Saturday 18 January 2020

Witness for the prosecution: A final testimony

Radovan Karadzic listens to his sentence at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, The Netherlands (ICTY via AP)
Radovan Karadzic listens to his sentence at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, The Netherlands (ICTY via AP)

In 2010, a trial that would ultimately convict Radovan Karadzic for war crimes began before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague. Colm Doyle was called as a witness for the prosecution. In the following extract from his book, Witness to War Crimes, he describes that bruising experience. Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff was the lead prosecutor.

With the judge's deadline fast approaching, the prosecution was permitted to re-direct. Uertz-Retzlaff used this opportunity to ask my opinion about a document submitted as an exhibit. I was asked whether I had been aware that Karadzic had given interviews in which he had described Republika Srpska as 'a reality', and whether I had heard such arguments during meetings.

I answered in the affirmative. Uertz-Retzlaff then went on to quote further from the interview in which Karadzic had stated that the SDS (Serbian Democratic Party) had a list of the actions and steps to take, but that they had "always waited for the Muslims to make a mistake, and after they made one, the SDS created a union of municipalities and the Serbian autonomous areas, followed by the regions, and eventually an assembly and, finally, a republic".

Karadzic was also quoted as stating that "every time the Muslim and Croat representatives told us we were breaking up Bosnia and Herzegovina, we replied that our actions were only in response to their mistakes and their aggression against our political rights".

I was asked if these arguments were consistent with those posited by the Bosnian Serbs during my term in Bosnia. Again, I replied that they were.

At the session's end, I felt bruised and embattled. These had been tough exchanges. When my testimony was finally over, Judge Morrison directed his attention to me and asked "out of curiosity" whether I had ever been an infantry officer. When I told him that I had indeed, he replied, "Yes, I thought so."

The presiding judge thanked me for my evidence and excused me. As I stood up to leave, I glanced over at Karadzic, suspecting that we would not meet again. He caught my eye but remained passive. I wondered what might be going through his mind at that moment.

Back alone in the witness waiting room, I felt a huge wave of emotion suddenly hit me. By the time the prosecution team of Alan Tiegar and Uertz-Retzlaff entered the room, I was in floods of tears. I couldn't explain it nor could I stop the tears flowing. When Tiegar gripped my arm in support, it was as if he had expected it. He acknowledged that I had had "a pretty rough time" and told me that the judge had just warned Karadzic that his conduct during cross-examination was not acceptable.

In truth, it was not the manner in which he had cross-examined me that had affected me. What kept going through my mind was this question: how could this man justify what he had done, what he had allowed the military under his leadership to do, and yet still firmly believe that he was innocent of any crime?

I just felt very sad, and the tears continued to flow. I thought back to my year in Bosnia and with this came the realisation that, despite our best efforts, little had been accomplished. The international community, after all, had not succeeded in preventing this brutal war or influencing its outcome, and people like Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic had continued on their course of action with near impunity.

When I phoned (his wife) Gráinne after I returned to my hotel, she was not in any way surprised when I recounted to her my emotional reaction. In her calm voice, she simply remarked that she had been "waiting for a reaction like that from you for nearly 20 years".

Six years later, in March 2016, Karadzic was found guilty of 10 of the 11 counts against him, including war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment. For thousands of people, this may have fallen short of what they had hoped for. I never had any doubt that he would receive a long custodial sentence, and I hoped that it would give some small sense of justice and closure to his victims.

Witness to War Crimes by Colm Doyle, published by Merrion Press, is out now

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