Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
An historian testifying in the trial of Radovan Karadzic told the accused last week that his pre-war language about the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) population was “threatening” and issued from the point of view of someone “who can dictate to the Muslims what their options are”.
The prosecution witness, Dr Robert Donia, was speaking about statements Karadzic made in an intercepted phone conversation in the months before Bosnia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in March 1992. War broke out shortly thereafter.
Karadzic quoted the intercept during the cross-examination in an apparent attempt to show that he tried to avoid war altogether. At the time, he was leader of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, and was vehemently opposed to the possibility of Bosnia’s independence.
“I’m informing my friend about what we’re doing at the assembly and how we are trying to avert war, and how [the Bosniaks] would fare badly if there should be a war…[and]how they will disappear from the face of the earth if they continue with these efforts,” Karadzic said to Donia.
“How can you quote this intercept, with these few words about peaceful intentions, without following it with the context about what you portrayed as the apocalyptic destruction of the Muslim people?” replied Donia, who specialises in the political and social history of the former Yugoslavia.
Karadzic responded that “we’ll qualify this later” and pointed to a section of the intercept where he says, “We are allowing them to do what they want.”
“Am I wishing for war or trying to prevent war?” he asked Donia.
“You speak here as one who is totally in control of the situation,” Donia answered. “You say to the interlocutor that you will allow the Muslims to take this [particular] way out, and if they don’t, certain things are going to happen to them - certain things that … amount to their near total destruction. The issue of war or peace is something you say you hold in your hands depending on how they behave.”
When Karadzic pressed the issue, Donia reiterated that Karadzic was determining what the “acceptable options” were for Bosniaks.
“If the Muslims don’t comply with your conditions, there will be war that results in their disappearance,” said Donia, who characterised Karadzic’s language as “threatening… terrible, draconian, horrific things”.
“By using those threatening words – as you call them – am I talking them into war or talking them out of war?” Karadzic asked.
“The use of language in general contributed to heightened tensions and made them more inclined to prepare for war,” Donia responded.
Karadzic retorted that “regardless of what I would accept, there would be chaos!”
“Do you think I could control two million Serbs who would rebel against an attempt to take them back to Turkish times?” he asked.
“Yes, I believe you had control of the SDS and broader Serb followers to do that,” Donia answered. “I think you were absolutising the Serb people and assuming they have a single will [and] a single wish of which you are the interpreter.
“You are basically then opting out of responsibility for these threats by blaming it on some inevitable response of the Serb people. …[You] invoke the imminent will of Serb people for something that you were in fact responsible for.”
Karadzic, the president of Republika Srpska, RS, from 1992 to 1996, is accused of planning and overseeing the massacre of some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, as well as the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead.
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 was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.
During the cross examination – which was continuing from last week – Karadzic repeatedly interrupted Donia while he spoke and the two had several tense exchanges.
“Mr Donia, you are totally ruining your own credibility. Is that right?” exclaimed Karadzic at one point, after Donia questioned a document he presented in court.
“No, you’re doing pretty much what I expected you to do,” Donia responded. “My responses are appropriate for someone using ... biased sources for points he is making.”
Later, Karadzic asked Donia if he was asked to be “objective and scholarly” in preparing reports for the prosecution.
“I was asked to prepare an objective report on topics within the time frame that the prosecution specified,” replied Donia, who has testified in numerous previous trials.
“Do you then think that this trial is necessary at all? You seem to have created the indictment, and done the sentencing and judgement,” Karadzic contended.
Judge Howard Morrison intervened and said “that’s simply a comment”.
“If you don’t agree with what [Donia] wrote, you can challenge it,” Judge Morrison continued. “Making comments like this is simply wasting the time you have left [with the witness].”
Karadzic was also chided several times this week for not focusing on topics relevant to the indictment. At one point, he began questioning Donia about the American civil war.
“I’d love to talk about American civil war forever, it’s very interesting….[but] I do not see the riveting parallel [to Bosnia] that would lead me to conclude what you have apparently,” Donia said.
The trial continues next week with the testimony military analyst Richard Philipps.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.