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

Krajisnik “Committed to Preserving Peace”

Ex-Bosnian Serb politician reiterates claim that he wanted to find a political solution to Bosnia’s problems.
By Simon Jennings
Former Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker Momcilo Krajisnik told judges hearing the appeal against his 2006 conviction this week that he had advocated a peaceful solution to the political situation in Bosnia.

Krajisnik was sentenced to 27 years in prison in September 2006 after being convicted of taking part in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at altering the country’s ethnic make-up by persecuting, murdering and forcibly transferring Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats.

He lodged an appeal against the conviction in February 2007.

“From the very beginning of my political work, I was committed to preserving peace in Bosnia-Hercegovina and reaching an acceptable political solution,” Krajisnik said at this week’s hearing.

Krajisnik called for his own acquittal, while the prosecution, which is also appealing the verdict, asked for the sentence to be extended to life imprisonment – which is what they called for in the original trial.

According to prosecutor Peter Kremer, the 27-year sentence was “entirely outside the proper range of discretion…[for the] degree of participation of the accused in crimes”.

Kremer told the bench that Krajisnik was “one of the driving forces” behind a “massive widespread systematic ethnic cleansing of a large part of Bosnia-Hercegovina”.

However, presenting his own appeal, Krajisnik distanced himself from the Bosnian Serb presidency and the crimes that were committed following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

“[The prosecutors] told me I was a powerful man,” he said. “I did not issue a single order, I could not carry anything out, so what kind of power can that be?”

United States lawyers Alan and Nathan Dershowitz supplemented Krajisnik’s appeal by challenging the trial chamber’s conclusion that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise. An amicus curiae also told the court that Krajisnik did not receive a fair trial.

The Dershowitz team said that as parliamentary speaker, Krajisnik prioritised Serbian interests - but said that in no way implicated him in the wartime atrocities.

Although Krajisnik openly supported the establishment of some sort of Serbian entity in Bosnia, he never committed any crime, said his lawyers.

“There is no question that Mr Krajisnik was a strong vocal advocate for protecting Serbian interests and sought to avoid Serbia being a powerless minority within a separated country of Bosnia Herzegovina,” said Nathan Dershowitz.

“What is seriously in doubt…is any indication that Mr Krajisnik had the common objective to carry out the permanent removal by force of Croats and Muslims and that he participated during the indictment period in any criminal acts to effectuate the common criminal goal.”

The lawyers said Krajisnik’s legitimate political advocacy could not be linked to crimes committed on the ground – and hence he was not implicated in any joint criminal enterprise.

Nathan Dershowitz described this issue as “the heart and soul of the case”, saying the indictment contained too broad a concept of what constituted criminal behaviour.

“It is an overwhelmingly expansive category, including everyone who in any way supported the Serbian point of view,” he said.

The Dershowitzes maintained that advocating a certain political goal was not the same as advocating a crime just because other people committed crimes to achieve the same goal.

Alan Dershowitz said the human right to express political views was at stake. There was a clash, he said, between the defendant’s right to hold political opinions and the rights of the victims of the war.

It was, he said, a conflict that the tribunal had yet to resolve.

“The [first-instance trial] court…resolved it without recognising it, without acknowledging it – with all due respect – without understanding that it was creating a decision with broad implications for political conduct,” said Alan Dershowitz.

“We believe that as a result…it failed to understand the implication of the decision for many current conflicts.”

Nathan Dershowitz said Krajisnik did not take part in the joint criminal enterprise because the evidence did not prove that he had committed a crime on the ground, nor did it provide a direct link between him and anyone else who did.

He told judges that the whole judgment “must be set aside, without any question”.

The prosecution, however, said the court could infer a link to Krajisnik because those who carried out war crimes belonged to organisations – such as the police or a paramilitary group – headed by members of the same joint criminal enterprise.

According to prosecutor Barbara Goy, no specific link was needed between Krajisnik and individual crimes because the verdict was based on evidence that the Bosnian Serb leadership executed a joint criminal plan.

“The trial chamber was not required to analyse or set out in detail the specific linkage between each individual incident and the accused,” said Goy.

Amicus curiae Colin Nicholls, the lawyer who was assigned to Krajisnik after he fired his defence counsel Nicholas Stewart, said the defendant had “no prospect of a fair trial” because his lawyer, Nicholas Stewart, was “grossly unprepared”.

Thirteen months into the trial, Stewart had, by his own admission, read only 15 per cent of the case’s paperwork, said Nicholls.

This incompetence and the trial chamber’s failure to act had led to a miscarriage of justice, argued Nicholls.

However, the prosecution said Krajisnik’s trial was fair and denied Stewart’s conduct had amounted to gross incompetence or violated the tribunal’s constitution.

The judges allowed Stewart more time to prepare and gave Krajisnik the chance to cross-examine witnesses, they said.

Although the appeals hearing was completed this week, Krajisnik has been granted permission to interview the Bosnian Serb wartime president, Radovan Karadzic, who was arrested last month, with a view to calling him as a witness in his defence.

Krajisnik needs to decide if he wants to do this by September 15.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.