COURTSIDE: Sarajevo Trial

Psychiatrist tells that Serb army’s Sarajevo campaign amounted to terror.

COURTSIDE: Sarajevo Trial

Psychiatrist tells that Serb army’s Sarajevo campaign amounted to terror.

A British psychiatrist testified last week on the possible psychological effects of the prolonged military campaign against Sarajevo's civilians.


Stuart Turner had received excerpts of witness testimony relating to their emotional responses after allegedly being terrorised by Serb army forces under the command of General Stanislav Galic.


Turner was asked to consider the charges listed in the indictment and offer a hypothetical diagnosis of their psychological impact on civilians who may fallen victim to such crimes.


The indictment maintains that shelling and sniping made the life of Sarajevo's civilians "a daily struggle to survive".


If the allegations were true, Turner said, the civilians were indeed terrorised, which he categorised as the process of instilling great fear as the primary purpose of an attack.


After examining the statements, the psychiatrist consulted published reports on the psychological effects of terror. The defence pointed out in court that he made no attempts to assess the accuracy of these reports and simply relied on their findings.


He wrote that by exposing civilians to extreme fear, their attackers wanted to cause emotional overload. The worst fear is caused by "traumatic events, which are sudden, intense, uncontrollable and unpredictable", Turner said, adding that long-term exposure to fear leads to apathy and depression, as appeared to be the case in Sarajevo.


He cited one foreign witness in charge of a medical NGO who had said, "People would literally stop me in the streets begging for help. There was a sense of hopelessness.”


Turner said fears would have been multiplied by other stressful factors, such as the danger of going out in search of food, thinking that your apartment had been hit each time a shell exploded, not being able to communicate with others by telephone and fearing that loved ones may have fallen victim to every reported attack.


The horror was increased by the targeting of symbolic objects such as the Red Cross flag on a state hospital roof, which was eventually taken down after being reduced to tatters by gunfire.


Turner then compared the events in the Bosnian capital to the September 11 attacks in America. The key difference, he claimed, was that the alleged assaults on Sarajevo’s civilians were unrelenting.


Galic's defence counsel emphasised that the prosecution expert was not provided with complete witness accounts, only excerpts, and that this counted against his findings.


Turner is not the first witness to testify on the psychological effects of warfare. Canadian officer Patrick Handerberry, a UN military observer, testified earlier that random firing on the town resulting in civilian casualties was an instrument of psychological war.


Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor.


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