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

Former UN Arms Official Recalls Karadzic Meetings

Testimony focuses on discussions held in New York and Bosnia.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Prvoslav Davinic, defence witness in the Radovan Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)
    Prvoslav Davinic, defence witness in the Radovan Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)

A former United Nations disarmament official testified in The Hague this week about meetings he had with Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic during and after the war in Bosnia.

Prvoslav Davinic, who gave testimony on behalf of the accused, headed the UN Centre for Disarmament in New York – now the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs – between 1992 and 1995, and worked on similar issues at the UN for several years before that.

He subsequently served as defence minister of Serbia and Montenegro, in 2004-05. Karadzic, who represents himself in court, did not ask his witness any questions and instead read out a short summary of his statement.

The accused said that following the second of two mortar attacks on Sarajevo’s Markale market on August 28, 1995 – it had been hit previously in February 1994 – Davinic “believed that for political reasons, the UN wanted to ensure that investigation concluded that the attack came from Serb side”.

Karadzic is charged with responsibility for the August 1995 attack. In the trial of Bosnian Serb army commander Dragomir Milosevic, judges found that the attack, which killed 34 civilians and injured 78, originated from the Serb side.

According to the summary of evidence, Karadzic first met Davinic in March 1993 in New York, and on a second occasion in Pale, Bosnia, in summer 1996, after Karadzic had already been indicted by the tribunal. The witness later said that a third meeting occurred in the autumn of that year. Karadzic remained a fugitive until July 2008.

“In the [first] 1996 meeting, Dr Karadzic was adamant that Serbs had not fired the shell in [the August 1995 Markale attack] and said that General Mladic had assured him and the UN that the Serb side did not fire that shell,” the accused read out.

Ratko Mladic was commander of the Bosnian Serb army at the time, and is now standing trial in The Hague for war crimes.

During cross-examination, prosecuting lawyer Carolyn Edgerton questioned Davinic about the attack and his impressions of it.

“In the summary, Dr Karadzic said you believed that for political reasons, the UN wanted to ensure that investigation would conclude that the attack came from the Serbs. That’s actually not expressed in your statement at all. Was Dr Karadzic’s summary of your evidence correct? Is that what you believe?” Edgerton asked.

The witness said the answer was to be found in his statement.

“Your statement recounts what you heard from a Greek colleague whom you don’t identify, who said that political reasons outweighed [others] on the ground. So that’s your position, and not the position of the Greek colleague?” Edgerton asked.

“This is the position which I described as information I had received from a colleague who was working in the department of peacekeeping operations and was knowledgeable of what was going on,” Davinic said.

Edgerton pointed out that the tribunal had heard “a lot about the investigation of that incident”. She said three technical studies had been carried out involving a range of experts from different countries, and photos and measurements from the scene existed.

“So your colleague whose name you can’t remember is asserting that these people who performed this wide investigation were all in collusion. That’s not your position at all, is it?” Edgerton asked.

“I have no position at all, because I was not involved in the investigation… I did not have access to the reports of the UN investigating teams. What I am saying is that a colleague of mine, who was very much involved in peacekeeping operations, did mention this as something that was much on his mind,” Davinic said. “I think what I am saying must be seen in conjunction with previous paragraphs, which would confirm this allegation.”

Edgerton then interrupted and said she just wanted to confirm that the witness had “never seen any part any of the technical reports into this investigation”.

“Yes, I can confirm that. However, what you are trying to do is prevent me from saying is that I was privy to political discussions which had relevance to precisely what you are trying to indicate is a casual remark,” Davinic said. “You draw your own conclusion, but I’m not happy that you are preventing me from putting things together. I can only talk about political aspects of this case, not technical ones.”

“You weren’t privy to anything that was going on on the ground,” Edgerton said to the witness.

“In technical terms no, but politically, yes I was,” he answered.

“So you don’t know that on August 28, not just one shell fell on Sarajevo, but five 120-millimetre mortars… were launched and impacted the city. You don’t know that, do you?” Edgerton asked.

The witness said that in fact he did.

“Oh, you do know now?” the lawyer said.

“You never asked me if I knew or didn’t know. You asked if I was privy to technical reports. I was not, but I had information about how many shells were fired and which exploded and which did not explode,” Davinic said.

Edgerton then asked whether he knew that the “primary charges” on each of those five mortar shells “bore the marks” of manufacture in Serbia.

