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Civilians Not Deliberately Targeted – Karadzic Witness

Prosecutors challenge credentials of ballistics expert who argues Bosnian Serbs were not responsible for Sarajevo shell attacks featured in indictment.
By Velma Šarić
  • Zorica Subotic testifying on behalf of wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic. (Photo: ICTY)
    Zorica Subotic testifying on behalf of wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic. (Photo: ICTY)

A ballistics expert testifying on behalf of wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic told the court this week that civilians were not the targets of artillery fire during the siege of Sarajevo.

The witness, Zorica Subotic, told the court that she currently worked as a ballistics expert for Serbia’s justice ministry, and the defence presented her as a doctor in the sphere.

She explained that at Karadzic’s request, she had produced an analysis of Bosnian Serb artillery activity in and around Sarajevo during the conflict.

Her analysis showed that "it was obvious that civilians were not the target of the activity, especially when it involved modified air bombs,” Subotic said. The latter reference is to the use of aircraft bombs modified into self-propelled projectile launched from the ground.

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, planned and oversaw the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that ravaged the city and left nearly 12,000 people dead. Karadzic’s army is accused of deliberately sniping at and shelling the city’s civilian population in order to “spread terror” among them.

Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.

The indictment alleges that he was 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".

In her testimony, Subotic talked about her findings in relation to the first mortar attack on Sarajevo’s Markale market on February 5, 1994, which killed some 60 people and injured more than 100. This was the first of two attacks on the same market; the second occurred in August 1995.

In the earlier trial of Bosnian Serb general Stanislav Galic, a majority of tribunal judges determined that the 1994 attack originated from Bosnian Serb positions.

Karadzic has repeatedly denied this, and at various points during his trial he has claimed that the attack was staged by the opposing Bosnian government side, and that “dummies and old corpses” were planted at the scene as fake casualties.

Subotic said the key piece of evidence at Markale was in the "roofs of the stalls at the market".

"You see, there is no possibility for a projectile to fly into the market without damaging the roofs of the stalls, so the projectile had to be a statically activated mine which was already present there,” she said.

She said a landmine had probably been buried in the ground, covered up, and later remotely activated.

Subotic also said it was "illogical” that afterwards, the Sarajevo authorities directed the evacuation of civilians “not onto the main [Marshal Tito] street, but onto a small and narrow one-way street”. This, she argued, was “definitely not a natural decision to be taken".

Turning to the second Markale explosion of August 1995 – which killed 34 and injured 78 – the witness said it would be easier to rule out “what has not happened, rather than say what has actually happened”.

“A shell fired by the Bosnian Serb army and from [their] positions would definitely have been caught on radar," she said. Hence, there was “no technical possibility” that the munition in question was fired by Bosnian Serb forces.

Subotic also addressed an incident in Ulica Vase Miskina, Sarajevo's main pedestrian street, where a group of people waiting for bread were killed on May 27, 1992.

"The Bosnian Serb army could in no way have been responsible for that incident,” she said, citing her analysis. “[Their] positions were located 1,800 or 1,900 metres away, and that is a far too big distance for such a precise shooting."

Subotic alleged that Bosnian government police had prior knowledge of certain attacks, claiming that in one case in July 1993, a policemen “kept warning civilians from gathering at a certain spot, therefore indicating that he knew about what was going to happen". Thirteen people were killed in that incident.

She also found fault with the investigations which the Bosnian government conducted into shellings at the time.

"Often the crime scenes were contaminated… sometimes the investigations were done too late and the investigators misunderstood the signs on the ground," she said, arguing that these flaws could have been either deliberate or due to negligence. "It all gave a wrong and distorted, mirror image of the artillery shootings," she concluded.

During the cross-examination, prosecutor Katrina Gustafson said that it was misleading for the defence to have presented Subotic as a doctor, as there was no evidence she had a doctorate in any scientific field or that she had ever carried out shell-crater analysis.

Gustafson then tackled Subotic on her claim about a policeman being aware of an impending shell-burst. The lawyer said this happened not because the policeman had prior knowledge, but because Dobrinja, the part of Sarajevo where it happened, was "subjected to daily shelling”.

After the prosecution said she had "ignored or misinterpreted crucial evidence", Subotic insisted that there was "simple and clear evidence pointing to the impossibility of the prosecution's claims [in] the indictment".

Pressed to explain what this evidence was and how it outweighed those facts she chose to ignore, Subotic said she was “outraged [and] very insulted at such comments, personally and professionally”.

“Of course I am going to stand by all my results, which were made taking into consideration all applicable professional standards,” Subotic said.

The trial will continue next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR contributor in Sarajevo.