Kosevo Hospital Nurse Has Selective Memory about Bosnian War
www.slobodan-milosevic.org - June 8, 2010

Written by: Andy Wilcoxson

Hearing Date: May 5, 2010


On Wednesday, May 5, 2010 the trial of Radovan Karadzic heard testimony from Mrs. Fatima Zaimovic. Mrs. Zaimovic is a life-long Sarajevo resident and she was the head nurse at the Children’s Surgery Department of the Kosevo Hospital in Sarajevo from 1979 until she retired in 2007.


Testimony for the Prosecution

Mrs. Zaimovic kept a diary (exhibit P819) about the patients wounded during the war.  Her diary contains a list of 331 wounded children treated in the Children’s Surgery Department of the Kosevo Hospital.


She said, “All children that were brought in and recorded in this diary were injured by shrapnel or sniper fire.  A very small number of children were also injured by phosphorous shells, those that cause burns, and some were injured by gas explosions.”


Most of the children wounded in Sarajevo during the war came to Mrs. Zaimovic’s department. She said, “Children were being treated at the state hospital, in Dobrinska Hospital.  Some came to the orthopedics department and some also came to the traumatology department, but most children were brought to us.”


She described the effect of the war on the children saying, “All the children who came to our clinic were traumatized, first of all, because of the injuries they had sustained.  After that, they were hospitalized.  Shelling went on in town, and whenever a shell fell, they would jump out of bed, they would start screaming so hard, and they’d flee to the nurses, asking them for protection.”


Mrs. Zaimovic testified that the Kosevo Hospital buildings were shelled throughout the war and that a number of hospital staff were killed as a result of shelling. She said, “Shells were falling all over the place. Whenever you’d go to the hospital or wherever, you didn’t dare look.  Somehow you’d keep your head down, and you’d be thinking that your turn had come, that you’d be the victim of such a shell or of a sniper. I was terribly frightened.  I have to tell you that in all sincerity.”


The witness also described the shortage of utilities and medical supplies and conditions under which she and her colleagues operated in the hospital during the war, in particular the problems related to the lack of electricity and sufficient water.   


Karadzic Lays Out His Case


For his part Radovan Karadzic set out to "prove and show that Sarajevo was a fortress and fulcrum, a military stronghold, and not a peaceful town that was attacked by some wild men." He told the witness, "Mrs. Zaimovic, you said several times here that Serbs were firing at the city. So now we have to see whether they were firing at legitimate targets or whether they were randomly shooting all over town. Do you agree that there is a difference, if there is a cannon, a howitzer, a mortar at Biljevina, doesn't that make a difference? Does it make the situation different if there was not a mortar battery there or howitzers or whatever?"

A Personal Vendetta against the Accused


Mrs. Zaimovic clearly hated Radovan Karadzic. It was clear from her testimony that she harbored a great deal of personal animosity towards him. At one point she said, “Mr. Karadzic, you know full well what you did.  You killed people whenever you wanted to.”


She told him, “You destroyed the city that provided you with your education and your life.  Why don’t you repent and tell the truth before this Trial Chamber?  You destroyed thousands of people and lives.  Your people, our people, our ethnicities, you destroyed everyone.”


Mrs. Zaimovic’s personal hatred of Radovan Karadzic was obvious. She asked him, “Do you have a conscience, because you destroyed the Muslim children and the Croatian children and the Serbian children.  That’s what you did.  You destroyed them all.” She said, “You are a doctor and you killed patients.  You took the oath and you did horrible things”


When a witness is as obviously consumed with hatred Mrs. Zaimovic, one can not discount the possibility that they would give false or misleading testimony in order to disadvantage the Accused. Throughout her testimony, Mrs. Zaimovic had a highly selective memory of events.


Muslims Used Hospital as Firing Position


When Karadzic began his cross-examination he asked the witness, “Now in the hospital, there were no soldiers or military installations or artillery or mortars or anything of that sort; isn’t that right?”


Mrs. Zaimovic answered saying, “Yes, that’s right.”


When Karadzic whether mortars had been fired at the Bosnian-Serbs from the Hospital grounds Mrs. Zaimovic said, “I’m sure that’s not true, I think that you’re making it all up, big time.”


It is a well known fact, confirmed by UN Military Observers on the ground in Sarajevo that the Bosnian-Muslims did fire at the Serbs from the Kosevo Hospital.


