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

Karadzic Challenges Srebrenica Death Count

Accused requests that his experts be given access to DNA samples taken from mass graves.
By Simon Jennings
Former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, awaiting trial in The Hague for war crimes, this week challenged the established figure for the number of Bosnian Muslim victims of the genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995.



“Everything in relation to Srebrenica that has been presented so far is erroneous,” Karadzic said in a courtroom meeting this week.



“We do not believe that a conclusion can be made on a number [of victims].”



Karadzic is charged by prosecutors at the Hague war crimes tribunal with being the political force behind the mass slaughter of the enclave’s Bosniak men and boys who were taken away to their deaths in July 1995.



According to the indictment, “Commencing in the days immediately preceding the 11 July 1995 implementation of the plan to eliminate the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and continuing until 1 November 1995, Radovan Karadzic participated in a joint criminal enterprise to eliminate the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica by killing the men and boys.”



Karadzic is also charged with a second count of genocide in an alleged bid to remove non-Serbs from large parts of Bosnia during 1992, in addition to extermination and murder charges for the 44-month siege of Sarajevo which resulted in around 12,000 civilian deaths.



Karadzic said this week that he wants the experts assisting him to inspect DNA samples accessed by the prosecution that were taken from the mass graves of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre.



“We are convinced that there is a multifold exaggeration [of the number of victims] here,” Karadzic said, adding that one piece of DNA could have been recorded three times resulting in the representation of three different people.



“We wish to establish who perished and whose DNA was provided in order to say ‘yes, this number of victims is beyond contention’.”



Karadzic accepted that some of those who died at Srebrenica had been buried with their hands bound together.



“Based on that, we can assume those people were executed but this is a generalisation that cannot be used to establish the guilt for an entire people,” he said.



In the 2001 judgement handed down by the tribunal in the case of the Bosnian Serb army corps commander Radislav Krstic, judges described the fate of the military-aged Bosniak men of Srebrenica.



“As thousands of them attempted to flee the area, they were taken prisoner, detained in brutal conditions and then executed. More than 7,000 people were never seen again,” judges ruled. The tribunal ruled that the killings constituted genocide



Karadzic said that the real number of victims of the massacre could differ by “thousands” from this established figure.



“[It] is the least the court can do to allow my experts to see every single piece of material, all the DNA analysis, all the post mortems. Then we will end up with the true list of victims which will differ by thousands in respect of what is believed at the moment,” he said in court.



Karadzic said that many of those who disappeared at Srebrenica were the victims of military combat in the forests after the fall of the enclave and that some people listed as missing are even living abroad.



“We have to establish the truth about when somebody died, whether they died in 1992, 1993 or 1995, whether they were killed in combat or whether they were killed as a result of executions,” he said.



Pre-trial judge Iain Bonomy asked Karadzic, who is representing himself, “Are you saying people are falsifying DNA results or is this a hopeful assertion you are making?”



At the meeting in court this week judges also discussed with prosecutors their order for them to reduce the scope of the 11-charge indictment against Karadzic, which is aimed at ensuring a fair and expeditious trial.



Prosecutors currently plan to present evidence from more than 500 witnesses which will run to 490 hours of courtroom testimony.



The four-year trial of the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, which was never completed after he died in his cell in The Hague in 2006, heard evidence from nearly 300 prosecution witnesses.



Following a discussion about alleged incidents such as deportations and forcible transfers that could be omitted from the indictment – which covers 27 separate Bosnian municipalities – prosecutor Alan Tieger agreed to respond to Judge Bonomy’s order with suggested reductions by August 31.



Karadzic did not oppose the current extensive charge sheet filed by the prosecution on February 27 this year, arguing that he was keen to present his views on all incidents which occurred during the war in Bosnia.



“I am not against a broad indictment as long as the defence can produce any evidence they want,” he said.



“I am in favour of re-examining every incident,” he said earlier, referring to judgments already made on wartime events in previous cases at the court.



The former politician, who was arrested in Belgrade a year ago this week, also revealed some of the arguments he will present in his defence.



On July 22, he filed motions with judges asking them to help him obtain documents from NATO and the state of Belgium which he claims would support his argument that he never intended to destroy Bosniaks as an ethnic group and did not take part in a criminal plan to murder or deport them from Srebrenica.



In a motion seeking documents from NATO, Karadzic claims that weapons were flown into Bosnia during February and March 1995 – in spite of the United Nations arms embargo in place – which were then supplied to the Bosnian army.



He argues that the 1995 attack on enclaves such as Srebrenica were therefore militarily legitimate “since they had become a safe haven to which weapons were being smuggled and from which attacks on Serb civilians were being launched”.



Judges have invited NATO to respond to Karadzic’s filing.



Karadzic also alleged this week in another motion that during the siege of Sarajevo it was the Bosniaks themselves, and not the Bosnian Serbs, who shelled the city’s Markale market place on February 5, 1994, and August 28, 1995, killing and injuring large numbers of civilians.



He is seeking intelligence and security reports filed by Belgian members of the UN protection force about the incident at the time.



“The shellings were committed by the Bosnian Muslim army to attempt to show the Bosnian Serbs in a bad light and to obtain intervention on their behalf by the international community,” Karadzic said in his filing.



The prosecution has taken no position on either motion.



At the end of this week’s hearing, Judge Bonomy scheduled a further meeting between the parties to help prepare for the trial.



The meeting, which Karadzic and his legal advisers, the prosecution and Judge Bonomy will attend, will be held behind closed doors on August 20.



The pretrial judge repeated his previous assertion that the trial would begin in September.



Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

More IWPR's Global Voices