Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Mira Mihajlovic, a witness for the prosecution, in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
Radovan Karadzic’s wartime personal secretary told The Hague tribunal this week that her boss, then the president of Republika Srpska, was a “kind person” who was “not intolerant” of people of other ethnicities.
Mira Mihajlovic, a witness for the prosecution, was Karadzic’s secretary from 1993 to 1996. During her testimony, she identified her handwriting in official appointment books, explained the process of scheduling meetings and phone calls, and told the court how communications were sent between the different institutions of the wartime Bosnian Serb government.
Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska, RS, from 1992 to 1996, 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 accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of some 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.
Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run. Witness testimony in his trial got under way in April 2010, and the accused is representing himself in the courtroom.
When it was Karadzic’s turn to question Mihajlovic, he asked her to describe his “attitude towards Muslim and Croats”, in light of the charges in the indictment.
“As far as I know… you were not in any way intolerant of other ethnicities,” Mihajlovic said. “You never displayed any such position.”
She added that many of his “associates and counsellors” were of mixed ethnicity or in mixed marriages.
“Thank you, but do you agree with me that a Catholic church remains standing in downtown Pale, that my hairdresser was a Croatian woman, and that there was not a case of intolerance in respect of those people?” Karadzic asked.
“Yes, the Catholic church remains in Pale to this day – I live there – and I do recall your hairdresser and I know she was Croatian. I know because we frequently made reference to that fact,” Mihajlovic responded.
Because the prosecution claims that Karadzic and his subordinates actively obstructed humanitarian convoys from reaching needy civilians, the accused asked whether Mihajlovic remembered him issuing “ orders to the effect that humanitarian convoys should be allowed through”.
“Do you recall a lot of documents to that effect sent through the office, because there were a lot of humanitarian convoys that for some reason were stopped?” Karadzic asked.
“Yes… and I recall that you frequently intervened and told people to be careful and to abide by the Geneva conventions, and to be careful about how they treated prisoners. I know that sometimes you would get really upset in those instances when there were violations of your orders,” Mihajlovic replied.
Karadzic added that he had appointed his vice-president, Nikola Koljevic, to be “commissioner of humanitarian matters” in order to better deal with these issues.
“Let me ask you about 1995. When was first time that you heard about developments in Srebrenica?” Karadzic asked.
“As far as I can recall, I heard about this incident from the media. I am absolutely certain I did not discuss this with you or with your aides. At first, to be honest, I really didn’t believe what was reported in the media, because the media frequently misrepresented [the situation] or broadcast incorrect information,” Mihajlovic said.
She added that she was pregnant and “absorbed by other things” at the time, so “didn’t really pay attention to information I considered incorrect”.
Karadzic then asked the witness to tell the bench what kind of person he was “as a president, a human and as a boss”.
“Well first of all, I can say that our relationship was purely professional. You were very kind and very respectful… to all the employees, including the cleaning ladies and waiters,” Mihajlovic said.
“I can say that everyone there respected you. You were not a person given to yelling, [though] perhaps there were times when you got angry if people failed to carry out their duties. You never raised your voice to me. you were very dedicated to your family, which really appealed to me. Quite certainly my opinion is very positive and… you were a good boss,” she continued.
“As president, you were not a person who liked to impose your authority. Rather, you tried to lead and work with employees in a democratic way.”
Karadzic replied, “Thank you, that is very flattering. I would like to wish you a pleasant stay here and a safe trip home, and please give all the best to your family and your two daughters, who were born once I fled into the hills.”
The trial continues next week.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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