accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of some 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.
Karadzic, who represents himself in the courtroom, was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.
When war broke out in spring 1992, the witness said he worked in Pale but was arrested by the Bosnian Serb police at the end of May. He was then detained at the Pale sports centre with more than 100 other Bosniaks, and it was there he experienced the worst abuse, he said.
On one occasion, he was called into another room where two men proceeded to beat him with sticks until someone walked in and said that Karic “wasn’t the one” they were meant to beat.
“Then they stopped beating me…and managed to get me back on my feet and threw me back in the hall,” he said. “My left arm was all black and I lay there helpless for days without any help. That was it.”
Karic said that one day the Pale police chief, Malko Koroman, came to the prison and remarked, “What is this? It’s as if there is some kind of plague here.”
“What did [Koroman] see?” Hayden asked.
“He saw men lying there,” Karic said. “One young man…it was as if his brains had oozed out on the floor. We the prisoners were lying down – we couldn’t stand up because we were being beaten every day.”
“Judging from the circumstances, did it appear that [Koroman] really thought there was some kind of plague in this prison?” Hayden asked.
“Oh no, he did not,” Karic replied. “He was trying to justify himself…. [and was] pretending not to know anything about it.”
The witness was transferred to Kula prison in July 1992 and exchanged the following month.
When it was Karadzic’s turn to cross examine the witness, he focused almost exclusively on the lead up to the war and tried to point out inconsistencies in Karic’s previous statements to the prosecution. At one point, he said that this witness’s statements contradicted those of other witnesses.
Judge Howard Morrison questioned Karadzic’s tactics, remarking that his cross examination “so far seems really peripheral”.
“If there are challenges that go to the heart of the witness’s evidence, make your best points first,” the judge suggested, adding that it was “impermissible” to put another witness’s testimony to Karic in order to prove inconsistencies.
Karic himself grew frustrated at several points in the cross-examination as Karadzic questioned him about specific dates he mentioned in different statements.
“I don’t know what all these dates mean for you,” the witness remarked. “If it’s a day, or two, or three or five. It’s pointless. I don’t see any reason for you to insist on that.”
At one point, he said that Karadzic was only focused on the “silly stuff”.
“Alright, maybe I am a bit silly, but all this lack clarity bothers me,” Karadzic responded.
When the accused finally dealt with matters regarding Karic’s detention, he asked about the number of people held in the sports hall in Pale.
In one statement, Karadzic said, the witness gave a number of “150 to 200 Muslims” while in another statement he said it was 60.
“You just keep dwelling on these numbers,” Karic retorted. “I mean, it was a full hall. You didn’t dare to speak to anyone, or look at anyone. Everything you’ve been asking me has nothing to do with anything.”
“Perhaps I’m not a very intelligent person, but there is nothing much to be done about that,” Karadzic responded.
He then asked if the witness ever found out who he was mistaken for during the beating in Pale, and what this person might have done.
“You didn’t have to do anything wrong,” Karic said.” They were looking for anybody…these were civilians. Their only fault was that they were Muslims.”
The trial continues next week.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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