“No, I don’t,” the witness replied.

The prosecutor also asked him about the March 1993 meeting with Karadzic at UN headquarters in New York. To provide “context” for what was happening in Bosnia during that time, she read out a statement issued by the UN Security Council on February 25, 1993, which expressed “deep concern that in spite of its repeated demands, relief efforts continue to be impeded by Serb paramilitary units, especially in the eastern part of the country”.

On March 3, 1993, the Security Council issued another statement condemning “continuing unacceptable military attacks on eastern Bosnia” and said it was “appalled that even as peace talks continue, attacks by Serb paramilitary units, including the killing of innocent civilians, continue”.

Edgerton asked whether the witness knew about what was happening, given his role in security and disarmament. He replied that his work was limited to “international agreements, such as on the prohibition of nuclear and chemical weapons.” He said his responsibilities did not “pertain to any actual conflicts in any part of the world”.

“If I knew anything about what was going on at the Security Council, I knew it as individual but not in my official capacity,” the witness said.

“Did you know that this was the situation and these were the reports happening in eastern Bosnia at that time, in whatever capacity?” Edgerton asked.

“I will repeat once again – it was not part of my responsibilities and therefore I did not follow it officially. If I followed it privately, maybe I did, maybe I did not,” Davinic responded.

“Well, did you or didn’t you? Did you know that there was a humanitarian tragedy that was unfolding in Srebrenica in March 1993?” Edgerton asked, sounding exasperated.

“No, I did not. The way you ask me – I had to answer no, I did not. You are not really listening to what I’m saying. You are twisting my words,” Davinic contended.

Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon interjected to say that the prosecutor was doing no such thing, and was asking the witness what he knew about the circumstances on the ground at the time.

“In my official capacity, I did not know anything about this,” Davinic said. “In my capacity as a private individual who was concerned about the future of my country – which turned out not to be any more my country – I may have known, or I may have not known. It was long time ago, and over the period of time there were lots of reports of crimes, terrible things committed by all sides.… In all honesty, I cannot confirm that at the particular point when Karadzic came to my office that I was fully aware of everything happening at the Security Council.”

“When Dr Karadzic dropped in your office in March 1993, you didn’t discuss the situation in Bosnia Herzegovina with him?” Edgerton said.

The witness said that the discussion “focused on consequences that might occur related to alleged war crimes and other crimes committed. He listened with great attention and I was quite surprised that he didn’t challenge what I was telling him.”

Davinic said Karadzic responded by saying that the “international community was not properly and fully informed, and international media misled public opinion by presenting a one-sided picture of gruesome crimes”.

“Looking at what I just told you about context and the perception of Serbian action [on the ground], I would take Karadzic’s assertion that the world didn’t have a truthful picture of what was happening to mean that the Security Council’s concerns were inaccurate,” Edgerton said.

“I believe that this sounds like your conclusion,” the witness responded. “At that time, I was not aware of what the Security Council had adopted. I couldn’t challenge his remarks because I didn’t have a basis to challenge him, [but] I told him that there was a worldwide perception of gruesome things happening… and most things were attributed to the Serb side. I told him that either he should bring the truth to the fore or something should be done to stop these things.”

Later, when Karadzic had an opportunity to pose some additional questions, he asked whether the witness “understood” his attitude towards paramilitaries, and if this was made known to the UN.

“I didn’t know your attitude towards paramilitary forces, and my impression was that you had nothing to do with that and the paramilitaries were under control of different authorities,” Davinic said. “It is widely believed that some of them were controlled by Serbia and [late president Slobodan] Milosevic, and some of them were just rogue sections of the military that were involved in robbery, crimes and other things on their own. I didn’t hear anyone at that time or later connecting you with this.”

Judge Kwon interjected again and asked what the witness had in mind when he mentioned paramilitary groups controlled by Milosevic.

“It was widely perceived by the international community that some of those forces were directed and financed by Milosevic and his state security service. This was public knowledge,” he replied.

Karadzic then asked whether the opinion of “that friend” at the UN was an isolated one, concerning “political wishes to assign blame” for the 1995 Markale attack.

“It was a widespread belief. Many people in the corridors and in the delegates’ lounge were talking about that,” the witness said. He added that the “occurrence” at Markale “led to decisive action by NATO to stop fighting and to initiate a peace process which resulted in the Dayton and Paris peace accords”.

The trial continues next week.

Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.

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