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

Ex-UN Commander Says Bosnian Serbs Blocked Aid

Witness says tactics reduced residents of two Bosnian Muslim enclaves to “levels of near starvation”.
By Rachel Irwin
  • General Sir Michael Rose, prosecution witness at the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
    General Sir Michael Rose, prosecution witness at the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

The former commander of the United Nations forces in Bosnia told the court this week that Radovan Karadzic’s army blocked humanitarian convoys from reaching civilians in the war torn country.

“It was systematic and [the order] could only have come from the top,” said prosecution witness General Sir Michael Rose, who was the commander of the United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR, from January 1994 until January 1995.

Rose subsequently wrote a book entitled “Fighting for Peace: Lessons from Bosnia” which was referred to frequently throughout his testimony.

“Were you aware of any effects that this policy [of blocking the humanitarian convoys] had on the situation in the eastern enclaves?” prosecuting lawyer Carolyn Edgerton asked.

“The people in Srebrenica and Zepa were reduced to levels of near starvation,” Rose said.

He added that Bosnian Serb army officers would subject the convoys to “ridiculous bureaucratic procedures” and turn them back for items as small as one undeclared biscuit.

Furthermore, Rose said that the Bosnian Serbs used the blocking of the convoys as a tactic to “pressure the Bosnian government to sign up to peace on their terms”.

“[The Bosnian Serb government] was certainly aware of the consequences in blocking these convoys because it was brought it to their attention ceaselessly,” Rose continued.

He said that he also brought to their attention the sniping and shelling of civilian targets in Sarajevo.

“The reply was that it wasn’t us [the Bosnian Serbs] who carried out the sniping, but the Bosnian Muslims who were trying to incriminate us and destroy our reputation,” Rose said.

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 left nearly 12,000 people dead. Karadzic’s army is accused of deliberately sniping and shelling the city’s civilian population in order to “spread terror” among them.

The indictment - which lists 11 counts in total - alleges that Karadzic 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". He was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.

When it was Karadzic’s turn to cross examine Rose, he noted their previous relationship.

“Sir Michael, do you agree that very often our relations were chilled and at certain points severed altogether?” Karadzic, who continues to represent himself, asked.

“That is so,” Rose responded.

“I would say that our relations were imbued with deep personal respect but professionally speaking were very sharp, and we didn’t consider you to be pro-Serb in the slightest bit,” Karadzic said.

“I’m delighted to hear that… our job was to remain impartial with the parties to the conflict,” Rose answered.

Karadzic went on to describe Rose’s book as a “piece of literature” written with “a bit of poetic license”.

Rose strongly objected to this characterisation.

“It was written from the close scrutiny of United Nations records,” Rose said. “There is no poetic license in that book at all.”

Karadzic further contended that if his army blocked humanitarian convoys, it had grounds for doing so.

“I would like us to determine whether the Serbs were evil and that’s why [we] blocked roads for no reason, or whether … we were provoked by something,” Karadzic said.

There were reasons to believe, he continued, that the convoys were “smuggling weapons and fuel” to the Bosnian Muslims. He pointed to various documents which he said illustrated this point.

“I absolutely deny that the United Nations facilitated or took part in the smuggling of military equipment to the other side,” Rose said.

He added that the three warring parties – the Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims – had signed an agreement guaranteeing “free movement” of all humanitarian convoys.

“The performance on the ground…fell short of that, particularly the blocking of convoys by the Serb side,” Rose continued. “Less than fifty per cent of the goods were delivered to the people who needed it. They suffered greatly without that aid.”

Karadzic repeatedly claimed that the roads were only blocked “where smuggled goods had been seized” and defended his army’s right to check the vehicles in question.

“Do you think that the free running of convoys excludes the right to checks?” Karadzic asked.

“I believe it should do, but by the time I arrived [in Bosnia] that was certainly not the case,” Rose answered.
“General, no one can pass through a warzone without any checks,” Karadzic said. “We have the right to inspect this and we did so. You were there with our consent. You were not an occupying army.”

Karadzic also questioned Rose about a mortar attack on Sarajevo’s Markale market that occurred on February 5, 1994. The attack – known as the first Markale massacre – killed some 60 people and injured more than a hundred.

Karadzic has repeatedly alleged that the massacre was staged by Bosnian government forces. This week, he read from a passage in Rose’s book where it states that an initial UN investigation into the massacre indicated that “the bomb was fired by the Bosnian [government] side”.

“That’s what you wrote in this passage,” Karadzic said.
“Subsequent investigations made it more likely that the bomb had been fired from the Serb side,” Rose said. “Crater analysis is an inexact science.”

Karadzic pressed Rose on this point, repeatedly asking him why he changed this position regarding who fired the mortar.

Rose said that the second investigation was much “clearer” than the first one. In addition, he said that because the Serbs had shelled a bread queue in the Dobrinya area one day earlier, “most likely the Serbs had done the… shelling in Markale”.

“This was confirmed in the second report,” Rose said.

“We will see that is not the case,” Karadzic retorted.

“I know you have been knighted and are a decorated officer,” Karadzic continued. “Let’s hope your knight’s honor will compel you to tell the truth.”

He then produced a list which he said contained “as many as ten investigations” into the incident.

“Do you know that none established beyond any reasonable doubt that the shell came from the Serb side?” he asked.

Rose reiterated that crater analysis is an “inexact science”.

“It was my view at the time that it was most likely fired from Bosnian Serb side,” Rose said once again.

“General Sir, please understand me,” Karadzic responded. “Not only was [Bosnian Serb army General Stanislav Galic] convicted … for this, but also there cannot be reconciliation if [people] think it was us who fired the shell at Markale, and we didn’t.”

When Karadzic continued to question Rose on this incident, prosecuting lawyer Edgerton said that the accused was “arguing” with the witness.

“Quite true,” said Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon.

The trial will continue next week.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.