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

Courtside: Plavsic Hearing

By Chris Stephen in The Hague (TU 293, 9-14 December, 2002)
By IWPR

Albright told the court that she got to know Plavsic soon after the end of the Bosnian war, when the former hard line Serb leader started backing the West. "I found her a very conflicted individual," said Albright.


Plavsic, 72, pleaded guilty two months ago to a charge of crimes against humanity. Her decision saw prosecutors withdraw another seven charges against her, including one for complicity in genocide.


The former deputy to Radovan Karadzic, Plavsic has already told The Hague that she regretted her part in the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia in the early Nineties that left more than 100,000 dead.


Albright told the court of her horror when she heard of these crimes. "It was unimaginable that these kinds of things could be going on," she said. "It seemed to be being done in a deliberate way."


She said she remembered seeing television images of that period, when Serb forces herded Croats and Muslims into detention camps - a campaign in part directed by Plavsic.


"It became very evident, to anyone who was watching what was going on, that it was reminiscent of pictures that reminded one of the Second World War," she said. "We saw pictures of people being taken into what could only be labelled as concentration camps."


Another key witness was Carl Bildt, the former international High Representative. He told the tribunal that he had the impression that despite her senior position, Plavsic was not part of the hardcore leadership that directed the ethnic cleansing.


"She had never been brought into any of the discussions, any of the decisions and any of the meetings to deal with the critical issues of war, peace and power," he said.


A third witness was Robert Frowick, who in 1996 and 1997 headed the Bosnian Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe operation, and was responsible for supervising elections.


Frowick said Plavsic, who was elected Bosnian Serb president in 1996, had single-handedly broken from the other hard line leaders of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS - led by Karadzic. She formed her own party, the Serbian National Alliance, which won a landslide victory in elections in late 1997.


Following its victory, the party governed in coalition with 18 Croat and Muslim deputies, who until then had been powerless in the parliament of the Serb republic, said the witness.


"The result of these elections was a very significant breakthrough for the Dayton peace process," he said. "She was alone on the Bosnian Serb side in supporting the Dayton peace agreement."


This marked a big change for Plavsic, who during the Bosnian war was nicknamed the Iron Lady. In 1992, as Serbian member of the then-joint presidency, she had made history by publicly embracing the notorious paramilitary leader Zelko "Arkan" Raznatovic, after his forces had killed dozens of Muslims (Bosniaks) in Bijljena.


During the Bosnian war, she gained the reputation as the ideologist behind the racist policies that underpinned the SDS, declaring that Muslims were racially inferior to Serbs.


In its opening statement, the prosecution said she had "publicly rationalised and justified the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs".


On the first day of the hearing, Plavsic sat impassive in the dock as Nobel-prize winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel told her that in admitting her guilt, she could perform a valuable service to mankind. "The civilised world is relying on you and your conscience," he said.


The hearing ended on Wednesday, December 18, with the prosecution calling for a sentence of 15 to 25 years in prison.


However, the defence has argued that anything longer than eight years would be construed as a life sentence and may deter others from coming forward. Plavsic was granted bail and will return to The Hague in the new year, when the sentence will be announced.


Chris Stephen is IWPR's bureau chief in The Hague.