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

Karadzic Seen as "Weak" Political Figure

Former close associate claims defendant exerted little authority over Bosnian Serb army.
By Velma Šarić
  • Defence witness Jovan Zametica. (Photo: ICTY)
    Defence witness Jovan Zametica. (Photo: ICTY)

After a three-month break, the trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic resumed this week with testimony from a former aide who claimed that the accused had no effective control over his army.

Defence witness Jovan Zametica confirmed that he had been a close associate of Karadzic, dealing in the international relations of Republika Srpska (RS), which Karadzic headed between 1992 and 1996. Zametica said he joined the RS leadership in late 1993 and became an official advisor to Karadzic in 1994.

The indictment against Karadzic alleges that he 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”.

According to the witness, Karadzic was a rather “weak figure in RS politics”, with “very disobedient armed forces and local chieftains” who took the important decisions.

Zametica claimed that Karadzic only served as “a point of contact for the international community, a [Bosnian Serb] representative and spokesperson for his people”.

According to the witness, “Karadzic often referred to the Bosnian army and its generals as stupid, shaking his head over their numerous irresponsible actions.”

The witnesss said the alleged objective of removing non-Serbs from RS territory was not shared by the accused, and argued that this was shown by the fact that “he had two Muslims and a Croat in his surroundings”.

Zametica noted that he himself was a Muslim, born to a Slovak mother and a Muslim father and originally given the first name Omer, which he later changed to the Serb name Jovan.

“It wasn’t easy having Muslim heritage at that time, with many people, especially in the RS army, distrusting me,” Zametica said, adding that “Karadzic would have none of it, and was always on my side”.

The witness recalled that he became personally acquainted with Karadzic’s family, but that they were unhappy with his close relationship with the president.

The witness told judges that “Republika Srpska led a just war and had almost nothing to be ashamed about”, with the exception of Srebrenica and “the apparent massacre of the Muslims” there.

Karadzic is accused of genocide in relation to the massacre of over 7,000 Bosniak men and boys after Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.

“I remember that the president [Karadzic] and I heard that there may have been a massacre [in Srebrenica] and that apparently some civilians and POWs were not treated in accordance with the Geneva conventions,” Zametica said.

During the cross-examination of the witness, prosecutor Catherine Edgerton asked Zametica to explain what he meant by the word “massacre”, and whether he understood it to be the murder of thousands of Bosniak men and boys.

“I have no idea; I wasn't there,” the witness answered, explaining that he had not been near Srebrenica at the time and therefore was not aware of the details.

“But something strange and horrible did happen,” he added.

He went on to say that the Bosnian Serb political leadership had no say in what happened after the fall of Srebrenica, and definitely did not order any criminal acts.

“If the army did anything, they did it on their own. There was no such thing as a chain of command, despite what you may be suggesting,” Zametica told Edgerton.

The prosecutor reminded Zametica of a statement given by Miroslav Deronjic, Karadzic’s civilian envoy to Srebrenica, to tribunal prosecutors some years ago. A former political activist in Karadzic’s Serbian Democratic Party, Deronjic died in 2007 while serving a ten-year sentence for ordering an attack on the village of Glogova in which 65 Bosniak civilians died.

Edgerton quoted Deronjic as saying that both Karadzic and Zametica were well aware of the situation in Srebrenica and had decided to “present an evacuation agreement in order to cover up the deportations of Muslims from Srebrenica. They also compelled both the UNPROFOR [United Nations peacekeeping force] and the Muslims to sign it”.

The prosecutor noted that one of the signatories of this agreement, Dutch officer Robert Franken – who has testified at six trials at the Hague tribunal – had clearly stated that he was forced to sign it.

In the summer of 1995, Franken was the deputy commander of the Dutch Battalion of United Nations peacekeepers based in Srebrenica.

“Franken may be having second thoughts and being ashamed of what he did, or failed to do,” Zametica responded.

Edgerton then asked the witness whether reports from the late Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the UN’s envoy to the former Yugoslavia during the war, about thousands of people disappearing and being expelled from Srebrenica, had led to any kind of official investigation by Bosnian Serb leaders.

Zametica said he “couldn’t remember and was busy dealing with other things at that time”.

“You should actually ask Karadzic that – he will most probably know,” he added.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR reporter in Sarajevo.