Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Sarajevo Trial Closes
The trial of a Bosnian Serb general, Stanislav Galic, accused of bombarding Sarajevo, closed this week with prosecutors reminding the court of the horrors of the siege.
"Three hundred and forty thousand people were the victims of the accused," said Australian prosecutor Mark Ierace said.
He said that there was a “32-month reign of terror” in which at least 1,185 Sarajevans were killed and 4,701 wounded between September 1992 and August 1994, the period when Galic commanded the Sarajevo-Romanija corps.
Galic has pleaded not guilty to crimes against humanity and violations of laws or customs of war.
He has insisted during his 17-month-trial that the city was never under siege. His lawyers dismissed four years of newspaper and TV reports of the siege as a “media forgery”.
Prosecutors say he deliberately targeted Sarajevo’s population as part of a wider plan to force the Bosnian government to capitulate.
Prosecutors blame him for a string of atrocities, including two committed on successive days.
On February 4, 1994 eight civilians were blown to pieces, with another 23 wounded, by three large caliber 120 mm mortar shells, as they formed a bread queue.
Then a day later, a total of 66 were killed, and 140 wounded, again by a 120 mm mortar shell landing on Markale market in central Sarajevo.
These are part of 27 sniping and six shelling prosecutors say he either ordered, or is responsible for because his troops did the shooting.
Prosecution witness Colonel Richard Mole of New Zealand, a former UN official, told the court that he met Galic regularly in the war, and the general once told him that Sarajevo was paying the price for the rest of the country.
Galic reportedly told Mole that unless the Bosnian army stopped their attacks from Mount Igman, Sarajevo would be shelled.
Numerous military observers said Galic had close control over his corps, making it unlikely they would have fired shells without direct orders.
Ierace reminded the judges about a sniping incident in which a woman was killed in a water queue in Dobrinja, one of the suburbs of Sarajevo.
He said the gunman fired from a church under construction on the Serb side of the front line. A short video played in courtroom, which the defense provided, showed the church was close to Galic's headquarters.
Ierace said some Sarajevans were shot dead as they tried to leave the city in the first year of the war by running across the runway at the city’s UN-controlled airport. He said this was close to Galic’s headquarters.
The prosecutors estimate that 10 to 15 people were killed every week trying to outrun Serb snipers at the airport.
A Canadian military observer told the court that Serb troops had night-sights allowing them to target the civilians in darkness.
Another Canadian, Major Patrick Heneberry, told the court that he had a meeting with Galic on December 16, 1992 in his office in the Serb-held part of Sarajevo in which Galic stated that his aim was to "either destroy Sarajevo, or rid it of the Muslims".
And prosecutors denied Galic’s claims that the besieged Bosnian army might have shelled themselves to put the blame on Serbs.
"To say that is to deny the Bosnians basic instinct for survival, which every people has," said prosecutor Chester Stamp. "There is no proof that there was any military gain in it for them."
He said Sarajevo’s defenders were also citizens, and would not have shelled their own friends and families, "Those people would not have accepted shooting their family members in the town.”
Galic insists he fired only at military installations, but prosecutors said this was untrue because many shells fell far from military targets – much further than would be likely even with poor shooting.
And prosecutors demanded the harshest possible sentence – life. "These were not crimes committed in the heat of the battle. Rather, they were continuing crimes. In these circumstances, where the victims in relation to the of terror count in hundreds of thousands, the prosecution submits that life sentence for the offences is appropriate," said their Final Trial Brief, a document given to the court.
The defence began its closing arguments on May 7, and will continue until the end of the week. No verdict is likely for several months.
Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight