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

Karadzic Urges “Reconciliation”

Ex-Bosnian Serb leader tells court that falsely blaming former participants in Bosnia’s conflict will make peace more difficult.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Radovan Karadzic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
    Radovan Karadzic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

Former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic told the court this week that it is “the duty of all of us” to further reconciliation efforts in Bosnia.

Karadzic’s comments came during his cross-examination of Bosniak forensic ballistics analyst Mirza Sabljica, who testified in great technical detail about his investigations of numerous shelling and sniping incidents that occurred in Sarajevo during the war.

“Let me ask you, as an honest professional, Mr Sabljica, on the assumption that you believe in the same principles, namely that those ethnic groups there [in Bosnia] should reconcile, surely it would be better to reconcile this year [rather than] next?” asked Karadzic asked, who continues to represent himself.

“…It’s the duty of all of us to ensure that reconciliation occurs this year, not next year [or] in a decade.”

“I regret it very much that [we were] ever at war,” responded Sabljica, whose image was digitally distorted for those outside the courtroom.

“As a person who considers himself Bosnian, I see all peoples as one,” the prosecution witness continued. “Despite ethnic differences, we have so much in common and with a little more good will we could make much more progress.”

“Do we agree that an erroneously established situation after any incident and the false blaming of one or another party would push that reconciliation further away and make it more difficult to restore peace?” Karadzic asked.

“It’s not for the witness to answer this question,” Judge O-Gon Kwon interjected.

Since the trial started, Karadzic has repeatedly claimed that the Bosnian Serb army was falsely blamed for the sniping and shelling campaign that ravaged Sarajevo and left nearly 12,000 people dead. Instead, he has stated on numerous occasions that the Bosnian government forces targeted their own people in order to court an international intervention.

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, planned and oversaw the 44-month siege of the city. Karadzic’s army is accused of deliberately sniping and shelling the city’s civilian population in order to “spread terror” among them.

The indictment - which lists 11 counts in total - alleges that Karadzic 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”. He was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.

Before concluding his cross-examination, Karadzic asked Sabljica about the February 5, 1994 mortar attack on Sarajevo’s Markale market. The attack – known as the first Markale massacre – killed some 60 people and injured more than 100.

Karadzic has repeatedly alleged that the massacre was staged by Bosnian government forces. During the May testimony of a United Nations official, Karadzic said that bodies shown in video footage taken after the incident were “dummies and old corpses”.

One of Karadzic’s former army generals, Stanislav Galic, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the siege of Sarajevo, including the first Markale attack. Both trial and appeals judges in that case determined that the massacre did indeed occur and that the shell was fired from Bosnian Serb positions.

This week, Sabljica said he arrived at Markale about an hour after the midday explosion. His report determined that the projectile had come from a “north north-eastern” direction, territory that was established in the Galic case to have been held by Bosnian Serb forces.

“Can you tell us to what extent the site had been changed before you arrived?” Karadzic asked.

“The site was secured by policemen…and the whole place was sealed off,” Sabljica responded. “Everything was scattered with bloodstains and body parts. I cannot say what it looked like when the shell fell but I can say what it looked like when I arrived.”

“What were the changes to the site that you found?” Karadzic asked.

“What we found was the state of affairs that we established, apart from the fact that the dead bodies and the wounded had been removed….Everything else was the same,” Sabljica said.

Karadzic then asked why Sabljica was “excluded” from follow-up investigations of the site.

“I don’t know the answer, I never asked,” Sabljica answered. “We completed our job in those four hours and it was enough for the report we usually write.”

During Sabljica’s testimony, Judge Kwon intervened to enquire after Karadzic’s health.

“I was advised you were not feeling well,” he asked. “The court deputy observed you are from time to time dozing. How are you?”

Karadzic, 65, said that he was getting over a cold and also complained that the courtroom was too chilly.

“I suffer back pain and muscle pain that I have to deal with somehow,” said Karadzic, who appeared flushed.

Judge Kwon said the temperature in the courtroom would be looked into, and the hearing subsequently ended early on account of Karadzic’s ill health. This is the second time in recent weeks that judges have adjourned the proceedings because Karadzic was not feeling well.

Earlier in the week, a victim of sniper fire briefly testified for the prosecution. According to the indictment, Alen Gicevic was shot and wounded on March 3, 1995, while traveling on a tram near the Holiday Inn hotel in Sarajevo.

Gicevic said that living in Sarajevo during the siege was difficult “in every sense of the word”.

“It was a struggle for bare survival,” he said. “There was a shortage of food, electricity, and when there was no electricity, there was no water either. There were shells, sniper fire, gun fire, and therefore many glass panes had been broken, and during the winter it was very hard to heat apartments.”

“Did your experience have any psychological effects?” prosecuting lawyer Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff asked.

Gicevic said that after “one thousand days of such uncertainty any normal person would be affected”, adding, “The brain may have forgotten, but the body still recalls.”

The trial will continue next week.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.