Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Witness Recalls Karadzic's Terrible Words
A witness told the war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic this week of a speech in which he said the defendant encouraged violence against the Bosniak or Bosnian Muslim population.
“Those were terrible words to hear,” Sulejman Crncalo, 65, the second witness to testify against Karadzic, told the Hague tribunal. “[Karadzic said that] every Muslim house had to be attacked because that’s the way to defend Serb houses.”
Crncalo said the speech took place in June 1992 in his home town of Pale, southeast of Sarajevo. He said that he was standing about 20 metres away from Karadzic, who was addressing a crowd about the deaths of Serb soldiers in a recent battle.
During the cross examination, Karadzic – who represents himself - grilled the witness on this assertion, asking first if political speeches at the time were frequently covered by the media.
“To be frank, if the people could [have done] anything, then they wouldn’t have allowed you anywhere near the media in Bosnia,” responded Crncalo, who looked directly at Karadzic during questioning.
“[The media] interviewed you all the time, but the people didn’t want you,” Crncalo added.
“The media would broadcast everything I said, so how is it possible I said something as drastic as [you claim] without anyone recording it?” Karadzic asked.
The witness responded that he did not know, but those were the words he heard. Karadzic then retorted that Crncalo had not mentioned the June speech in his initial statements to the tribunal.
“Well, if you think I thought this up … in other [instances during the war], you also said that [Serbs should] attack Muslim houses and by doing so you’ll be protecting your own,” Crncalo responded, adding that as far as he could remember, he had mentioned the episode in earlier statements.
Karadzic said that Crncalo had not mentioned anything about these remarks when he previously testified during the trial of Momcilo Krajisnik, who was the wartime president of the Bosnian Serb assembly. Krajisnik was found guilty of crimes against humanity and is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence.
“I didn’t testify against you [during the Krajisnik trial],” Crncalo responded. “This is the first time I am testifying against you.”
“So you prepared yourself especially for me, have you?” retorted Karadzic.
When prosecutor Fergal Gaynor was given the chance to re-examine Crncalo, he referred to Crncalo’s testimony in the Krajisnik case.
“Were you questioned about the content of Karadzic’s speech [when you testified previously]?” Gaynor asked.
“No, nobody asked me or questioned me about it,” Crncalo responded.
During his cross examination, Karadzic also challenged Crncalo’s assertions that Serbs created a threatening atmosphere in Pale and that Bosniaks were forced to leave their homes.
Karadzic read from an April 1992 document which was apparently written by officials in Pale in response to concerns from Bosniak citizens. Karadzic quoted the document as saying, “The Serbian municipality of Pale will offer full protection to all citizens no matter their ethnicity.”
Crncalo responded that this document did not correspond with his own experience.
“Everytime we [met] with officials, nobody was able to give us guarantees of safety,” he said. “This document was never shown to a single Muslim in all of Pale.”
When Karadzic pressed him further on the issue, Crncalo insisted there were many reasons to fear for his safety. His amalgamated statement – which was released by the court – details how he was beaten by reserve police officers in March 1992, how phone lines were subsequently cut in Bosniak households, and how paramilitary forces began entering the town in large numbers.
“If you had walked through Pale and run into those young men gone completely berserk, armed to their teeth with knives …. [and] guns, who would not fear them?” Crncalo exclaimed, gesturing with his hands.
“How can you say we were not under pressure and living in fear? Anyone who says that is out of their mind,” Crncalo said.
Crncalo said that he left Pale in an organised convoy on July 2, 1992, after he was forced to trade houses with a Serb family in Sarajevo.
Karadzic contended that Crncalo left Pale willingly and that the house exchange was not done under force. He produced the exact contract involved and read a statement from the Serb who moved into Crncalo’s house, who said the exchange was conducted “voluntarily and without mistreatment”.
Crncalo maintained he did not leave his home willingly.
“I survived all these events but you cannot persuade me that we left voluntarily,” he exclaimed. “What did we take with us? We took only what we could carry in two hands. We were barehanded and penniless.”
Crncalo and his family moved to Sarajevo and lived there during the 44-month siege of the city. His wife was subsequently killed in the Markale market massacre in Sarajevo on August 28, 1995. He described going to the scene of the massacre and then to the morgue to find her body.
Prosecutors asked him to describe the impact of his wife’s death. He paused and took a deep breath before answering.
“After [my wife died], I had to be father and mother [to my two children],” he said, wiping away tears. “I was able to have some sort of talk with my son, but it was horribly difficult with my daughter. I had no choice, I had to keep them with me.”
Karadzic later responded to Crncalo’s display of emotion by extending his condolences.
“We are going to prove who committed the acts at Markale,” Karadzic said. “You suffered a heavy loss yourself and we will show who did that and who is to blame for it.”
Crncalo’s testimony came after that of Ahmet Zulic, who described being imprisoned, beaten and tortured by Bosnian Serb forces in the Manjaca detention camp in northern Bosnia. Prior to being sent to Manjaca, Zulic said he survived a mass execution at a cemetery, where about 20 Bosniaks were forced to dig their own graves but was mutilated by one of the attackers.
When Karadzic accused Zulic of making up the event, the witness responded by pulling open his shirt.
“You can see the cross carved into my chest,” he exclaimed.
The trial will continue next week with the testimony of a witness who survived the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
Karadzic, the president of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, is accused of planning and overseeing the siege of Sarajevo that killed nearly 12,000 people, as well as the massacre of almost 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.
The indictment – which lists 11 counts in total – alleges that he was responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”. He was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight
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.