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

Krajisnik “Helped Mastermind” Serb Crimes

Prosecution claim Krajisnik was one of the architects of the Bosnian Serbs’ ethnic cleansing campaign.
By Stacy Sullivan

After nearly four years in tribunal custody, Momcilo Krajisnik, the Bosnian Serb official often described as Radovan Karadzic’s right-hand man, appeared before the court this week to defend himself in a trial that will be second only to that of Slobodan Milosevic’s in both length and complexity.


The prosecution alleges that the former speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament was one of the masterminds behind the “joint criminal enterprise” to rid Serb-controlled Bosnia of Croats and Muslims, and has charged him with every crime under the tribunal’s jurisdiction – violations of the laws or customs of war, crimes against humanity, complicity in genocide and genocide.


In his opening statement, prosecutor Mark Harmon portrayed Krajisnik as one of the chief instigators of terrible crimes perpetrated against Muslims and Croats who once lived in Serb-controlled Bosnia.


“The man who sits in the dock in this courtroom was a politician, a shrewd and calculating man, a committed and unrepentant Serb nationalist, who along with Radovan Karadzic, was one of the chief policy makers of the Bosnian Serb, policies that ignited war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, policies that were implemented through massive, state-sponsored crimes, the scale of which had not been seen in Europe since the Second World War,” Harmon said.


In his remarks, Harmon detailed Krajisnik’s role in the forming of the Serbian Democratic Party, as well as the party’s role in inciting Serbs to violence. He told the court that the SDS, in which Krajisnik played a key role, created what came to be known as crisis staffs across the country, which worked with the Yugoslav National Army, JNA, to arm paramilitary groups so that they could complete the party’s aim of eliminating Muslims and Croats in order to unite all Serbs in one territory.


Krajisnik, clean-shaven and dressed in a crisp, navy blue suit, sat impassively as he listened, occasionally taking notes. When he was finally given an opportunity to respond to the allegations, he kept it short.


“I would just like to say that I believe in God and justice and truth. I ask you to make sure that the truth wins. I am living for that day,” he said. He added one final but telling sentence. The truth, he said, would show that the tribunal had indicted the wrong man.


Although his words were few, they spoke volumes about his defense strategy. While unlikely to deny that any of the terrible crimes spelled out in the indictment happened, it will insist that Krajisnik does not bare responsibility for them.


Krajisnik is not alleged to have committed any crimes himself – in Harmon’s words, “People at his level rarely do” – but the prosecution says that it will prove that the former Bosnian Serb political leader “planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of” the ethnic cleansing campaign across Serb-held Bosnia.


In making its case, Harmon said the prosecution would rely on minutes and video recordings of SDS party meetings, military documents, telephone intercepts compiled by various intelligence services, witness statements from SDS insiders, military orders and, of course, eye-witness accounts from the survivors of the Bosnian Serb campaign.


Showing that Krajisnik played a key role in an organisation whose aim it was to create a Serb part of Bosnia should not be difficult. In his opening address, Harmon presented documentation showing that the SDS set forth six strategic objectives at a meeting on May 12, 1992, the first of which was the separation of Serbs from Bosnia’s other nationalities. The other five goals involved the establishment of corridors or borders that were to be created so that Serbs could live in one contiguous area that would be attached to Serbia proper.


Those goals were adopted by the Bosnian Serb assembly, signed by Krajisnik, and then distributed to the military and other government of the Bosnian Serb republic, Harmon said.


He also pointed out that Krajisnik had to know what the adoption of such objectives would mean. He cited a November 191 meeting - in which Krajisnik was present with Karadzic - that stated that if Bosnia went ahead with its referendum on independence, Bosnian Muslims would “disappear from the face of the earth”.


Some of the most damning evidence will likely come from the Bosnian Serb army, VRS, itself. In his opening statement, Harmon quoted from a July 28, 1992 report of the VRS main staff that stated that the paramilitary groups operating in Serb-held territory were “mainly composed of individuals of low moral quality and in many cases of persons previously prosecuted for crimes and offences and even convicted for crimes of murder, robbery, larceny and the like. Very often, such units have in their ranks pathological criminals whom the conditions of war and general lawlessness have brought to the force”.


The report went on to say that “war profiteering and looting are the motive for the great majority of paramilitaries”, and was distributed to various high-ranking Bosnian Serb officials, including Krajisnik.


Harmon produced another VRS report dated August 22, 1993, which stated, “A massacre against civilians, Muslim men, was committed on 21 August, between 1830 and 1900 hours. It was committed by a group of policemen escorting a convoy of refugees to Travnik. … About 100 people were killed in various ways and left in the canyon.”


Given that these reports emanated from the military he helped set up and were passed on to him, the prosecution says it will be difficult for Krajisnik to claim that he did not know crimes were being committed.


To further bolster their case, the prosecution plans to introduce telephone intercepts between Krajisnik and other members of the joint criminal enterprise. Harmon played one during his opening statement, Krajisnik is heard talking to Karadzic about the Serbs not having enough weapons.


Similar, extremely revealing intercepts have been introduced in the Milosevic trial. Although they appear to contain damning evidence, it is not yet clear whether or not the judges will accept them. (see related story).


Another important element of the prosecution’s evidence against Krajisnik will be a statement and possible testimony from Mirolsav Deronjic, a top SDS official from Bratunac, who recently pleaded guilty before the tribunal. As part of a plea agreement, Deronjic provided an extensive, 70-page statement about events in the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia from early 1991 through 1996, detailing many of the events Krajisnik allegedly participated in.


However, in testifying against two Bosnian Serb military officers currently on trial for the Srebrenica crimes, Deronjic’s reliability as a witness was called into question when he admitted under cross-examination to fabricating some of his statements, in part by gleaning information from fellow inmates in the tribunal’s detention unit.


By far the most intensive and time-consuming part of the trial will involve witness testimony. Krajisnik is accused of genocide in six municipalities - Bosanski Novi, Brcko, Kljuc, Kotor Varos, Prijedor, and Sanski Most - and the prosecution will call witnesses from all of them in an attempt to prove that genocide happened. (see related story).


This will be the most challenging part of the indictment, as to date, only one person has been convicted for genocide in Bosnia – Radislav Krstic, the Bosnian Serb officer who commanded the Srebrenica operation in July 1995 – and that case is in appeal.


Stacy Sullivan is IWPR project manager in The Hague.


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