Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - AGENDA -

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. UertzRet­zlaff 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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