Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Melissa Pack presenting final prosecution arguments at the Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)
Radovan Karadzic in the courtroom this week. (Photo: ICTY)
As prosecutors in The Hague called for a life sentence for Radovan Karadzic for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the wartime Bosnian Serb president insisted there was “no substantive evidence” to convict him.
Karadzic told judges that the truth of what happened during the war absolved him of all responsibility, except the “moral responsibility” he felt because he was sorry for everyone who was killed.
Prosecutors said the accused was trying to portray himself as a “bumbling, ineffectual empty suit” who had little grasp of what was going on. In reality, they said, “the evidence condemns Mr Karadzic”.
“He bears responsibility. He is guilty of genocide,” prosecuting lawyer Melissa Pack said.
THE CASE AGAINST KARADZIC
The prosecution and defence were given two days each to present closing arguments in the long-running trial.
Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, as president of the self-declared Republika Srpska (RS) 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 accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.
The prosecution says these crimes were planned and executed by four “joint criminal enterprises” or JCEs involving Karadzic and other top Bosnian Serb leaders.
In court, prosecutor Alan Tieger set these out as “an overarching JCE to forcibly displace Bosnian Muslims through crimes including persecution, torture, murder, extermination and genocide; a JCE to carry out a campaign of sniping and shelling against the civilian population of Sarajevo for the primary purpose of terror”; a JCE to take hostages to compel NATO to abstain from conducting airstrikes; and a JCE to eliminate the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica by killing the men and boys and forcibly removing women, young children and elderly.”
“What binds these JCE together is Radovan Karadzic,” Tieger said.
POLITICAL CONTROL AND INTENT
The prosecution’s arguments dealt in turn with its evidence that Karadzic was in control of political institutions and the military, his responsibility for crimes committed during the Sarajevo siege, and finally the deliberate killing of thousands of captives at Srebrenica.
On day one, September 29, Tieger tackled the defence argument that the Bosnian Serb national assembly decided matters independently of the president.
“As Karadzic himself put it, ‘Believe me, the government is mine. I am responsible for its functioning’,” Tieger said.
He went on to highlight evidence presented during trial that Karadzic was in control of and in regular contact with municipal authorities when crimes were committed.
Next, he addressed the question of whether Karadzic was in control of the Bosnian Serb army (known as the VRS) and of paramilitary groups accused of particular brutality during the conflict. He suggested that the defence approach on this matter was disingenuous.
“After insisting at the time, to his followers and to the world, that he was the supreme commander and in charge of the army, and after exhibiting little reticence at invoking his command authority in various contexts…. Karadzic now takes refuge in depicting himself as an impotent, bumbling, ineffectual empty suit.”
This was a “false claim”, he said, and it was based on untrue arguments such as that “Karadzic did not direct the VRS”, that he was “never informed of what the army was doing because they only spoke to him about logistics”, and that he had “no control” over Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic.
While Karadzic had attempted to show a “dramatic schism” between him and Mladic, “there was unmistakeably one thing on which they clearly agreed – the risk posed by too many Muslims and the need to reduce their number within the territory of RS”, Tieger told judges.
As for Karadzic’s assertion that Serb paramilitary units simply arrived in towns like Zvornik, Bjelina and Brcko and took over in the face of “powerless” local authorities, Tieger said this was “an inversion of reality”.
“Paramilitaries did not mysteriously appear…but instead came at [local authorities’] behest and worked collaboratively with them to achieve takeovers and cleansings,” he said. “And at the time, Karadzic received reports from his municipal officials reflecting that collaboration…. From the republic to the local level, paramilitaries were welcomed to do what needed to be done.”
Tieger’s remarks also covered the evidence the prosecution has presented that Karadzic failed to investigate and punish a range of crimes perpetrated by subordinates.
The second day of prosecution arguments saw lawyer Catherine Gustafson detailing incidents where trial testimony indicated that Serb forces outside Sarajevo deliberately targeted civilians or launched indiscriminate bombardments. She also presented evidence to counter defence claims that the Bosnian government army targeted civilians on its own side in order to blame the Serbs.
“HE IS GUILTY OF GENOCIDE”
Prosecution lawyer Melissa Pack took over to deal with the Srebrenica killings.
“Karadzic marked the Bosnian Muslim population of Srebrenica for extinction,” she said. “His subordinates stripped the men and boys of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.”
She told judges that “Karadzic was kept informed during the Srebrenica operations by telephone and in-person contacts with his subordinates in the army, police, and local civilian authorities. And these telephone and in-person contacts were supplemented by written reports.”
He was told in army dispatches that “prisoners in large numbers” were being held by the Bosnian Serb military, “Where did he think they all went?” Pack asked.
In relation to one group of 1,200 male captives taken to a warehouse at Kravica and then murdered, Pack argued that “Karadzic must have been informed about the murders at Kravica warehouse almost immediately, just as he was about every other significant event during the Srebrenica operation”.
Pack asked judges to deliver a verdict of genocide.
“Your Honours, the evidence condemns Mr Karadzic. He bears responsibility for the pain and the suffering of these [surviving] women, for the murders and the pain and the suffering of the men and the women and the children of Srebrenica; he bears responsibility for their suffering which is lasting and devastating,” she said.
“Your honours, he bears responsibility. He is guilty of genocide.”
KARADZIC: PROSECUTORS “MUTILATED” EVIDENCE
Although Karadzic presented his own final arguments, as he has defended himself through the trial, his legal adviser Peter Robinson told judges his client could not be convicted of genocide at Srebrenica. There was no evidence that he planned or ordered the killings, and they were in fact “concealed” from him.
