Ratko Mladic’s defense has labeled the UN staff who were taken hostage by the VRS ‘prisoners of war’. In order to support the claim, the defense called Radoje Vojvodic. From 26 May to 18 June 1995, Vojvodic was in charge of keeping the captive UN staff safe, healthy, fed and entertained. He also made sure they could regularly take walks in a park

Radoje Vojvodic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialRadoje Vojvodic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

One of the charges against Ratko Mladic is that the forces under his command took UN staff hostage in May and June 1995 to force NATO to stop bombing VRS targets. In an attempt to show that the UN staff were not hostages but prisoners of war, Mladic’s defense called Radoje Vojvodic, former assistant for security in the 27th Logistics Base of the Main Staff.

The defense counsel read out the summary of Vojvodic's statement. On 26 May 1995, 'unidentified armed persons' handed over to Vojvodic several UN members, in accordance with an order issued by General Zdravko Tolimir. The UN members had previously been tied to the poles in front of the ammunition depot in Jahorinski Potok. Vojvodic was told that they were ‘prisoners of war’ who had joined the enemy and who possibly acted as spotters for NATO planes as they attacked VRS targets.

According to Vojvodic, he ‘did all I could to ensure that the prisoners would keep their dignity according to international law'. Vojvodic brought them ‘water, toilet paper and a TV’ and found beds and a sitting room for them. They were free to take a walk in a nearby park, to rest and sit in benches and to shelter from the sun. When they complained about the food, Vojvodic recounted, he took them to a neighboring marketplace where they bought fruit and even video tapes.

Vojvodic said that the representatives of the International Red Cross visited the prisoners twice. Also, the prisoners were examined by doctors on his orders. The doctors diagnosed one of the prisoners with depression. Fearing that the man, who was from Spain and who had 'reacted very emotionally' to his captivity, might ‘commit suicide’ Vojvodic set him free. Vojvodic handed over the remaining prisoners to Major Indjic on 18 June 1995 in the presence of Nikola Koljevic and Jovica Stanisic from Serbia. Koljevic was a member of the RS Presidency. When his task ended, Vojvodic took his leave of the men with a ‘friendly salute’, ‘a handshake’ and a recommendation that the men should forget 'the time that in all likelihood was very unpleasant for them'. The witness stressed that the prisoners were ‘neither physically nor mentally in any danger’.

In the cross-examination, prosecutor Jeremy contested the allegation, putting it to the witness that the UN staff were told they would die if NATO strikes continued. According to the witness, tying people to a pole was a ‘military ruse’ to make NATO stop further attacks. Judge Moloto insisted that Vojvodic reply whether exposing a person to danger to die was ‘illegal’ or at least contrary to ‘common sense’. The witness was evasive, saying that he didn’t know the law and that the war was a ‘senseless thing’. The VRS soldiers were stationed near the hostages who were tied to the poles, Vojvodic claimed. ‘Is tying a person to a pole in an area where you expect an air strike to happen a correct thing to do', Judge Moloto asked. Vojvodic said that he ‘cannot give a brief answer'.

Vojvodic was again evasive when he was asked to identify the persons that had handed the UNPROFOR members to him. He did not say why he had not set the UN members free and whether Mladic threatened to ‘kill the observers if there were any further air strikes’. The witness claimed that he had no knowledge of VRS Main Staff documents dated 30 May 1995 in which Mladic ordered his troops ‘to place UNPROFOR staff next to facilities to be targeted by NATO air strikes’ to prevent further bombing. The prosecutor put it to the witness that the hostages didn’t enjoy ‘a nice holiday’ with Vojvodic. According to the prosecutor, the UN hostages were so ‘frustrated’ that they threatened to take Vojvodic to court, as some of them testified at the Tribunal. ‘They demanded from me things that were beyond my powers’, Mladic’s witness concluded.