News / Europe

Karadzic War Crimes Trial Hears First Witness

This frame grab from the ICTY courtroom television shows Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic talking during his trial for genocide, in the Hague, 13 Apr 2010
This frame grab from the ICTY courtroom television shows Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic talking during his trial for genocide, in the Hague, 13 Apr 2010

The war crimes trial of Radovan Karadzic resumed Tuesday in The Hague with the former president of the Bosnian Serbs questioning the prosecution's first witness-a Bosnian Muslim who was a prisoner in a Serb-run detention camp in the early war years. Karadzic is defending himself against genocide charges and nine other counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Yugoslav War crimes tribunal.

Six months after the Karadzic trial began, prosecutors were finally able to call their first witness.

Ahmet Zulic did not look at Karadzic as he took his place in the witness stand. The former miner is a Bosnian Muslim from the Sanski Most area of northwest Bosnia. Zulic  testified how at the start of the war in April 1992, anti-Muslim rhetoric increased, the movement of non-Serbs was restricted, and Muslims and Croats were told to hand over their weapons after the Serb takeover of the area.

But that was just the start. Zulic testified that shortly after, his father-in-law was burned to death in his bed following an attack on his village that killed 300 others. He recalled seeing about 20 men forced to dig their own graves before being shot or having their throats slit. And he described, through an interpreter, the beatings he received while he was a prisoner in a Serb detention camp - meted out by almost anyone. "Anyone who came first: guards, kids coming home from school. People coming back from café. If the children came by, they would train karate and we had to do pushups and some would kick in one part of our body until we were unconscious," he said.

Zulic's testimony was emotional, and he is still disabled from the beatings that he says broke his ribs, vertebrae, arms and fingers. Although he did not accuse Karadzic of those crimes, prosecutors hold him responsible for orchestrating what they say was a plan to create an ethnically pure Serbian state in Bosnia.

Karadzic denies all the charges. He boycotted the start of his trial saying he needed more time to prepare. In his opening statement last month, he insisted Serbs were just defending themselves against Muslims who wanted to create their own Islamic state.

But in court Tuesday, he took on the role of defense lawyer, cross-examining Zulic. He began by pointing out how Zulic has given testimony in a number of court cases in The Hague, including the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. He spoke through an interpreter. "You've given a number of statements under different circumstances. I can't say you're the favorite witness but it is clear the office of the prosecution holds you dear as a witness," he said.

Prosecutors objected immediately to Karadzic's opening words, as did presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon.  Throughout his cross examination, Karadzic focused on political issues such as the arming of Muslims and didn't address the witnesses' testimony. Judges warned Karadzic to stay on course.

Karadzic has asked the court for 155 hours to cross examine the prosecutions first 12 witnesses. Prosecutors themselves say they'll need only 25 hours. Judges called Karadzic's request irresponsible and unrealistic and said they may limit his time. With two more days of testimony this week, that time may come sooner rather than later.

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