In his book Balkan Odyssey (Slobodan Milosevic trial exhibit C18), former British Foreign Secretary, David Owen described the Muslim artillery attacks emanating from the Kosevo Hospital as “the most flagrant and best-documented episode of Muslim army units provoking the Serbs to fire on their fellow Muslims.” He wrote that “An UNMO (United Nations Military Observer) team near Kosevo hospital in Sarajevo had witnessed a Bosnian government mortar crew set up in the grounds of the hospital and fire over the hospital into a Serb area. They had quickly packed up and gone, only for the UNMOs to see a television crew arrive and then record the retaliatory Serb shelling of the hospital.” (See page 112 of the book)


When Philippe Morillion, the French general commanding the UN force in Bosnia from 1992 to 1993, testified in the Slobodan Milosevic trial he said the Muslims “very frequently used mortars at Kosevo for provocation purposes” (See Milosevic trial transcript, February 12, 2004, Pg. 32047)


In fact Morillion was so outraged by the practice that he wrote a letter of protest to Alija Izetbegovic about it. (Slobodan Milosevic trial exhibit D147)

The fact that the Kosevo Hospital was shelled because the Bosnian-Muslims were using it as a base to attack the Bosnian-Serbs from greatly undermines the prosecution’s case that it was shelled in order to instill terror in the civilian population. Undoubtedly, the civilian population and the children in the hospital were terrorized, but the question is whether that was the Serbian goal or the unfortunate consequence of the Muslim decision to use the hospital as a firing position.


Playing Dumb: Military, What Military?


Karadzic asked Mrs. Zaimovic whether she had heard of the105th Mountain Brigade of the ABiH, and her answer was “I have no knowledge of that.”


Karadzic later asked her, “Was your son in the army?” and the witness answered saying, “Yes, my son was in the army.” Karadzic asked, “In what unit?” and her answer was, “The 105th.” The very unit that she claimed not to have any knowledge of.


An astonished Karadzic asked her, “And you weren’t interested in the 105th Brigade at all? In the 105th Brigade of which your son was a member? Where was the brigade deployed?”


The witness answered, “I really don’t know that.  I really don’t.”


Karadzic asked, “You don’t know that its area of responsibility was Breka (the very neighborhood in Sarajevo where she lived and where the Kosevo Hospital is located)?”

Zaimovic answered saying, “No.”


When asked about the soldiers she saw in her neighborhood during the war she said, “I have no idea about any of this.  I have no idea about any of this.  You have to realize that I don’t know anything about that.  You know that.  I have no idea.”


Karadzic showed Mrs. Zaimovic an intelligence document (exhibit D122) about the strength and composition of the 105th Mountain Brigade and said, “Well, see, Ms. Zaimovic, it says here number of men 5,500 to 6,000.  That’s the number of soldiers that are in your neighborhood and around your neighborhood with all of the necessary infrastructure, logistics, with a rear command post, and you are saying that there was nothing there and that you don’t know anything about it?  And your own son is on that unit … you see that it is written here that that’s where the command posts are, in day care centers, kindergartens, schools, and your son is fighting in that same unit.  They are in uniform.  They are passing by there, and you do not know anything about this very strong unit consisting of 6,000 men, a brigade, a proper brigade that is guarding your own neighborhood, and you are trying to say that you don’t know anything about that?”


The witness answered saying, “I don’t.” She said, “I don’t know about these military targets at all.  I don’t know about this kind of thing at all.”


Playing Dumb Some More: Murder, What Murder? … Oh, that Murder!


Mrs. Zaimovic continued to play dumb when Karadzic asked her about the notorious murder of one of her colleagues at the Kosevo Hospital Dr. Milutin Najdanovic.


Dr. Najdanovic was a member of parliament before the war and a member of the Serbian Democratic Party. The last time he was seen alive he had been taken for questioning by the Muslim police in Sarajevo. His dead body was found in a dumpster on the grounds of the Kosevo sports stadium (within walking distance of the hospital). It was written up in the media throughout the Balkans and it was even reported in the July 29, 1993 edition of the New York Times. It was a very well known event involving a person the witness knew, one of her co-workers, in the very neighborhood where she lived and worked.


Karadzic asked her, “Did you know Professor Najdanovic, who was also at the thoracic surgery ward?” and she answered “Yes.” He asked, “Do you know what happened to him?” and she said, “No, I don’t.” – Which is a lie; because she later admitted that she knew he had been murdered.


Karadzic prodded the witness saying, “Mrs. Zaimovic, I have to doubt that, because it’s common knowledge what happened to him.  So I can’t believe it when you say you don’t know what happened to him.”


Eventually she broke-down and confessed, “I don’t know what happened to him.  All I know is that he was killed.  That’s all I know, but I don’t know what actually happened to him.”


It seems difficult to believe that it wouldn’t be a topic of conversation among her co-workers that one of their colleagues was taken away by the police and the next time anyone saw him was when they found his bullet-riddled corpse in a dumpster a couple of blocks away from the hospital. If that happened at your workplace, don’t you think people would be talking about it? It got the New York Times’ attention over a thousand miles away, but it didn’t get hers? It’s difficult to believe that this witness was sincere in her testimony and living up to the oath she swore to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”


The conclusion of Karadzic’s cross-examination of this witness will be reported in the upcoming summary of the May 6, 2010 hearing. A transcript of this hearing is available at: http://www.icty.org/x/cases/karadzic/trans/en/100505ED.htm

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