Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Stanisic Trial Witness Changes Testimony
Former Bosnian Serb justice minister Momcilo Mandic last week told the Hague tribunal trial of two ex-Bosnian Serb police chiefs that one of them, Mico Stanisic, never issued an announcement proclaiming the creation of a separate Bosnian Serb ministry of interior, MUP, which allegedly took part in the disarming of non-Serb population.
Stanisic is charged with murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians during the war, as well as for his failure to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates. The indictment against Stanisic states that he was appointed minister in charge of the newly-founded Bosnian Serb ministry of interior in April 1992.
He is on trial together with Stojan Zupljanin, who became an adviser to the former Bosnian Serb president and Hague indictee Radovan Karadzic in 1994. Zupljanin is accused of extermination, murder, persecution, and deportation of non-Serbs in north-west Bosnia between April and December 1992.
Stanisic and Zupljanin are alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the permanent removal of non-Serbs from the territory of an intended Serbian state. They are accused of crimes committed between April 1 and December 31, 1992, in 20 municipalities throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina, BiH.
According to the indictment, the former Bosnian Serb police commanders are held responsible for “imposing and maintaining restrictive measures against Bosnian Muslims and Croats”, having thereby perpetrated, according to the indictment, persecution on political, racial or religious basis, qualified as a crime against humanity.
Mandic, appearing in this trial as a prosecution witness, testified in the same capacity in November and December 2004 in the trial of former Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker Momcilo Krajisnik, who was sentenced on appeal to 20 years in prison by the tribunal in 2009.
The tribunal judges said then that it had been proved beyond reasonable doubt that Krajisnik was responsible for the extermination, murder, persecution and deportation of non-Serbs during the war, adding that his role in the commission of these crimes was crucial.
At the beginning of last week's proceedings, Mandic said he knew Stanisic at school, and that they went together to police academy before the war. He also confirmed that after the Bosnian Serb MUP was formed on April 1, 1992, he was Stanisic's deputy for twenty days, having later been named the first justice minister in the Bosnian Serb government.
According to the indictment against Stanisic “on 11 February 1992, a meeting of Serb officials of the BiH MUP was held in Banja Luka.
“At the meeting, Mico Stanisic insisted that it was necessary to establish a separate RS MUP at the municipal, regional and republic level.
“On 1 April 1992, pursuant to the Serb Law on Internal Affairs, which was issued on 23 March 1992 and entered into force on 31 March 1992, a separate RS MUP was established with Mico Stanisic as Minister. The RS MUP was considered one of the armed forces of the RS.”
The indictment also says that “between 1 April 1992 and 31 December 1992, RS MUP forces under the authority of Mico Stanisic, acting together with the VRS (Bosnian Serb army), the TO (territorial defence) and paramilitaries carried out a campaign to disarm the non-Serb population”.
Last week, the witness told the judges that in March this year he spent a week in The Hague and had talks with lawyers for both defence and prosecution, after which he decided to change parts of his previous statement given to the prosecution investigators in 2004.
He confirmed prosecution claims that he had had another meeting on May 2 with defence lawyers prior to last week's hearings.
Last week, Mandic said that after he had talked to the defence lawyers, he had "sat down and thought" and remembered how it wasn't Stanisic who requested him to send the announcement of an order for the separation of the Bosnian Serb MUP from the BiH MUP - contradicting the claims he made in the Krajisnik trial.
“In my previous testimony, I said that it was Mico Stanisic who directed me to send a dispatch on March 31, 1992, informing on the separation of the MUP. However, I wrote that dispatch myself and thought back then that it would be logical for the interior minister to instruct me to write such a dispatch. But he never did," the witness said.
Prosecutor Joanna Korner showed the witness parts of his testimony from 2004 from the Krajisnik trial and told him that the very same order announcement was shown on the second day of his testimony in the trial. She reminded the witness that he was asked by then prosecutor Alan Tieger whether "at the time he sent the dispatch, he believed that there would be war in Bosnia Hercegovina", to which the witness answered, "No, I received a telegramme from Mico Stanisic to send such a dispatch and that's what I did".
"When did you realise you actually made a mistake when you said it was Mico Stanisic who ordered you to send the dispatch," Korner asked.
“When I was speaking about it in the Krajisnik trial, I implied certain things as I thought that it was logical for there to be a hierarchy obliging me to consult the newly-elected police minister Stanisic. But when I thought and looked at the documents, I realised that the news was broken to me by the then minister of information, Velibor Ostojic,” he said.
The witness said that "Stanisic had no role whatsoever in the process, nor was he in any way involved".
"I swear upon my honour that this is the truth. I had later thought about this and about the fact that I didn't carefully think about whether it was Stanisic or Ostojic, and I use this opportunity to correct my mistake and apologise to both you and Stanisic," the witness said.
"Was that before your meeting with the defence on May 2 that you realised your mistake, or afterwards?" Korner asked.
"The defence did comment about this to me and I sat down to think about the precise course of events. The fact is, I testified in the Krajisnik trial for ten or twelve days and was too tired and focused more on other things," the witness answered.
"Where was Mico Stanisic when you sent the dispatch?” the prosecutor asked.
"I think he was on holiday and not even physically present in the police," Mandic answered.
Stanisic surrendered to the Hague tribunal in March 2005. Zupljanin was in hiding until June that same year, when he was arrested in the town of Pancevo just outside the Serbian capital Belgrade. Both the accused pleaded not guilty and their trial began on September 2009.
The trial continues next week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.
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