Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Court Told of Serb Crisis Staff Role

Expert witness says one of things they did was organise the departure of Muslims.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Radovan Karadzic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
    Radovan Karadzic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

An expert witness in the Radovan Karadzic trial at the Hague tribunal testified this week that Bosnian Serb “crisis staffs” arranged for Bosniaks to leave their homes rather than guaranteeing their safety.

“[The Bosnian Serb crisis staff] solution to Muslims wanting safety was to move the Muslims out…that was one thing that crisis staffs did - organise the departure of Muslims,” said expert witness Dorothea Hanson, who works as a research officer in The Office of the Prosecutor, OTP.

Hanson authored four reports on Bosnian Serb crisis staffs and has also testified in three previous trials at the Hague tribunal.

During the Bosnian war, crisis staffs were formed in Bosnian Serb-claimed municipalities in order to “effect the forcible removal of Muslims and Croats” from those areas, states the prosecution’s pretrial brief.

These bodies established and maintained detention facilities, ordered arrests of non-Serbs, and organised convoys to “facilitate expulsion” the pretrial brief continues.

The prosecution alleges that Karadzic – president of the self-declared Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, from 1992 to 1996 – “initiated and oversaw the establishment of crisis staffs” which also became known as war presidencies and war commissions.

Karadzic is charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity - including persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer - that "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. After numerous delays, witness testimony in his trial got underway in April 2010.

During the lengthy cross-examination, Karadzic asked numerous detailed questions about Hanson’s report and even spent much time focused on municipalities that were removed from his indictment, including Bosanski Petrovac and Kotor Varos.

“If the Serbian authorities had a plan and intention to cleanse, evacuate or expel the Muslims from Petrovac, why was there this decision that they may evacuate for their own safety?” asked Karadzic, referring to wartime documents he presented to the witness. “Why were they not driven out immediately?”

Hanson responded that “Petrovac was a Bosnian Serb majority”.

“The Serb authorities may have felt they could control power sufficiently,” she continued, adding that Muslims in Petrovac were “cooperating” with orders to disarm.

Karadzic also asked many questions about the northwestern municipality of Kotor Varos, even though it was removed from his indictment before the trial started.

“Ms Hansen, I’ve spent 2.5 [court] sessions to try to prove that your conclusion, that Kotor Varos witnessed some of the worst violations [during the war], is not correct,” Karadzic said to the witness. “Do you have any other documents that would run contrary to documents I’ve presented? Do you have anything to support your position?”

Hansen replied that the documents “do not describe the wider situation on the ground, the kind of fighting and kind of acts that were going on that drove people to leave”. The phrase “worst violations”, she said, was based on a “general understanding of events in Bosnia”.

“I know there were some very bad killings and detention centres in Kotor Varos,” Hansen continued. “It was not a municipality untouched by war.”

Karadzic countered that her reports use a few documents “selectively” and thus leave out a “mass of documents that create or provide a completely different or broader picture.”

“I don’t agree that I leave out a mass of documents that show a different picture,” Hanson said. “The war commission response was … for [non-Serbs] to leave. [The commission] is not going to guarantee safety, but will allow [non- Serbs] to leave in organised way, provided you leave your property to the municipality.”

Karadzic also focused on the northwestern municipality of Prijedor, which was the site of numerous killings and detention camps included in the indictment.

He produced a report filed by the municipal board of his political party, the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, which apparently stated that when war broke out in spring 1992, crisis staffs were formed, and for months thereafter, there was “no contact with the central office of the party” and “communication was not established until September 1992”.

Hanson responded that there were times when communication was difficult, but it was “often restored as well”.

“I’ve seen evidence that the crisis staff was formed before the beginning of the war…I tend not to believe the statement that they received no guidelines from the leaders of the Serb republic,” Hanson said.

The trial continues next week.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.