Okun Testifies about Violations of UN Arms Embargo
www.slobodan-milosevic.org - May 27, 2010

Written by: Andy Wilcoxson

Hearing Date:
April 27, 2010

On Tuesday, April 27th former Bosnian-Serb president Dr. Radovan Karadzic continued his cross-examination of Ambassador Herbert Okun who served in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1997 as the special advisor and deputy to the personal envoy of the UN Secretary-General.


Okun’s Opinion: Muslims and Croats Were Bad, but the Serbs Were Worse


Okun expressed his view that “none of the three parties in Bosnia was innocent” He said, “A leading Bosnian Muslim politician once characterized the three sides to me in the following fashion.  He said:  ‘The Serbs are butchers, the Croats are killers, and we Muslims are assassins.’”


According to Okun, “All parties, in terms of quality, behaved badly.  In terms of quantity, the Bosnian Serb side overwhelmingly was the biggest offender.” He said, “They all did very bad things [but] the overwhelming number of the bad things were done by the Bosnian Serb side.”


For his part, Karadzic rejected Okun’s allegations that the Bosnian-Serbs behaved substantially worse than the other parties to the conflict.




Although Karadzic refused to be drawn into a debate with Okun, it is worth noting that official statistics on the death, disappearance, and displacement of persons during the Bosnian war are a matter of public record and can be used to test Okun’s thesis that the Bosnian-Serbs did the “overwhelming number of the bad things” during the war.


According to statistics compiled by the Tribunal’s demographic unit, in the territories that comprise the BH Federation the share of Serbs fell from 31.46% of the population in 1991 to 3.24% of the population in 1997 – a decrease of 89.70%. In the territories that comprise Republika Srpska the share of non-Serbs fell from 46.83% of the population in 1991 to 8.55% in 1997 – a decrease of 81.74%. (See: Krajisnik trial exhibit P907, Expert report by Ewa Tabeau and Marcin Zoltkowski, Demographic Unit ICTY, July 28, 2002)


According to a report commissioned last year by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and compiled by the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center, the Bosnian war left 97,207 people (39,684 civilians and 57,523 soldiers) dead or missing. 65.88% of the victims were Muslims, 25.62% were Serbs, 8.01% were Croats, and 0.49% were members of other ethnic groups. (See: Human Losses in Bosnia Herzegovina 91-95, Research and Documentation Center - Sarajevo, June 2009)


According to the 1991 Bosnia-Herzegovina census Muslims comprised 43.47% of the population, Serbs 31.21%, Croats 17.38%, and Other ethnic groups made-up 7.92% of Bosnia’s population.


Okun’s Testimony Contradicted by Okun’s Notebook


Okun was well aware that the Bosnian-Serbs, who he singles out as uniquely evil, were being victimized from the very beginning of the war together with the other parties.


Karadzic showed him an entry in his notebook dated 9 September 1992 in which Okun quoted a statement by Judas Kumin, who was at that time the leader of the UNHCR in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The notebook entry read, "Situation deteriorating in Serbia.  Sanctions hard.  Many Muslims going into Serbia.  Serbian response to refugee inflow is a good one.  On whole, non-discriminatory. Need to tell donor community that too much aid going to B and H and Croatia.  It is needed in Serbia.”


Another notebook entry said, "UNICEF - Lack of support from international community for refugees in Serbia."


In an entry dated September 25, 1992 Okun’s notebook quoted the U.N. top aid official in the region, Jose-Maria Mediluce of Spain at a meeting in Zagreb saying, "Bosnian Serbs (and Muslims) also under pressure; either fleeing fighting in Eastern Bosnia, or fleeing persecution by Muslims and Croats. About 350,000 refugees now in Serbia and Montenegro from Bosnia and Herzegovina.  About 15 per cent Muslims. Displaced Serbs in East B and H:  170,000 displaced in Western B and H:  150,000.”


Karadzic read out the entry and said, “Here a reference is made to Bosnia-Herzegovina.  From Eastern Bosnia, 170,000 Serbs were expelled, and 150,000 Serbs from Western Bosnia.  That's what's written here, isn't it?” After a long speech condemning the Serbs, Okun finally conceded that the answer to the question was “Yes.”


