Sarajevo Doctor Says Bosnian Serbs Targeted Civilians
A surgeon who ran a Sarajevo-area hospital during the Bosnian war said this week that Radovan Karadzic’s army deliberately targeted civilians with shelling and sniper fire.
“It was really deliberate,” prosecution witness Dr Youssef Hajir told Karadzic during the cross- examination.
“People were targeted while waiting for water, while queuing [for humanitarian aid]….doesn’t that tell you anything?” asked Hajir, who was testifying via video link from Sarajevo. “It was not only military targets. No matter how wretched and miserable these people were…you never bothered to condemn these incidents.”
“That’s not true,” retorted Karadzic, who continues to represent himself. “I did.”
The two men were acquainted before the war and spent a few minutes at the beginning of the cross- examination reminiscing about old times.
“I have always been proud of the fact that I knew [you] up until the war erupted and I saw all the tragedy that emerged,” Hajir said.
“…There were a couple of times I wanted to contact you and ask you personally [about what was going on] but it was impossible because [you were the Bosnian Serb president] and I was a small doctor. But even during the war I always said that had it not been for the paramilitaries and for those who were against me, I would have come to see you and talk to you.”
“Remember how …. we [once] lost our way on Trebevic mountain because the snow was so high?” Karadzic asked.
“I remember that well,” Hajir answered. “I also remember watching a movie together, ‘Rashomon’, a Japanese movie…You explained all the important bits of the movie for me.”
“I remember that well,” Karadzic replied.
Hajir, who has testified in two other trials at the Hague tribunal, founded a hospital in the Dobrinja area of Sarajevo in May 1992 and was its director until the war ended in late 1995. He said that his hospital was at times so ill equipped that he performed surgeries by candlelight using dental equipment.
Most of the people treated at the hospital during the war sustained conflict-related injuries, prosecutors stated during a brief summary of the witness’s evidence. They added that Hajir himself was shot at on three occasions.
“Radovan, I wish you had spent at least one full day in Dobrinja and then the humanity you are not lacking in would have been woken up,” Hajir said to the defendant at one point.
Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska 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 intentionally 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.
During the cross-examination, Karadzic asked about the so-called Sarajevo tunnel - the underground passageway constructed by Bosnian volunteers to link the Dobrinja neighbourhood with Butmir, an area near the airport that was also held by Bosnian government forces. The tunnel allowed people and goods in and out of the besieged city.
“Did entire units of [the Bosnian government army] leave the city and come back through the tunnel?” Karadzic asked.
“Honestly I never saw anything like that,” responded Hajir, who earlier stated that “officially” he was a member of the Bosnian government army but in reality never had any assignment outside of the hospital.
“…You cannot hermetically close in three hundred thousand people in an area,” the witness said. “If you had left the corridor open everyone would have left. Before the tunnel was dug out, people simply ran across the runway [of the airport]. People were hit by sniper fire. What do you expect if you enclose a person in their own home? Really, colleague Karadzic, it’s not realistic to expect that.”
Karadzic contended that the Bosnian Serb side had offered to open corridors for civilians on the condition they were not used for military purposes.
“This is the first I hear of it,” Hajir said.
“They kept many things from you,” Karadzic responded.
“That may well be, but somebody would have spoken up,” Hajir said. “People were coming and going all the time—someone would have said something. I never heard anything like that.”
Karadzic asked whether Hajir’s assertion that the Bosnian Serb army targeted civilians was his own impression or if he had proof of this.
“How can you fire [when] you know there are children, elderly [people] and women who are defenceless?” Hajir countered. “I [treated] a child, seven or eight years old, who was shot by a sniper directly in the heart. The sniper could have seen this was a child. I am speaking openly, colleague, these are facts that were happening, that I could observe around me. There were not my impressions.”
Earlier in the week, a woman who was injured by a mortar shell testified in the trial, also via video link from Sarajevo.
According to the prosecution summary of her evidence, Fahra Mujanovic was injured when a shell exploded between her house and that of her neighbour’s in the Barice settlement north of Sarajevo. She laid on the ground for about an hour before anyone came to her assistance, as others were afraid of getting hit themselves, the summary stated. She remained in the hospital for 12 days, but many pieces of shrapnel were not removed from her body.
“I’m suffering mentally and physically, I’m not well at all,” Mujanovic told prosecuting lawyer Ann Sutherland during brief questioning. “When I sleep I still feel like a shell is falling nearby. When I dream, it is always in my dreams. One has to live with it.”
When it was Karadzic’s turn to cross examine Mujanovic, he expressed regret that she “had to live through that”.
However, he contended that she was not a victim of Bosnian Serb shelling, but of a “large Muslim offensive”. He said that Barice was not a civilian area “but full of troops” and that “somebody turned Barice into a military target”.
“Shame on you,” Mujanovic responded. “You know that shells landed …on civilians every day. You know that Muslims didn’t have heavy weapons…You knew that [if there was a war] Muslims wouldn’t be able to defend themselves.”
“Shame on you,” she said once again. “I was wounded in front of my own house.”
When Karadzic proceeded to ask her several military-related questions, Mujanovic repeatedly stated that she couldn’t answer them and had no knowledge of military matters.
“Thank you, I will not torture you anymore,” Karadzic said to her. “You have to be angry at your own politicians who wanted war and pushed you to the front line.”
“Your excellencies, it’s not appropriate to torture this woman who knows nothing,” Karadzic said to the judges. “She doesn’t know anything! There is plenty of evidence indicating this was not a civilian settlement.”
He added that “this trial can go on for ten years”.
“I am burdened by the ambition of the prosecution to bury me with a vast quantity [of material] because they don’t have enough evidence,” Karadzic continued. “If they had five good witnesses, they wouldn’t need hundreds.”
On November 3, the judges decided to suspend the trial for one month so Karadzic is able to review about 14,000 pages of potentially exonerating material that the prosecution disclosed to him at the end of October.
“The chamber is of the view that the sheer volume of this material is such that it is in the interest of justice to suspend the proceedings temporarily,” said Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon during the hearing.
He noted that the prosecution already had committed a significant number of disclosure violations and stated that the chamber was “increasingly troubled by the potential cumulative effect of late disclosure on the overall fairness of the trial..”
A date for the resumption of the trial has not yet been set.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.