Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A United Nations diplomat appearing as a defence witness in the trial of Ratko Mladic this week agreed with the prosecution claim that genocide “clearly” formed part of Bosnian Serb government policy during the civil war.
Yasushi Akashi was UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special envoy to the former Yugoslavia from the beginning of 1994 to the end of the war the following year. He has testified before the Hague tribunal before, including in the trial of former Bosnian Serb Radovan Karadzic who similarly called him as a defence witness. (See UN Envoy’s “Utter Dismay” at Bosnian Expulsions.)
Defence council Dragan Ivetic called on the transcript of the evidence Akashi gave at the Karadzic trial, and a number of sections were admitted into evidence. They included parts dealing with the “lack of unity” within the UN Security Council regarding the war, and the failure to fully demilitarise safe areas, including Srebrenica.
Akashi agreed with Ivetic’s statement that this had been a problem and that “the Bosnian side used the safe areas to rest and re-equip their troops and other purposes… disarmament provisions were not implemented”.
He also reaffirmed his testimony in the Karadzic case that “neither the Bosnian government nor the US government wanted a long-term ceasefire because of the concerns of making territorial holdings of Serb territory permanent”.
In his cross-examination, prosecuting lawyer Alan Tieger turned to a booklet Akashi wrote after the war describing his experiences. In it, Akashi made clear that all three warring sides committed atrocities.
“You point out that crimes were committed by all parties to the conflict, Muslim, Serb and Croat… but it’s correct, is it not, Mr Ambassador, that that does not mean there was no difference between the parties in terms of the quantum of crimes,” Tieger said.
He then read out a quotation from the book saying there was “a quantum difference between the horrors” perpetrated by different parties to the war.
“That’s a very important point,” the witness agreed.
The defence then turned to a section of Akashi’s book entitled “The madness of exclusive nationalism”.
“In the situation of the former Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serb forces committed ‘the most atrocious acts’, although you note that all sides were responsible for crimes and atrocities,” the lawyer said.
“That’s correct,” Akashi said.
Tieger went on to read another quotation from the booklet which maintained that “although all three sides were to some extent guilty of war crimes, genocide did not form part of official Bosnian government policy in the way that it clearly did with the Serbs”.
The witness said this too was correct.
The prosecution then discussed meetings that Akushi had with Karadzic at length, later turning to another section of the booklet which dealt specifically with the ambassador’s encounters with Mladic.
“‘One could sense from Mladic’s conversation his blind love for Serbs,” the passage read. “The death of one Serbian soldier was the source of greatest sorrow to him… his strong feelings for the lives of Serbs did not seem to extend to the lives of other ethnic peoples in the same country… at any rate, the world of General Mladic seemed to be tinged with the notion of Serb supremacy and full of deep-seated grudge and vengeance.
“The atrocities of Srebrenica in July 1995 may have been partly a revenge for the massacres of Serbs by Muslim soldiers in the vicinity in December 1992. The nationalist Mladic, brought up in traditional Balkan culture, might have acted out in the spirit of the feudal ages characterised by endless violence and revenge,” Tieger continued, reading from Akashi’s work.
“Is that an accurate reflection of passages in the book and accurately reflect your view of General Mladic?” the prosecution asked.
Akushi was more circumspect in his response, replying that these were “speculative views on my part.
“I’m not a historian by profession, so I was just thinking aloud here,” he said, adding that he had not claimed to have been speaking “with 100 per cent accuracy”.
Prosecutors allege that Mladic is responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible population 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 the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995, and of planning and overseeing the siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead.
Daniella Peled is an IWPR editor in London.
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