Former Bosnian Serb police minister shifted the blame for the Srebrenica massacre on the army. The witness claimed military security chief Ljubisa Beara was the ‘mastermind’ of the crime and that nobody told Karadzic about it. In one of his previous statements the witness said that the president didn’t have to be informed about the events in Srebrenica because he already ‘knew everything’, the prosecutor noted

Tomislav Kovac, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trialTomislav Kovac, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trial

As his defense case continued, Radovan Karadzic called Tomislav Kovac. At the time of the Srebrenica operation in July 1995, Kovac served as a deputy police minister but in effect was the first man in the Republika Srpska MUP, as the interior minister had been absent from his post for months by that time. In September 1995, this state of affairs became official, when Kovac was promoted to the post of the police minister.

In his statement to the defense, Kovac said that in July 1995 he mostly dealt with the Sarajevo theatre of war and knew little about the events in Srebrenica. The ‘little’ that Kovac knew included the ‘incident’ in Kravica on 13 July 1995 when Muslim prisoners (the prosecution alleges more than 1,000) were executed. Kovac also knew that the security chief in the VRS Main Staff Ljubisa Beara wanted the MUP troops to help the army in killing the captives. Kovac didn’t deny that he met Karadzic several times mid-July 1995, but claimed that he didn’t report any of those events to Karadzic. He got the impression that the president ‘didn’t have any idea’ that there would be executions. The summary of Kovac’s statement – read out by the accused – ends with the conclusion that the executions in Srebrenica ‘were the worst thing that could happen to the Serb people’. The perpetrators were in Kovac’s view the Serbs’ ‘worst enemy’.

In a lively cross-examination, prosecutor Nichols showed a number of exhibits that indicate that Kovac’s role in the Srebrenica operation had been much more important than Kovac was willing to admit. On Karadzic’s orders, Kovac dispatched the police to the field, Kovac visited the area where the executions had taken place, had been told about the events, and the accused himself also knew about them, the prosecutor claimed. The exhibits included a large number of military and police documents, the witness’s interviews with the OTP investigators and his evidence at the Srebrenica trials before war crime tribunals in Belgrade and Sarajevo. The witness confirmed that the documents were true.

The picture of Kovac’s role that emerged from the evidence could be summarized as follows: on 13 July 1995 the police special forces commander Ljubomir Borovcanin told Kovac that his men in Potocari had detained about 25,000 to 30,000 civilians and arrested 1,500 men. That same day at 3:50 pm Kovac met Karadzic at Pale. From Pale, Kovac traveled to Vlasenica where he met Mladic. Kovac claimed that he never ‘uttered a word about Srebrenica’ as he spoke with Karadzic and that Mladic was so drunk that it was impossible to discuss anything with him. From Vlasenica, Kovac headed to Zvornik where he stayed the night in the Vidikovac Hotel, on the outskirts of the town. The next morning, Kovac headed towards Bratunac.

Kovac contends that he passed by the warehouse in Kravica around noon on 14 July 1995 and didn’t see anything unusual. The prosecutor reminded him of the statement made by municipal official from Bratunac Aleksandar Tesic: around the same time he saw a pile of about 200 to 300 bodies there. At first, Tesic thought these were ‘piles of logs’. Kovac claims that he passed by that area an hour after Tesic and that the bodies had already been taken away. The prosecutor noted that the bodies had been moved and buried in Glogova: the witness passed through Glogova on his way to Bratunac. Kovac claimed that he didn’t see anything suspicious there. He didn’t pay attention because there was a big hubbub everywhere, Kovac explained. Kovac also claimed that he didn’t see the buses with the prisoners in the parking lot of the Vidikovac Hotel when he returned there in the evening of 14 July 1995. Kovac also didn’t know that the prisoners were taken to the execution sites around Zvornik from the hotel parking lot.

The next day, in the afternoon of 15 July 1995, Kovac met with Karadzic again. Yet again there was no mention of Srebrenica. The witness said that they talked about providing the ammunition to the police in the Sarajevo area. The prosecutor had to remind the witness of the admission he had made in his previous statements: that before the meeting he had learned about Ljubisa Beara asking the Zvornik MUP to provide the police officers who were to participate in the execution of the Srebrenica captives. Kovac was sure that he didn’t share this important piece of information with the president. In an interview with the OTP in 2010, the witness stated that he didn’t have to say anything to Karadzic because Karadzic had been kept in the loop about everything.

In his evidence Kovac often evaded giving an answer prompting the prosecutor to note: ‘I find it difficult to see that you don’t understand my questions, given that you climbed up the ladder and ended up as the police minister’. In a bid to explain this, Kovac said that he was only trying to defend himself against the prosecutor’s efforts to ‘implicate’ him in the joint criminal enterprise. As Kovac said in passing, he didn’t have ‘the features of a retard’. The prosecutor put it to him that today ‘we all know’ that the Bosnian Serb army carried out the mass executions after the fall of Srebrenica. ‘That is correct’, the witness replied, although in a somewhat subdued manner. In Kovac’s words, the ‘mastermind’ of the Srebrenica massacre was Ljubisa Beara, a ‘small-time manipulator with a criminal mind’ who organized the executions of thousands of prisoners. According to Kovac, he did it in secret to keep it away from Karadzic.