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Karadzic Witness Regrets that "Horrific Crimes" Happened

Statement from Milomir Stakic says he never heard Bosnian Serb leader calling for other groups to be deported.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Milomir Stakic, defence witness in the Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)
    Milomir Stakic, defence witness in the Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)

A Bosnian Serb former municipal official convicted for crimes committed in northwest Bosnia this week testified on behalf of Radovan Karadzic at the Hague tribunal.

Defence witness Milomir Stakic was chairman of the Serb-controlled Prijedor Municipality Crisis Staff between April 30 and September 30 1992.

In 2003, he was convicted of persecution, murder, and extermination and sentenced to life in prison. Judges found that he “planned and ordered” the deportation of 20,000 non Serbs from Prijedor and also played a role in establishing the notorious prison camps of Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje.

Stakic’s prison term was reduced to 40 years on appeal in 2006. He is currently serving his sentence in France.

Karadzic, who was president of the self-declared Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska during the war, read out a short summary of Stakic’s witness statement but did not ask him any questions.

According to this summary, the two men met several times during the war, but “Dr Stakic never heard Dr Karadzic advocating for the deportation of Muslims and Croats or for the creation of a monoethnic Serbian state”.

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic 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 also 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.

Karadzic represents himself in the courtroom.

During the cross examination of the witness, prosecuting lawyer Katrina Gustafson reminded Stakic that in his witness statement he acknowledged knowing about two crimes at the time – the massacre of dozens of detainees at Keraterm camp carried out by the Bosnian Serb army, and the killing by police officers of Bosnian Muslims leaving Prijedor on a convoy.

“My question, Dr Stakic – aside from what you knew then – what you know now, as you sit here today, is that in fact the police and army committed far more crimes against Muslims and Croats in Prijedor in 1992. They detained thousands in horrific conditions, subjected them to torture and mistreatment, killed hundreds and hundreds, and destroyed property on massive scale,” Gustafson said. “You know that now as you sit here today, right?”

“When I gave a statement to members of Mr Karadzic’s defence team, I stated this on the basis of knowledge I had then, because these two things that happened were terrible. They are not less terrible than the others, but all the other citizens heard about that, not only me as the president of the municipal assembly,” Stakic replied.

He went to say that during his own trial, he found out about “many other crimes that did happen unfortunately in the municipality of Prijedor, and I agree with what is written in the trial judgement and appeals judgement with regard to these crimes.”

“May I say straight away that… during my trial before this court…[my defence] never tried to deny or underestimate these crimes. Quite simply, we showed that I was not a big player or the main player…. I do not agree with those parts where it says I’m the person in charge and I’m responsible for all these crimes,” Stakic said, before adding, “I would like to take this opportunity to express my profound regret for everything that was done to my fellow-citizens during that period of time.”

“I take it you agree with my summary of events in Prijedor in 1992, that the police and army committed mass crimes against Muslims and Croats in Prijedor – detentions, torture, mistreatments and killings – is that right?” Gustafson asked again.

“I think perhaps I was a bit lengthy in my answer, but I did say that these two crimes are horrible in themselves, but the other ones you mentioned are even more horrific and they really happened. All I can do is express my regret that it happened. As I was trying to say, at that time, I did not know of all these crimes going on,” Stakic said.

Also taking the stand this week to testify on Karadzic’s behalf was Ljubisa Beara, formerly the chief of security of the Bosnian Serb army’s main staff. He was convicted of genocide for his role in the Srebrenica massacre and sentenced to life in prison. He case is currently on appeal. (See Appeals of Five Srebrenica Officers Heard.)

Beara appeared as a defence witness only after a subpoena was issued by the bench. When he took the stand, Karadzic asked him a single question: “Did you inform me either orally or in writing that prisoners from Srebrenica would be, were being or had been executed?”

Beara declined to answer, and said his lawyer had advised him to invoke Rule 90E, which states that a witness “may object to making any statement which might tend to incriminate [him or her]. The chamber may, however, compel the witness to answer the question. Testimony compelled in this way shall not be used as evidence in subsequent prosecution against the witness for any offence other than false testimony.”

Karadzic asked for Beara to be compelled to answer the question, and the judges granted his request.

The ensuing testimony occurred in private session. Beara will be cross examined by the prosecution on January 22.

In other news this week, Karadzic indicated that he would take the stand and testify on his own behalf. He said his testimony would last about 16 hours, and would probably be given some time in March, at the conclusion of his defence case.

The tribunal is on winter recess until January 13.

Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.