Former US ambassador Herbert Okun says that Karadzic was obsessed with the genocide against Serbs in the World War II. Karadzic spoke about that all the time, Okun noted. The prosecution tendered into evidence 16 notebooks in which Okun took his notes. He recorded Karadzic as saying that ‘different ethnic communities cannot live together in BH’. Okun also wrote that Karadzic never denied any accusations of ethnic cleansing, and that he admitted he had control over the Bosnian Serb forces and endorsed the partition of BH, with the biggest chunk of the territory going to the Serbs

Herbert Okun, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trialHerbert Okun, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trial

‘Karadzic, even more disheveled and melodramatic than usual, failed to mention the genocide against the Serbs for three full minutes’, former US diplomat Herbert Okun noted in his notebook with some amazement after his talks with the Bosnian Serb leader on 5 March 1992. As a deputy to the UN special envoy to the Balkans Cyrus Vance, Okun attended a series of meetings in 1990’s when possible solutions for the conflict in the ex-Yugoslavia were discussed. At those meetings, Okun took copious notes; they were tendered into evidence by the prosecution.

According to Okun, Karadzic was obsessed with the genocide against the Serbs in the World War II and spoke about it all the time at the meetings. ‘I remember being rather shocked by that; I told Karadzic that if he continued to talk like that Serbs would one day commit genocide’, Okun recalled, adding ‘I must note that I didn’t mean it seriously at the time’. As the witness explained, Karadzic often expressed his ‘concern’ over the hike in the birth rate among the Muslims in BH, noting that ‘Izetbegovic wants to gain power through a high birth rate’.

In Okun’s opinion, the Bosnian Serb leadership had six main goals to achieve: to establish an ethnically clean Serb state, relying on Serbia, to establish special relations with Serbia and if possible to be absorbed into it, for the Serb state leadership to have the power of veto over the decisions of the central government in Sarajevo and, finally, to divide Sarajevo into two parts, Serb and Muslim. Karadzic embraced those goals as his own, Okun maintained.

The ambassador copied in his notebook a map showing the proposed partition of BH, given to him and other mediators by Karadzic himself. According to the map, the Serbs were to get most of the territory, in the shape of a horseshoe. The central part was to be given to Croats, while Muslims were to get a small triangle along the Sarajevo – Tuzla – Zenica – Travnik line. Okun observed that already by the second half of 1992 only Serbs lived ‘in the horseshoe’. This was achieved by ethnic cleansing that was particularly severe on the west bank of the Drina River and in the Posavina region. According to Okun, Karadzic practically never denied ethnic cleansing. On the contrary, Karadzic responded to such accusations by levying accusations at the other side.

Prosecutor Tieger quoted several Karadzic’s statements from Okun’s notebook. As Okun wrote down, Karadzic said ‘that different ethnic communities in BH cannot live together’. Nikola Koljevic also repeated this sentiment several times to the international negotiators ‘in perfect English’.

Karadzic also confirmed to Okun that the Bosnian Serb army was under his command and that he controlled 95 percent of the paramilitary forces. During the talks in Geneva, Karadzic told Okun that Mladic was at first ‘a bit difficult to cooperate with’ but that he had ‘all the authority’ over the Serb army.

The prosecutor corroborated those claims with a recording of a press conference held on 18 September 1992, where Karadzic was accused of ethnic cleansing, and responded with a request that the Serbs be ‘allowed’ to leave Sarajevo where they were ‘held hostage’. When a journalist asked why the Serbs, who made up about 35 percent of the population in BH, wanted more than 60 percent of the territory, Karadzic replied, ‘We don’t demand it, we have it’. Karadzic then added that the demand was justified because the Serbs used to be in the majority before the genocide in the World War II.

According to the words and notes of Ambassador Okun, the Serbs and Croats had similar goals: they wanted to carve up BH. Serbs saw the Croats’ goals as ‘realistic’ and thought they could reach a deal with them, unlike the ‘unrealistic’ aspirations of Muslims who in Karadzic’s view wanted to have the whole BH to themselves.

As the hearing today drew to a close, Karadzic began cross-examining Ambassador Okun.