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

Karadzic Claims Non-Serbs "Evacuated" For Own Safety

Prosecution argued that Bosnian Serbs made plans for ethnically pure state.
By Velma Šarić
  • Ewan Brown, a former British army officer testifying at the Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)
    Ewan Brown, a former British army officer testifying at the Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)

The trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic continued this week with the cross-examination of a prosecution witness who is an expert on Bosnian Serb military strategy and intelligence. 

Karadzic, who represents himself in court, dismissed the witness’s claims in testimony last week that the intention of the Bosnian Serb leadership was to expel non-Serbs from north-western Bosnia. The aim, Karadzic said, was to “evacuate” them for their own safety.

Ewan Brown, a British army officer at the time of the conflict, had testified about the Bosnian Serb leadership’s strategy during the war and their alleged plans to separate ethnic communities and create an ethnically pure Serb state in Bosnia.

He also talked about the document known as the “Strategic Goals of the Serb People” adopted by the Bosnian Serb assembly on May 12, 1992. The prosecution argues that the strategic goals were not just political rhetoric but were also reflected in the actions of the Bosnian Serb military during the war.

Brown undertook a comprehensive analysis of the documentation produced in 1992 by the Serb leadership, especially the military. According to him, it was clear that the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, was established with the aim of “militarily implementing the set strategic goals”.

At the outset of the cross-examination this week, Karadzic dismissed the claims of the expert witness as “not at all corresponding to reality” and said that he, Karadzic, had been “personally involved in ensuring that everyone’s rights were respected”.

“You know,” Karadzic told the witness, “you should have looked into the documents I issued myself. Documents, orders, directives: appealing and urging that the civilians should be protected, in particular the non-Serbs. But none of these documents were considered in your reports.”

The witness admitted that he was not familiar with the documents mentioned by Karadzic. However, he pointed out that “writing something on paper is one thing, but implementing it on the ground is something entirely different”.

Karadzic also said that he had made personal efforts to ensure that the new Serb republic in Bosnia-Hercegovina only “included those municipalities that had a Serb ethnic majority, rather than every single area where Serbs lived.

“To me it seemed that some of the people in the [Bosnian Serb] assembly were not acting reasonably when determining what should become part of the Serb Republic. To me it seemed like a delusion to achieve this, so I fought with all my authority to make sure that only those municipalities which had a Serb ethnic majority were to join the republic,” he continued.

However, the witness stated that the Bosnian Serb leadership’ documents he analysed “clearly point out municipalities such as Prijedor and Sanski Most which did not have a Serb ethnic majority, but nevertheless became part of the newly-founded Serb Republic”.

In response to this, Karadzic said that Prijedor, Sanski Most and Kljuc, all on the Sana river, were subjected to “simultaneous and coordinated guerrilla attacks of Muslim forces against [the] Serb army and Serb civilians”. According to the accused, there was a need “for the [Serb] army to respond to these guileful attacks, in order to protect innocent lives”.

The witness replied that although these attacks may have occurred, the takeover of power occurred completely independently of them. He said “the sole motivation” for these measures was the “plans and ambitions of the Serb leadership”, including the Serb Democratic Party, SDS, which Karadzic led.

Karadzic insisted that Bosnian Muslim attacks on towns along the Sana river, which he said lasted well into the middle of 1994, were the reason for “evacuating” the entire population “including non-Serbs”.

However, the witness said that the scope and means by which such a forcible population transfer was carried out indicated “a motivation more likely to have been that of someone who can’t wait for someone else to finally be gone”, rather than an “altruistic motivation of help and protection”.

Brown said he had carefully examined the documentation of the VRS First Krajina Corps, which was in charge of north-western Bosnia, and it was obvious from these documents that “a considerable number of crimes” were committed by members of this corps, but nonetheless “no one was prosecuted”.

Karadzic said that he was “familiar with the fact that some people from paramilitary units were acting in a way which was not acceptable”. He added that he even wrote to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the then secretary general of the United Nations, stating that he rejected “any such group which will not unequivocally accept the authority and command of the VRS”, and that the Serb leadership “cannot be held accountable for their actions”.

Brown replied that this could also be interpreted as saying that the Bosnian Serb leadership would “tolerate paramilitary groups and their actions as long as they accepted their authority and integrated themselves in the [VRS] structure”, which by no means represented “any kind of guarantee that they would actually be prosecuted in case of wrongdoings”.

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, who served as the Republika Srpska president 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”.

Arrested in Belgrade after 13 years in hiding, Karadzic is accused inter alia of the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995 and the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, the longest in Europe’s recent history.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.
 

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