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

Karadzic's Markale Fraud Claim Disputed

Ex-UN representative in Sarajevo insists that large numbers of people were killed and injured.
By Rachel Irwin

Former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic this week reiterated his claim that a 1994 massacre at Sarajevo’s Markale market was staged by Bosnian government forces and most of the bodies found there were “dummies and old corpses”.

Karadzic made similar allegations during his opening statement in early March. This week, he elaborated on those claims and showed additional video footage purportedly taken just before and after the February 5, 1994 mortar attack, which killed about 60 people and wounded over 140 others.

Karadzic is charged with overseeing the 44-month sniping and shelling campaign against 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".

Karadzic showed the video footage as part of his cross-examination of witness David Harland, who was a civil affairs officer and political adviser to the commander of UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) in Bosnia from 1993 to 1995.

The first segment – which Karadzic said was filmed just before the explosion – showed rows of empty market stalls. 

“There are no people and no products,” Karadzic exclaimed. 

Then, the footage cut to a limp body being lifted onto what appeared to be a raised platform.

“Now after the alleged explosion … a dead body – a dummy! – is being loaded into a truck of sorts,” he continued. “We asked for the first and last name [of the person] and autopsy results, and nobody can provide that.”

In another frame, a body is seen being dragged across the ground.

“What I’m asserting here is that this is a very old corpse … where the arm is still rigid,” Karadzic said. “A freshly killed person would not be dragged around like this.”

At that point, prosecutor Carolyn Edgerton rose to her feet and asked about the “provenance of the film and the basis for these assertions”.

Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon posed the first question directly to Karadzic.

Karadzic said the film was from the “Muslim side” and was broadcast by Bosnian television. He said that it showed that the massacre was a “simple and inept fabrication”.

When witness Harland pointed out that the logo on the screen was in fact that of a Serbian station, Karadzic said the Serbian station was “broadcasting Muslim television” and asked Harland if he “looked at Markale in a different way now”.

“This is exceptionally weird,” Harland replied, noting that he personally sent a doctor to the scene of the explosion and later also debriefed him. 

“This was never suggested by credible or even incredible observers,” Harland continued. “It shows to me a great distance [from] reality.”

Karadzic then asked Harland to comment on the emptiness of the market place, as seen in the footage.

“When it was [filmed], I can’t say,” Harland replied. “I spoke to our doctor and our commander and none of them came up with this weirdness.”

Harland did submit that results from three separate UN investigations were inconclusive in terms of determining whether the shell had originated from Bosnian Serb or Bosnian army positions. 

“The balance of evidence … [suggested] that it came from Bosnian Serb positions,” Harland said.

Karadzic then contended that he had asked to be part of the investigations into the massacre and the “Muslims wouldn’t allow that”.

Harland disputed this claim.

“What I recall – because I personally asked – is for both sides to allow us access to the places we needed to investigate,” Harland said. “The Bosnian government did give us access, and your forces denied our people access.”

“How could we have denied you access to Markale?” Karadzic said.

“We wanted access to firing positions, [and] to where mortar plates could be placed…” Harland said. “The Bosnian government gave us that access and you did not, which made us a little suspicious.”

Karadzic rejected the assertion. 

“The fact is, there is no evidence we did not give you access,” he said. “It remains the official position of the UN that it could not be concluded who fired the shell. The whole thing was rigged!” 

“There is no suggestion from anybody who visited the site that ‘the whole thing was rigged’,” Harland retorted. “It’s also a contradiction – either it was rigged or [the Bosnian army] did it to themselves. It’s logically not compatible.”

Karadzic did not fully address this point, but pointed to a document which talked about how “opinion was divided as to whether it was a hoax, or real, or done by the Muslims”.

“We assert that dummies and old corpses were dispersed there,” Karadzic said. “I’m not saying no one was killed, but it was a small number of people.”

Harland responded that Karadzic was “mixing two issues – who fired the shell and was anyone killed?

“On the latter, there was never any doubt that a large number of people were killed and injured. We had medical doctors and military experts. As to where the shell was fired from, we did not have conclusive empirical evidence.”

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 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.

The prosecution objected to the video footage being admitted into evidence on the basis that there was “no indication of the reliability of the film” and that questions remained as to where it originated.

Judge Kwon agreed, stating that until it was established who exactly shot the footage – and when – it would be “difficult” to admit as evidence.

Karadzic’s cross-examination of Harland spanned several topics, including the electricity and utility supply lines in Sarajevo.

Karadzic read aloud from a passage in “Fighting for Peace: Bosnia, 1994”, a book written by General Sir Michael Rose, the UNPROFOR commander in Sarajevo during that year. 

In the passage, Rose wrote that Karadzic “calmed down” after a Bosnian army offensive and “agreed to reconnect electricity in Sarajevo” if utility lines going to the Bosnian Serb held city of Banja Luka could be repaired.

Harland responded that this was “exactly” the kind of thing he didn’t like.

“You were linking a military attack with the fact that you would cut off … electricity, water and gas - a linkage that struck some of us as inhuman,” Harland said.

Karadzic contended that he was “restoring” utilities after an offensive, and that he had not cut off anything.

Harland smiled, and then said, “The utility lines were not cut off by the offensive. They were cut off because you cut them off. That was your normal way of retaliating, and it struck us as a little barbaric.”

Karadzic denied this, and then said that the West’s “sanctions on the Serbs were worse than ours on the Muslims”.

“No, that is completely delusional,” responded Harland, adding that the situation in the self-declared Republika Srpska was “vastly better” than that of the enclaves controlled by Bosnian government forces.

When Karadzic pressed the point, Harland responded that “life in Banja Luka was like life in Beverly Hills compared to life in Sarajevo”.

“This is completely delusional,” Harland continued. “There is no comparison.”

The trial continues next week.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.