As his defence case opened at the Hague tribunal on October 16, wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic portrayed himself as a mild-mannered physician and “literary man” who tried to prevent war from breaking out in Bosnia.
Before judges and a public gallery packed with survivors of the conflict, Karadzic said that instead of being put on trial, he should have been “rewarded for the good things” he did, including his “successes” in providing humanitarian aid to civilians.
Karadzic also mentioned that he had many non-Serb friends before the war, including his hairdresser, and had nothing against Muslims or Croats.
“Everyone who knows me knows that I’m not aggressive or intolerant,” Karadzic said. On the contrary, he said, he was a “mild man”.
He stressed that he did everything he could to avoid war, but was “pushed into a corner”.
“It’s a terrible misconception and great injustice, this portrayal of Serbs starting the war,” the accused said, later describing his policies as “peace-loving”.
Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, is 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 is accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month sniping and shelling campaign against Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of over 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.
Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run. He is representing himself in the courtroom.
He has already delivered one set of opening remarks, prior to the start of the prosecution’s case in March 2010. (For more, see Karadzic Denies Sarajevo Siege.)
He made many similar claims this time around, including the assertion that camps where the indictment says prisoners were tortured and murdered were merely “investigation centres”.
Karadzic spoke of allowing British journalists to enter the Omarska and Trnopolje camps in northwestern Bosnia in August 1992 because he “didn’t want to hide anything”. The resulting photos of emaciated detainees behind barbed wire led to an international uproar.
“[The journalists] did a lot more damage than shells,” the accused told the court.
Karadzic also reiterated the claim that two mortar attacks on Sarajevo’s Markale Market – in February 1994 and August 1995 – were a “shameless orchestration” by the Bosnian government to “create an image of catastrophe.” The attacks killed some 100 people and wounded twice as many.
When he told the court that dummies and old corpses were brought to the marketplace, some survivors in the audience yelled and shook their heads in disbelief. More than once, security guards motioned to them to keep their voices down.
Karadzic went on to speak fondly of Sarajevo – calling it “his” city – and denied shelling it for “no reason”.
“Any story that we would shell Sarajevo without reason hurts me personally,” he said, claiming that there were over 2,000 legitimate military targets inside the city.
He claimed that the Bosnian government wanted to keep Sarajevo militarised and “ruined” every ceasefire.
Karadzic stressed that he found the sniping “horrifying” and “inhumane”, but maintained that was “legitimate” during war.
He suggested that his Bosnian Serbs troops had no reason to shoot for the sake of it, as they would have no way of knowing which of their targets were Serb or Muslim. Instead, he said, it was the Muslim forces who sniped at people “wherever they liked”.
“The international community came with an enormous prejudice against the Serbs,” he said.
When discussing the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Karadzic said that there was “no indication that anyone had been killed, be it verbally or in writing” except for some “rumours”.
“The truth is on our side and will only grow stronger. I did everything to avoid war and minimise damage,” Karadzic said in conclusion.
The first defence witness, retired Russian army Colonel Andrei Demurenko, took the stand immediately after Karadzic finished his opening remarks.
Demurenko has previously testified in the trial of Bosnian Serb army commander Dragomir Milosevic, who commanded the Sarajevo Romanija Corps and was charged with responsibility for the second attack on Sarajevo’s Markale market on August 28, 1995.
In that trial, Demurenko, who was chief of staff of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sarajevo at the time of the attack, testified that his own investigation showed that the shell that hit Markale could not have come from the Bosnian Serbs’ positions, and that a UN spokesman unfairly blamed them at a press conference held shortly after the incident.
Judges in that trial ultimately rejected Demurenko’s arguments and found Milosevic guilty, sentencing him to 29 years in prison.
Because Demurenko has testified previously, Karadzic read out a 30 minute summary of his evidence and showed a lengthy video clip of the witness explaining why the shell could not have come from Bosnian Serb positions. The accused asked no other questions.
During the prosecution’s cross-examination, lawyer Alan Tieger read out part of the Milosevic judgement in which the chamber found that Demurenko confined his investigation to “too narrow an area” and was “vague and evasive” when answering prosecution questions.
Tieger also asked Demurenko about a recent witness statement in which he claims that judges in the Milosevic trial had confused two different margins of error in their conclusions about Markale.
In response, Demurenko said, “I can’t tell you anything against the previous chamber. How could I doubt their conclusions? I trust the court.”
Tieger told the witness that if he was willing to retract his previous testimony, “we can end this right now”.
The witness was asked several times, both by Tieger and by the presiding judge, to explain his statement about margins of error, but he did not seem to give a direct answer.
The prosecution’s cross-examination of the witness will continue on October 17.
Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.