Former aid worker and political ally speaks of accused’s good character.


Former aid worker and political ally speaks of accused’s good character.

Friday, 28 October, 2005

Judges in the trial of former Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker Momcilo Krajisnik this week heard evidence of the accused’s equal concern for the welfare of each of Bosnia’s ethnic groups during the conflict there in the early Nineties.

Krajisnik is charged with war crimes including genocide for his alleged role in a campaign to ethnically cleanse large swathes of Bosnia of their non-Serb populations in 1991 and 1992.

The indictment against him lists more than 40 examples of mass killings for which he is said to have been responsible. It also cites beatings, rapes, torture and executions at such notorious detention camps as Omarska, Manjaca and Keraterm.

But defence witness Aleksandar Divcic – who ran the Dobrotvor humanitarian aid organisation at the time, which was affiliated with the accused’s Serbian Democratic Party, SDS – offered a different take on his character.

“[Krajisnik] asked me to help all those in need of assistance, no matter who they were – Croats, Muslims or Serbs,” Divcic recalled in court.

The witness also suggested that prosecutors had overplayed the amount of power wielded by Krajisnik during the time period referred to in the indictment.

Prosecution lawyers say that, as president of the SDS in 1992, Krajisnik approved six “strategic goals” outlining the party’s key objectives. These apparently included ensuring that Bosnian Serbs could live separately from the country’s other ethnic groups, in a unified territory attached to Serbia proper.

Calling to mind his memories of Krajisnik from the war period, however, Divcic described him as being very concerned with the welfare of non-Serbs.

He recalled speaking with Krajisnik in July 1992 about a particular aid shipment which was destined for Sarajevo but was being held up by fighting in the area. Krajisnik apparently informed Divcic of a convoy which would be able to deliver the aid and even ordered his own driver to take the witness to find it.

Divcic remembered that Krajisnik insisted the aid must reach each of the four ethnic groups it was intended for – Muslims, Serbs, Croats and Jews. The witness added that the shipment made it to Sarajevo in the end and was distributed fairly amongst these groups.

The witness also recalled an episode in which the Krajisnik insisted that he helped a number of Muslims – who the accused knew through friends – to join their family in Belgrade. At Krajisnik’s request, Divcic found a helicopter to fly the group to the Serbian capital.

At one point in March 1991, Divcic said, Krajisnik was even called before a meeting of the Political Council – an advisory body to the SDS – to answer accusations that he was paying too much attention to the opinions of Muslim politicians.

He recalled that Krajisnik defended himself by arguing that it was important that “everything should be done to reach democracy”.

Also on the agenda this week was the question of how much leverage Krajisnik had over developments in Bosnia in the early Nineties. Defence lawyers argue that their client didn’t hold enough power at the time to be considered responsible for events on the ground.

Divcic told judges that, as the speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament in the early Nineties, Krajisnik “did not have any executive power” and had only one vote in the assembly.

He also denied prosecution claims that Krajisnik was a co-founder of the influential SDS. Divcic recalled attending some of the party’s first meetings in a flat belonging to wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic. Krajisnik, he said, didn’t attend any of these gatherings.

The witness also defended the foundation of the SDS itself, saying it had developed out of nothing more sinister than the need to fill a political void. Other ethnic groups quickly set up their own political blocs after the establishment of a multi-party system in Bosnia, he explained, and Serbs were merely following suit.

Also this week, Krajisnik’s defence team continued to press for a postponement in the trial to allow them more time to prepare their case.

It has been two weeks now since judges refused to grant a postponement, despite objections by defence counsel that their client owes them somewhere in the region of 180,000 US dollars.

“This is a very oppressive burden that is being posed on this team,” defence lawyer David Josse continued to argue this week. He added that “masses” of tasks which are “absolutely essential” to the case still remain to be done.

Adrienne N Kitchen is an IWPR intern in The Hague.

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