Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Radomir Neskovic, prosecution witness. (Photo: ICTY)
A prosecution witness testifying this week at the Hague tribunal trial of the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said the defendant represented an "unchallenged authority" in the ruling Serbian Democratic Party, SDS.
Radomir Neskovic, who was a member of the SDS, led by Karadzic, served as vice-president of the party's executive board and, during 1992, also served as chairman of the Novo Sarajevo municipality crisis staff.
Novo Sarajevo is a Sarajevo municipality which, during the 1992-1995 siege of the city, was under Bosnian Serb control and was the site of alleged crimes against the city's non-Serb population.
Karadzic is accused of orchestrating the 44-month sniping and shelling campaign against Sarajevo, which resulted in nearly 12,000 civilian deaths.
Karadzic, who is the former president of Republika Srpska, RS, is also charged with ten other counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995.
Neskovic had already appeared at the Hague tribunal in 2005 to testify in the trial of Momcilo Krajisnik, a former RS parliamentary speaker and a Serb member of Bosnia's post-war presidency. A written statement based on this testimony was admitted into evidence in the case against Karadzic.
According to Neskovic, Karadzic represented an "unchallenged
authority" within the SDS and was unusually well informed about what was happening. "For example, he'd often know what was going on in Novo Sarajevo even before I would tell him," the witness said.
He added that "Karadzic apparently had close contact with the SDS local boards, which were the party's units at the lowest level".
Asked by the prosecutor, the witness described the SDS as a "principally democratic party in which everyone was allowed to present their position".
Neskovic also added that Karadzic would often hand pick people for key positions and "expected loyalty from them".
The witness then referred to the atmosphere within the party in December 1991, which is when an infamous document named "Variant A and Variant B" - setting out how power was to be seized in Bosnia-Hercegovina and which had already been discussed during the Karadzic trial last week - was personally brought by Karadzic to an extended SDS board meeting at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Sarajevo.
"One must understand that in December of 1991, the atmosphere was so emotionally charged that it was not desirable to present negative comments about essential decisions taken by Serb leaders, since that might imply that someone was a traitor. Being a traitor meant losing your reputation, your influence, your position," he said.
During cross-examination, the witness dismissed Karadzic's claim that those who had perpetrated crimes against non-Serbs in his municipality were "arrested and processed".
Neskovic said that "during the war and particularly in August of 1992, Muslims from Grbavica, a suburb of Novo Sarajevo, were expelled in large numbers, and non-Serbs were abused in many ways, while the authorities did nothing to prevent this, or to arrest and punish the perpetrators".
Karadzic then mentioned that Jovo Pejanovic, a man who murdered Bosniak Husein Pobric from Grbavica, was arrested and "sentenced to ten years imprisonment", stating that justice was slow but effective and that the witness simply didn't know of the authorities' efforts.
"I'm afraid that justice was anything but effective at that time," the witness answered. "Had it been effective, they would've arrested and charged Batko."
Veselin Vlahovic, nicknamed Batko, is now facing trial at the Bosnian State Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, torture, enslavement, after having been arrested in Spain in March 2010.
Neskovic added that, as a senior SDS member, he personally asked to have Batko arrested on several occasions, but to no avail. He said that Batko was detained several times but would always be set free shortly afterwards, "after instructions given by the authorities".
"Batko was an armed monster, a sick kind of person. Even Serbs would avoid him," he said.
In response to Karadzic's claim that Batko's arrest wasb being planned by military police, the witness replied that "the authorities could've arrested Batko whenever they wanted to, but they didn't".
"Even you gave an example of an efficient arrest when there was a wish to do so," Neskovic added, referring to Pejanovic’s arrest.
The witness also added that it would be "wrong to claim Batko was a paramilitary. All armed units in Grbavica were somehow linked to the army".
Neskovic said that he didn't know what unit Batko was a member of, but added that "all the leadership of the SDS was familiar with his name and actions".
One of the last remaining Hague fugitives, Karadzic was arrested in 2008 in Belgrade, after having spent years in hiding.
The trial continues next week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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