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

Krajisnik Takes the Stand

Accused describes himself as a “man of honour” who respected Bosnia’s constitution.
By Adin Sadic
After months of delays, the trial of former Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker Momcilo Krajisnik resumed with his long-awaited testimony.



Krajisnik is charged with two counts of genocide and or complicity in genocide, four counts of crimes against humanity and one of violations of the laws and customs of war.



Between July 1991 and December 1992, the prosecutors allege that he was part of a joint criminal enterprise to partially destroy Bosnian Muslims and Croats through killings in towns and villages and detention facilities across Bosnia and Hercegovina.



Krajisnik used the first days of his testimony - which judges have said must be completed by June 13 - to present himself as a man of legal procedure who respected the constitution of Bosnia and acted in accordance with the supreme legal document of that country.



He said he is a man of honour “who would rather convert his faith than break his word”.



“I wanted, as a speaker at the Assembly of Bosnia and Hercegovina, to be a representative of all people and to protect the interests of all,” said Krajisnik.



His testimony ranged over political events in Bosnia during the early Nineties, following its first multi-party elections in 1990.



Krajisnik told the court how he joined the Serbian Democratic Party, the SDS, which he described as “a legitimate movement for Serb people to express their own political will” but denied being one of its founders, or even being particularly politically active at the time.



He also claimed that he had no idea that he would become the speaker in the newly-formed Assembly of Bosnia and Hercegovina in 1990. Apparently he was a compromise candidate, because many of the SDS members were opposed to “another candidate from Sarajevo” and asked for a “man from Krajina” - literally ‘Krajisnik’ in Serbian.



“Dr [Radovan] Karadzic [then president of the SDS] offered them Krajisnik from Sarajevo,” said the defendant, explaining that even though he was from Sarajevo, his name helped to gain his acceptance.



Krajisnik used his testimony to explain various political moves supported or initiated by his party.



He justified the establishment of the Serb Autonomous Regions in Bosnia and Herzegovina as both a legitimate response to moves by other parties to discuss the independence of the territory, and as a form of “regionalisation”, which would enable each area to develop separately.



He denied that when talking about the establishment of these regions he had ever spoken “just about Serbs”, but rather “various ethnic communities” and said any moves to devolve power were clearly based on the Bosnian constitution, which allowed municipalities to transfer some of their powers to a regional assembly.



Krajisnik maintained that nobody in the SDS advocated relocating people according to their ethnicity and that the notion of “Greater Serbia” was never part of the SDS platform. Instead, he said, it was a term misused by SDS opponents to frighten their constituencies. He admitted, however, that it did have some currency among radical elements among the Serbs.



Krajisnik went on to describe Alija Izetbegovic - who later became president of Bosnia - as a man who would sacrifice peace for a sovereign Bosnia.



He explained that in 1991, shortly after Izetbegovic’s Party of Democratic Action party presented a platform advocating that Bosnia remain within a reformed Yugoslavia, Izetbegovic and 20 other SDA members proposed a declaration of independence for Bosnia.



Krajisnik added that at that point it became crystal clear that the prospect of independence could lead to civil war, since many Serbs in Bosnia objected to the SDA’s demands.



In 1991, all political parties had main and reserve positions with regard to the political solution in Bosnia, he explained. The SDS’s main demand was for Bosnia to remain a part of the Yugoslav federation, and its reserve option was independence for Bosnia but with the creation of a constituent unit governed by Serbs.



Krajisnik agreed that during this period he knew that Serbs were arming themselves but denied that he knew anything about the ways they were doing so.



He is charged specifically with “encouraging, assisting or participating in the acquisition of arms or in the distribution of them to Bosnian Serbs”.



He argued that various communities armed themselves in different ways. “Some of them responded to the Yugoslav National Army’s call up, but not exclusively Serbs. Some of them were Muslims volunteering to defend Serbs in Croatia,” claimed Krajisnik.



He also went on to discuss the role of the Assembly of Serbian People in Bosnia and Herzegovina, set up in 1991 with Serb representatives from all political parties. Krajisnik became speaker of this group, along with his position in the Sarajevo assembly.



He said its role was to present the clear position of Serbs in Bosnia: that they want to remain in the Yugoslav federation with Serbia, Montenegro and various Serb autonomous regions.



The assembly organised a plebiscite in November 1991 in a number of municipalities, in which Bosnian Serbs were encouraged to declare their support for staying in Yugoslavia.



“We [the Serb assembly] proposed ‘one common state - Yugoslavia’ with all people who want to build a happier future - all people referring both to Serbs and non-Serbs,” added Krajisnik.



At the end of the week, Krajisnik had yet to move on to wartime events.



As Krajisnik took the stand, judges issued a ruling concerning how the defendant gives his evidence.



They confirmed two telephone lines in his cell were to be disconnected and that he would have no contact with anyone - including his defence team - while giving his testimony.



The defence would only be able to speak to Krajisnik in “very exceptional circumstances”, which would have to be approved by the bench in advance.



The chamber also laid out its own procedure for calling potential witnesses after Krajisnik has testified as the final defence witness.



The judges indicated that they may call up to four witnesses whose names were announced in closed session on April 11. The witnesses are said to have held “pre-eminent positions” during the period in question and have previously been identified by prosecution or defence as potential witnesses.



There has been speculation that one is Krajisnik’s fellow former indictee, Biljana Plavsic, the former Bosnian Serb president.



She has been on the defence list of potential witnesses from the beginning.



Plavsic was jointly indicted with Krajisnik. But she cut a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to one count of crimes against humanity. She was sentenced in 2003 to 11 years in prison, which she is serving in Sweden.



Her plea agreement - one of the first at the tribunal - contained no indication that she would testify in further trials for the prosecution.



Plavsic says she knew that Muslims were being persecuted, and admits that there was an effort to permanently separate ethnic groups either by agreement or force. She admitted that she and other top political figures were involved.



She names Krajisnik as one of the “principal leaders of the Bosnian Serbs”, who - along with Karadzic, currently wanted on genocide charges by the tribunal - were involved in the conception and execution of the planned ethnic separation.



But experienced court observers say that even though her testimony would obviously be an important element in this case, it would be hard to imagine her appearing at the tribunal, even as a witness for the chamber, given that she managed to negotiate an agreement that committed her to no further dealings with the tribunal. She has not appeared for either prosecution or defence at any trial since her conviction.



In the chamber’s seven-page written procedure for the calling of potential witnesses, the judges confirm that they could subpoena anyone who refuses to cooperate.



Christian Chartier, the tribunal’s spokesperson, told IWPR was this was the first time judges had felt it necessary to provide such a detailed description of the procedure for calling chamber witnesses, even though judges have done so in other Hague cases.



He said the details would “prevent logistical problems” and “avoid misunderstandings” about technicalities.



A decision on whether to call any further witnesses will only be made at the end of the defence case.



The chamber also confirmed that it will deliver its judgement on or before September 29.



Krajisnik will continue testifying next week.



Adin Sadic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.