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

Execution Survivor Recounts Ordeal

Bosnian Croat says he was abused by Serbs while recovering from wounds in Banja Luka hospital.
By Rachel Irwin

The sole survivor of an execution that left five others dead told the trial of Radovan Karadzic this week that he was beaten by Serb civilians and soldiers even while being hospitalised for his injuries.

“Everyone was allowed admittance [to the room]… be it a man or woman, soldier or civilian, they would be let through by the guard,” said prosecution witness Grgo Stojic, describing his time in what he said was a prison cell within the urology ward of the Banja Luka hospital. He was 24 years old at the time.

While he was held in this room – from November 9 to December 11 1992 – he did not receive regular medical treatment and he was “kicked in the stomach until he started bleeding”, said prosecuting lawyer Ann Sutherland as she read aloud from a summary of his evidence.

The witness previously testified in the trial of Radoslav Brdjanin, a Bosnian Serb wartime government official who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for crimes committed against the non-Serb population in various municipalities in Bosnia.

This previous testimony was entered into evidence, and Sutherland went on to briefly describe the incident that put the witness in hospital in the first place.

On November 2, 1992, Stojic, a Bosnian Croat, and his cousin were “ambushed by two persons of Serb ethnicity” on their way to a market in Sanski Most, a municipality that had been taken over by Bosnian Serb forces.

The witness and his cousin were then taken to another location, where four other Bosnian Croats were already being detained, Sutherland said.

The six captured men were then ordered to line up, after which they were beaten and their “personal belongings seized”. All the men were shot, with the witness sustaining wounds in his arm, hip, and stomach, Sutherland continued.

“When the witness got up he realised that all other men were dead,” Sutherland said. “One of the five men had his skull blown to bits.”

The witness was able to make it back to his village and was subsequently transported to medical centres in Sanski Most, Prijedor and finally Banja Luka, where he underwent surgery before being detained and abused in the “cell” in the hospital’s urology ward, Sutherland said.

She asked the witness very few additional questions, but did show a photo of his arm– appearing twisted and badly misshapen – taken after his ordeal and before he underwent further surgery in the United States.

“What other physical or psychological effects do you suffer from your experience in 1992?” she asked.

“To this very day I have nightmares, [and] a fear that still remains,” Stojic said.

“It’s difficult to live as a disabled person with seventy per cent permanent disability, needing the help of others, without enough financial means to live, and so on and so forth,” he continued.

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, is 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 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 was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run and represents himself in the courtroom.

When it was the defendant’s turn to cross examine the witness, he began by expressing his “solidarity” with him on account of his “wounds and suffering”.

Karadzic then asked for further details about the shooting incident and the men who perpetrated it.

“You immediately realised those were paramilitaries, and by definition you knew they were beyond any civilian or military command and control,” Karadzic put to the witness.

“I didn’t realise those were paramilitaries, but when we were brought to the four men who had already been captured, that’s when I realised that,” Stojic said.

“But you certainly knew that paramilitaries were under nobody’s control and that is what you said in the [Brdjanin] transcript,” Karadzic contended.

“That was clear to me, that was how it should be in a normal…..”

“But at that point you didn’t know who they were or their names,” Karadzic interjected.

“No,” the witness said.

Karadzic also pointed out that in earlier statements, Stojic had stated that he initially saw “two criminals behind a bush”.

The witness responded that he hadn’t immediately realised that the men were “criminals”.

“It only occurred to me when they searched us before shooting us and told us they were members of Seselj’s army,” the witness said.

Vojislav Seselj, a Serbian nationalist politician, is currently on trial in The Hague and is accused of recruiting paramilitary volunteers who perpetrated atrocities against non Serbs during the Croatian and Bosnian wars.

Seselj is also named in the Karadzic indictment as a member of a large “joint criminal enterprise” that allegedly existed to expel Bosnian Muslims and Croats from Serb-claimed territory in Bosnia.

After he was finished asking questions about the incident itself, Karadzic move on to what happened to the witness afterwards.

“Between the period when you were wounded until such time when you underwent surgery [in Banja Luka], you didn’t have any criticism with regard to doctors or authorities – the first problems [came] after the surgery, correct?” Karadzic asked.

“Yes,” the witness replied.

After the surgery, Stojic said he was put in the “cell” in the urology ward, where anyone who wanted to enter was allowed into the room by the guard standing by the door.

The witness said he was beaten on two occasions, first by a “drunkard” who called him by the derogatory term “Ustasha” and then by a soldier who kicked him with his “military boot”.

Karadzic then suggested that the witness was not being held as a prisoner, but rather as an eyewitness to a crime. He pointed to documentation presented in the Brdjanin trial that described Stojic as an “inconvenient witness” to crimes in Sanski Most.

“You were aware of the fact that you were held there [in Banja Luka] as a witness and not as criminal,” Karadzic contended.

“I don’t know if I was held as a witness,” Stojic said. “I know that I was never a criminal and hope that I will never be one.”

“Mr Stojic, once again, I would like to express my sympathies and solidarity to you…I would ask you to accept that I am completely on your side and I wish you the very best [on] your path to recovery,” Karadzic said.

“Thank you sir,” the witness replied tersely. “Your words are touching.”

Before the witness was allowed to leave, prosecuting lawyer Sutherland asked him a few follow up questions based on the cross-examination. She first enquired about his statement that he “didn’t know” if he had been detained in the hospital as a witness or prisoner.

“Unfortunately I was not detained as witness but as a prisoner,” Stojic clarified.

Sutherland then produced the witness’s discharge papers from the hospital. She pointed to the top of the page, to a word that had been whited out.

“Are you able to read that?” she asked.

The witness said it was an abbreviation for the word “capture” in his language, and that he didn’t know who wrote it.

At that point, Karadzic interjected.

“Mr Stojic, with all due respect, I am a doctor and I am familiar with these discharge papers,” said the accused, who is also a psychiatrist. “This here at the top can in no way be an integral part of document because what the doctor had to write, he wrote.”

Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon then asked the witness if he knew who whited out that part of the page.

“I don’t know,” Stojic replied. “That’s how I received the discharge document.”

The trial will resume on October 18.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.