Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2016, 15:01 GMT

Karadzic Witness Didn't See Killings but Questions Numbers

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Author Rachel Irwin
Publication Date 28 March 2013
Citation / Document Symbol TRI Issue 782
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Karadzic Witness Didn't See Killings but Questions Numbers, 28 March 2013, TRI Issue 782, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/516e65fd4.html [accessed 29 July 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Witness served in Serb military units near locations of 1992 and 1995 mass killings in Bosnia, but tells court he was unaware they were happening.

A wartime member of a Bosnian Serb local defence unit told Hague judges this week he was unaware that Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men were being assaulted and killed in his municipality.

Vujadin Stevic, testifying as a defence witness in the trial of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, also claimed that the tribunal prosecutors were exaggerating the number of people killed.

Stevic was a platoon commander in the Bratunac Territorial Defence, known as the TO, as war was breaking out in Bosnia in Spring 1992.

Before Stevic began giving testimony, presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon told him he could object to answering any question that might incriminate him, but that the chamber had the right to "compel" a response. If that occurred, the witness's subsequent remarks could not be used as evidence against him in the event of a future prosecution.

Karadzic, who represents himself in court, read out a short summary of Stevic's witness statement, and asked no further questions.

According to the summary, Stevic "knew that his leader [Karadzic] had tried every means to avoid war and to reach a peaceful settlement with the Muslims, but the Muslims did not agree". Serbs were frightened because at political rallies Muslims "expressed hatred" against them and were conducting raids against them, the summary stated.

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 also accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.

Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.

During the prosecution's cross-examination, lawyer Matteo Costi questioned the witness about his personal role in events including a massacre that occurred in the village of Glogova in Bratunac municipality on May 9, 1992. More than 60 Bosniaks were shot dead at a number of locations, and much of the village was destroyed.

The head of the Bratunac Municipal Board, Miroslav Deronjic, pleaded guilty to ordering the attack in 2003. He was sentenced to ten years in prison by tribunal judges but died in 2007.

Witness Stevic said that he took part in the "disarming" of Glogova on the day in question, and said his unit captured a group 20 Muslims who were in hiding. He said he joined his fellow "fighters" after the Muslims had been detained and walked with them to the village market.

"You ordered [the prisoners] to stand against the wall, correct?" Costi asked.

"That is correct, while we were waiting for our superior to tell us what to do; and at the same time we provided protection for them," Stevic said.

Costi then asked whether Stevic also ordered the captives to face the wall and "keep their hands up" - the account given in testimony from a surviving prisoner.

"It's not correct. They stood against the wall and then I told them to sit down," Stevic replied.

He said the group numbered "about 20 men, nobody counted those people, it may have been 15 or fewer".

"It was actually 23, in fact," Costi said tersely.

The lawyer went on to assert that Stevic knew that the people whom his TO unit captured were later killed.

"You know that 40 others were [also] killed. And I'm sure you know that the village was burned down and that the rest of population was expelled. The goal of the operation was not to collect weapons but to expel the Muslims," Costi said.

"I wouldn't agree with your assertion," Stevic replied. "The number of killed that day cannot be based solely on the statement of a witness."

He said the Bratunac municipality records contained "precise information on who was killed when, on what date, with first and last names, their personal [ID] numbers etc".

However, "such lists drafted by someone with the aim of increasing the number [of dead] - well on those lists, you can even find people who had previously died or been killed, even those who had never been born," the witness said. "It is terrible that a tribunal of this sort would use such random data without relying on credible documents."

Costi suggested they move on to the events of May 11, 1992, when the witness said he was "tasked" with finding Muslims hiding in the woods.

"You explained that you did find a group of Muslims and you organised their transport to Bratunac. What I don't see in your statement is that these Muslims [were] forced to do so, they had no alternative. Am I correct?" Costi asked.

Stevic said that the lawyer was not correct, and that the Muslims he came across "were in fear" and did not want to stay in their homes or hide in the forest, and they agreed to leave.

"They were grateful, especially certain individuals who told me they fared well, that they managed to leave Bratunac without being mistreated. To this day, people come back to me with stories like that," Stevic said.

Costi pointed out that the witness failed to mention what was happening to Muslims in Bratunac who came from surrounding villages.

"Most of them were detained in a football stadium [and] men were mistreated and killed in the Vuk Karadzic school. So in Bratunac they actually encountered very serious problems, isn't that correct?" the lawyer asked.

"These people [I mentioned], definitely not. They confirmed it to me after the war, when they returned to their homes," Stevic maintained.

Costi put it to the witness that he knew that thousands of Muslims were detained in Bratunac and that "men were mistreated, tortured and killed" at the Vuk Karadzic school.

"I know of some stories but I had no occasion to see it. In my village, phone lines were down and I could only rely on radio, so wasn't informed about this," Stevic said.

Costi said that in remarks to the Bosnian media, the head of a detainees' association in Bratunac said that Stevic had escorted prisoners to the Vuk Karadzic school himself.

Stevic denied this, and said these allegations stemmed from a personal dispute between him and the association's head.

The prosecutor then moved on July 1995, and specifically the days that followed the Bosnian Serb capture of the Srebrenica enclave. More than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces.

By that time, the witness was assistant commander for logistics in the Bratunac Brigade of the Bosnian Serb army.

Costi noted that on July 13, over 1,000 Bosnian Muslim men were killed at the Kravica warehouse, located five kilometres from Stevic's command post. The bodies were then buried at a site not even one kilometre away.

"Were you aware that executions were taking place and that the bodies were buried in your back yard?" Costi asked.

"Please, once again, you are using the wrong numbers. At beginning of my testimony, I said it is really sad that the number of dead and killed is being distorted and blown up. All these men have their names and family details. I'm sorry you measure them like cubic metres of stones or wood," Stevic said.

Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon interjected to remind the witness that the "question was whether you knew executions were taking place and that bodies were being buried".

"Did you know or did you not?" the judge asked.

"I did not know. I did not have time to deal with that. If something happened behind our backs, there was no way for us to see that," Stevic said.

"If you didn't know, then on what basis do you say that numbers were being distorted?" Judge Kwon asked.

"I'm insulted by the arbitrary numbers being presented here. If something happened, then the exact number should be known. All the dead people deserve to be identified, counted and buried… Nobody [here] mentions the same number or ever uses the proper information about victims," Stevic reiterated.

Prosecuting lawyer Costi asked what, in Stevic's view, was the correct number of people killed at Kravica warehouse on July 13, 1995.

"I don't know the right number, but I know for a fact that it was much lower. You have an opportunity to access information in Bratunac and Srebrenica and that's where families of victims are, and they personally reported who was killed and in which place. This is only kind of information I accept as credible," Stevic said.

"We did access this information, we did excavations, we have the numbers, and the numbers are the one I said. What is the basis for you to say it's a lower number?" Costi asked.

"I claimed that because you didn't use official records, you used lists of some associations, which are arbitrary," Stevic maintained.

The trial continues next week.

Rachel Irwin is IWPR's Senior Reporter in The Hague.

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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