During his own remarks, Karadzic denied the existence of a JCE.
“A joint criminal enterprise is something that applies to the mafia, whether in Rome or in Naples, but here we have a people attacking a people, neighbour attacking neighbour,” he said, “When I say to foreigners ‘everybody is guilty and it was chaos’, they say Karadzic justified this and accepted this. No, I am not countenancing this. There is no justification for crime. I’m just saying what happened – but it was not done by the state, it was not done by the authorities.”
At several points, Karadzic criticised the prosecution’s use of witness testimony and other evidence, saying that trial judges would need to “double-check” the veracity of all the evidence before reaching a verdict.
He cited evidence where in his view, “everything was mutilated… half of a sentence is the prosecution view and the other half is a witness’s statement.” Prosecutors had made efforts “to present hearsay, rumours, slander and to promote them as evidence, since there is no substantive evidence in documents or in actions”.
In one example, he accused the prosecution of “misrepresenting” a February 14, 1992 speech in which he said that “Muslims could not live with others”.
“They omit to say that where fundamentalism arrives, people cannot live together. And that was the key point,” he said, adding that previously, everyone did live together.
On the alleged joint criminal enterprise, he said the prosecution case rested on “the Serb intention of removing Muslims and Croats from territories that the Serbs aspire after. However, he said “removing civilians from areas of combat is an obligation” during time of war. “Then the prosecution thought of saying ‘permanent removal’ and then they added ‘forcible removal’, in order to ensure that this indeed constitutes a crime,” he said.
The removal of Muslims and Croats “was never the plan of the Serbs”, he said, arguing that Bosnian government data from July 1996 showed that “more Muslims left municipalities after the  Dayton accords than before. When the war was over, when the borders were clear, people started moving. Until then, they stayed although they had the option to sign up for convoys and didn’t use that option.”
Addressing the prosecution’s use of his claim to control government ministers and the army, Karadzic said that as president, he had no powers to sack the prime minister and always had to consult parliament on such matters.
“The president’s job was rather to ensure that state institutions like ministries were doing their job properly,” he said. “The prosecution is abusing my clashes and misunderstandings with structures, especially military structures, where I’m trying to convince them that they have to carry out orders faster.”
Dealing with claims he knew of the killing of hundreds of civilians in Zvornik by irregular Serb paramilitaries in 1992, he said. “How could Karadzic – who is dealing with hundreds of other matters and only responds when he is being asked to deal with something specific – how could he know or should he know what was happening in Zvornik?”
Turning to Sarajevo, Karadzic said the prosecution wrongly portrayed the Bosnian Serb military as a besieging force that came from elsewhere, whereas in fact it had always been based in the city.
He said it would have been “quite simple and easy to establish that that was not the case, that both [sides] – the inhabitants of Sarajevo, everybody was just guarding their own neighbourhoods, their own settlements. And the Serbs did not have any ambitions of taking the Muslim section of the city. And the Muslims did have that ambition, to capture the Serbian part of the city.”
The prosecution narrative that Serb forces alone were using artillery was a “political and ideological” one , derived from the testimony of international observers who “sat in their shelters” with a “superficial” and “distorted” view of military operations, Karadzic said.
“As a rule they [observers] never saw the heavy weaponry in Sarajevo, as a rule they never registered the thousands of shells which the units of the 1st Corps of the Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina fired from the city targeting the Serbian section of the city.”
Karadzic then repeated arguments made during the trial that Bosnian Serb artillery fire was directed at military targets rather than being indiscriminate, that it generally happened only in response to incoming shellfire, and that the Bosnian government army frequently fired on its own civilians so that the Serbs would get the blame.
He said the prosecution had made improper use of expert witnesses and evidence on matters including the trajectories of projectiles in key incidents.
“There are many things in these investigative reports, none of which can actually pass the test of a criminal case, the standard. These reports are absolutely all general. It was sufficient for them to have established the direction, as if there were not both forces at the position from which it was fired,” he said. “The projectile could have come from any side.”
KARADZIC CLAIMS NOT ALL BODIES DATE FROM JULY 1995
Karadzic contends that far from controlling events on the ground in Srebrenica in July 1995, he was unaware of them. He also claims that the number of dead is far lower than the figure of over 7,000 set out in the prosecution indictment.
He told the court that as soon as he heard media reports that “8,000 people had been shot dead”, he called local government chiefs in the area – who he stressed were elected rather than appointed by him – and they told him it was “lies”.
Once there was convincing evidence in the shape of mortal remains, an investigation was ordered and “there was an immediate response”, he said. “The military prosecutor said no one knows anything about this and no one wants to know anything about this,” he recalled.
“I don’t want to go into the part why it is not genocide – Mr Robinson did that better,” he continued. “Not everybody who was exhumed had been executed.”
Referring to a list of bodies compiled by the Sarajevo-based International Commission on Missing Persons, in relation to one location, Zvornik, Karadzic claimed that many had died before July 1995, and had not been brought there from Srebrenica.
“Out of these 2,299 exhumed in Zvornik, 799 died before ’95, and out of 1,500 who were killed in 1995, 1,200 were killed [in combat] during the breakout [from Srebrenica]. And 3,000 went missing in places that we know as locations of surrender, or were last seen there,” he said.
Concluding his remarks, Karadzic said, “I’m interested in the truth regardless of what my fate will be. And that truth frees me of every responsibility except for the moral one. And I do feel moral responsibility because I am sorry for everyone who was killed there.”
At the end of the four-day hearing, presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon said the next hearing would be on October 7, when the two parties would present rebuttal and rejoinder arguments.
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