Karadzic and Mladic “Operated Together”By Rachel Irwin - International Justice - ICTY
Ex-UN military chief in Bosnia gives evidence about relations within Bosnian Serb leadership.
TRI Issue 679, 11 Feb 11
The former commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia told Hague tribunal prosecutors this week that Radovan Karadzic and his top general Ratko Mladic were effective leaders and “operated together”.
“Both Mr Karadzic and General Mladic were very clearly in command of what they were doing,” said prosecution witness General Sir Rupert Smith, who met with both men on several occasions during 1995.
“They were clearly operating together [with other members of the Bosnian Serb leadership],” Smith continued. “That was [what] we were told by them - that they operated together as one.”
“With respect to the military itself, the Bosnian Serb army, did you have the opportunity to observe the nature of its command structure and command and control relationships?” prosecuting lawyer Alan Tieger asked.
“Speaking from the impression formed over time - here was any army in which orders were obeyed,” Smith replied. “Instructions, if given at the top, saw action at bottom, and you could see communications going to the top.”
Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska, RS, from 1992 to 1996, planned and oversaw the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that ravaged the city and left nearly 12,000 people dead. Karadzic’s army is accused of deliberately sniping and shelling the city’s civilian population in order to “spread terror” among them.
The indictment - which lists 11 counts in total - alleges that Karadzic 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.
Smith said that when he would express concern to General Mladic about the continued sniping and shelling of Sarajevo, there was a “frequent theme” to the latter’s response.
“The response is, ‘We’re doing it because they (the Bosnian government) are doing it,’ and secondly, ‘You are not stopping it, so I had to do it’,” Smith recalled.
However, the witness said that in his opinion, the “bulk” of the shelling was coming into Sarajevo from Bosnian Serb forces, which surrounded the city.
“During the course of your service, were you able to identify the effect or objective of the shelling of civilian areas?” Tieger asked.
“The objective appeared to me to be the harassment of the population at large,” Smith said. “There was no specific target, and events occurred randomly. You couldn’t see them connected to events happening on the ground where this shell landed.”
Smith said he also met with Mladic after paying a visit to the eastern enclave of Srebrenica in March 1995, when it was still a UN designated safe area. In July of that year, Bosnian Serb forces captured the enclave and murdered some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys, an event which both Karadzic and Mladic are accused of planning and overseeing.
However, Smith said that in March, Mladic had a “different understanding of what the safe area was”.
According to Smith, Mladic took out a map and drew a small “lozenge” centered on Srebrenica town itself.
“If he attacked, he would respect that lozenge but nothing else,” said Smith, who added that he disagreed with Mladic’s limited characterisation of the safe area.
A few months later, in May 1995, Smith said he issued a warning to both the Bosnian Serb army and the Bosnian government army to return heavy weapons to what was called a “weapons collection point”.
“I made a point that whether force was used was entirely in the hands of General Mladic - if he returned the weapons, it would not be used,” Smith said.
But the weapons were not returned by the imposed deadline, Smith continued, and NATO airstrikes on Bosnian Serb military targets commenced on May 26. In response, Bosnian Serb forces allegedly took hostage more than 200 UN military observers and peacekeepers, using many of them as human shields.
Smith said he believed the hostage-taking was a “centrally controlled” effort which Mladic led.
“I don’t think there was a doubt in either of our minds that he was in charge of dealing with the hostages,” Smith said.
When it was Karadzic’s turn to conduct his cross examination, he greeted Smith and remarked on his “good health”.
“I see you are not aging and that your memory is very fresh,” Karadzic noted with a smile.
As the questions got underway, however, their exchange was at times quite tense.
“You arrived with the intention to end the war, and to end it, it was necessary to bomb the Serbs, and that the UN should change [its] mandate and be able to use force, would you agree?” Karadzic asked.
“I did not arrive with intention to end the war,” Smith responded.
“Was your position that the United Nations should resort to force?” Karadzic asked.
“No, it was not my position, and it certainly wouldn’t have been one at all at the beginning of my tour,” Smith said.
Later, Karadzic presented a series of documents related to the NATO bombings and ensuing hostage crisis, and said that “one gets the impression that you’re waging a personal war against Mladic”.
“Did you try to vanquish Mladic during the war… to humiliate him, and did that contribute to our suffering?” Karadzic asked.
“No, I didn’t want to humiliate him and I wasn’t interested in increasing the suffering of anybody,” Smith replied. “The burden of what I was required to do … was to change the intentions of that commander (Mladic) and those around him such as yourself. In that sense, of course, it’s personal.”
Karadzic countered that in a “planned fashion you became a war time ally of our enemy”.
“Is it not clear that … you tried to change the situation on the ground in order to make it possible for Muslims and Croats to have better negotiating position?” Karadzic asked.
“I was not doing anything to improve the situation for the other party,” Smith said. “Inevitably what we were doing, attacking the Bosnian Serb army [through the NATO bombings], would alter that balance. My purpose was to re-impose the exclusion zones and get weapons withdrawn from them.”
The trial continues next week.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.