Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic this week accused a witness of conducting “sloppy” investigations into various shelling incidents that occurred during the 44-month siege of Sarajevo.
The prosecution witness, Ekrem Suljevic, is a mechanical engineer who worked during the war as an investigator for the counter-sabotage unit of the Bosnian government’s interior ministry.
Having testified in two previous cases, Suljevic was briefly questioned by the prosecution in July, and returned to the Hague tribunal this week to be cross examined by Karadzic, who continues to represent himself.
Throughout the cross-examination, Karadzic questioned Suljevic’s methods and what exactly his investigations were able to establish.
“This criminal investigation was carried out in a sloppy way and cannot be used in this court, or in any other court for that matter,” Karadzic remarked at one point.
The two discussed a few specific shelling attacks, including one at Sarajevo’s Dositejeva Street on 16 June, 1995. According to the indictment, a modified aircraft bomb was fired from Bosnian Serb held territory and “exploded on the building of the UMC [University Medical Centre] and Oncology Department” causing substantial damage and resulting in slight injuries to three people.
Suljevic said his team did not deal with “assessing damage” at the scene.
“Our main goal was to analyse the crater, if we can call it that, because in this case the shell hit the wall, and also collecting traces,” he said, adding that he was called to the scene after the explosion occurred but was not sure how long afterwards the investigation took place.
Suljevic said he was able to “conclude the approximate direction from which the projectile had come” based on remnants found in the wall. The direction “coincided with the locality where the [Bosnian Serb] positions were”, he said.
Karadzic asked him how he could be sure of that, and Suljevic pointed to various orders issued by the Bosnian Serb army “where there is constant repetition of launchers being made and modified aerial bombs being made”.
“I don’t know of [the Bosnian government army] having a single one of those [aerial bombs], at least in the Sarajevo theatre of operations,” Suljevic said.
“Do you want to hear what I think, Mr Suljevic?” Karadzic asked a few minutes later, after the two had further discussed technical details of the explosion.
“I think that no aerial bomb ever flew to Dositejeva Street, though the area was full of legitimate targets,” he continued. “I don’t understand how they made you draw such conclusions to even the direction from which [the bomb] had come, based on totally unclear elements from which nothing can be concluded, and we don’t even have a photograph.”
“Nothing is unclear here,” replied Suljevic. “Never during my work on onsite investigations or forensic analysis did I put on paper anything that I haven’t seen or that I wasn’t certain of… Nobody to this day instructed me to say anything by which I wouldn’t stand.”
Suljevic told Karadzic, that in his opinion, “there is no doubt that aerial bombs were launched by the army of the Republika of Srpska, whose supreme commander you were”.
Karadzic asked him repeatedly on what information this conclusion was based.
“The bombs that fell on the city of Sarajevo – it was well known where they fell from, both artillery projectiles and bombs,” Suljevic said.
Karadzic continued to press him on this point.
“You concluded it was a Serbian bomb, because Muslims didn’t have such bombs and because what was falling on Sarajevo were Serbian bombs. Yes or no?” Karadzic asked.
“Do you want me to say that all bombs and all projectiles which did not have any effect on the target – in the sense that they wounded or killed someone – that they were launched by you and your army? And whenever there were any victims we launched it against ourselves?” Suljevic retorted. “That’s absurd.”
Throughout the trial, Karadzic has claimed that the Bosnian government army staged attacks against its own civilians in order to evoke international sympathy and prompt a military intervention.
Karadzic, who was president of the self-declared Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, is charged with planning and overseeing the 44-month sniping and shelling campaign on Sarajevo, which killed nearly 12,000 people.
The indictment – which lists 11 counts in total – alleges that he was 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”.
After discussing the Dositejeva street explosion, Karadzic turned to a shelling incident that occurred at a flea market in the Bascarsija area of Sarajevo on December 22, 1994.
According to the indictment, “two shells in quick succession” hit the market, killing two people and injuring seven. Prosecutors contend that the shells originated from Bosnian Serb-held territory.
Suljevic said he participated in the ensuing investigation, but could not remember what time he arrived at the site. He said his team “had no way of knowing when the projectiles fell and could not know when people died”. He added that the dead and wounded had already been removed from the scene when he arrived.
Karadzic then produced a sketch of the scene, which was not drawn by Suljevic.
“This is a criminal investigation, a matter of criminal law,” Karadzic exclaimed. “Two persons were killed. Several were wounded. Why is that not marked on the sketch? How can we establish how it was they got killed and injured, or are we supposed to take the word of someone?”
Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon interjected, remarking that he didn’t understand “how this witness would be able to answer that question”.
Karadzic then asked the witness whether there was a “better investigation” than the one he carried out.
“I can testify about what I did, and confirm what I know, and what I saw on the scene,” answered Suljevic. “I am not the author of this sketch.”
Karadzic reiterated that the investigation was “extremely sloppy and unusable for criminal law purposes”.
“You don’t know what happened… you had limited objectives… to accuse the Serbs for propaganda purposes, but in criminal proceedings this is not good enough,” Karadzic continued. “You do not have relevant evidence we can rely on to prove what happened in the flea market.”
Later, he asked Suljevic what he had thought would happen to investigations at the time he was working on them.
“Did you count on all this reaching some court of law, or was it done with the purpose of blaming the Serbs?” Karadzic asked.
“These reports were not done to blame the Serbs,” Suljevic responded.
“You did not answer my question,” said Karadzic. “For what purpose was this done? For court or for propaganda purposes?”
“We did nothing for propaganda purposes,” Suljevic replied.
During the cross-examination, Karadzic also produced an order issued by Dragomir Milosevic, a general in the Bosnian Serb army who commanded the Sarajevo Romanija Corps from 1994 onwards. Milosevic was sentenced to 29 years in prison by tribunal judges for his role in the sniping and shelling of Sarajevo.
This particular order – which Karadzic asked Suljevic to read aloud – concerned a Bosnian Serb offensive to be launched in the area of Hrasnica using an “aerial bomb”.
“The most profitable target must be selected… where the greatest casualties and material damage would be inflicted,” Suljevic read aloud from the order.
“Does it say civilians or civilian targets?” asked Karadzic.
“It doesn’t say military targets either, as far as I can see,” responded Suljevic. “It says ‘select the most profitable target’. We can only guess what the most profitable target may be….”
Karadzic then asked why the phrase “profitable target” would mean civilians in the context of a military attack.
“All of Sarajevo was a target throughout the war, and all of Sarajevo was shelled intensively,” Suljevic answered.
“If this were somewhere at the front line where there were no civilians, then perhaps I might have thought differently,” he continued. “But in town, where we were all casualties and victims – at home, at the market, at work… A house was hit with a projectile where I live, a tram was hit.”
“Mr Suljevic,” interjected Karadzic. “Let us leave that aside now. This is what these proceedings are all about – [was] Sarajevo a helpless victim of the Serb army or was it a camp full of legitimate targets?”
After Suljevic completed his testimony, a protected witness known only as KDZO88 took the stand, but testified entirely in private session. The trial continues next week.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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