Another entry in Okun’s notebook said, “[Portuguese diplomat Jose] Cutileiro was very concerned about what they [the EC] see as gaseous efforts to lay all the blame on the Serbs and Milosevic for everything that goes wrong in B and H.  Cutileiro says bluntly that Mr. Izetbegovic is a liar and cannot be trusted.”


Okun responded to the entry saying, “We heard comments along those lines about all of the parties.”


Iranian Arms Transfers, Nuclear Materials, and Violations of the UN Arms Embargo


Speaking on the topic of Iranian arms transfers to the Bosnian-Muslims Okun said, "President Tudjman on one occasion took Secretary Vance and me to the Zagreb Airport to look at an Iranian 747 jet plane, the big ones, that was loaded with arms and gas masks destined for the Bosnian Muslims."


Okun also testified that "There is no question that the Bosnian government did receive weapons, including from the United States.  They landed largely at Tuzla Air Force Base.  Everybody knew that.  People felt that the imposition of an arms embargo on a defenseless state was an immoral act, and therefore they broke the embargo.”


If the Bosnian-Government was so defenseless one has to wonder how, in the first year of the war, they managed to expel the 320,000 Serbs that Okun made reference to in his notebook.


Karadzic showed Okun a document (exhibit D80). The document was an indictment against Senad Sahinpasic issued by a German court in Munich dated March 9, 1993. 


Sahinpasic was an official of the “defenseless state” of Bosnia-Herzegovina and it alleges that he was trying to procure weapons and nuclear materials for the Bosnian war effort.


Under the heading "Investigative proceedings against Senad Sahinpasic” the document says, “The defendant is accused of violating the Law on War Arms Control and the Law on Foreign Trade in 1992/1993 by shipping conventional weapons and procuring atomic parts and by procuring and delivering armament material to the Bosnian Army."


Once Bosnian Government became aware of the investigation they pulled Sahinpasic out of Germany. Karadzic showed the court a letter to the German Ambassador to Bosnia (exhibit D81) written by Hasan Cengic. The letter said: “We are informing you and confirming that declaration whereby Amer Cviko is replacing Senad Sahinpasic in all transactions and mediations of goods.  The document is valid as of today."


Okun reacted to the documents saying, "On the point of nuclear weapons, as I mentioned in my previous answer that was unproven.  It's only mentioned in this document, which was suspended, and it's based on bugged telephone conversations with a criminal … as regards your question, was I aware that the arms embargo was being violated; the answer is, of course, yes.  I've said that probably ten times this morning.  And it was being violated openly.  There's no doubt of that.”


Okun: Yugoslavia is the same thing as Greater-Serbia


Karadzic put his case to Ambassador Okun that the Bosnian Serbs wanted to preserve Yugoslavia and that they had asked for Bosnia to remain in Yugoslavia, and for all those who wanted to remain in Yugoslavia to be able to do so.


Okun responded saying, “Yes, I think that these statements of yours, that ‘we want to preserve a state,’ that will bring political state unity to the Serbian people, is consistent with President Milosevic's and, I suspect, your desire for a Greater Serbia.  It sounds perfectly reasonable to say you wanted to remain in Yugoslavia, except there was no Yugoslavia to remain in Badinter's decision on the question of whether Yugoslavia existed was negative.  I've said it before, but it does have to be taken into account that as the state was dissolving, the Bosnian Serbs wanted to join what, in effect, was Greater Serbia.”


The alchemy here is amazing, the term “Greater Serbia” conjures up an idea of territory that belonged to others being conquered and conjoined to Serbia to form a Greater-Serbia. But according to Okun, Greater-Serbia was to be realized by maintaining the status quo and for the Serbs to continue living in a common-state as they had done for the previous 47 years while others opted to secede from the common state. 


Okun: Division of Bosnia is Illegitimate, Even though the Majority of Bosnia Wanted it divided


Okun told Karadzic that “The claim to establish your own state within Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with a Muslim state and a Croat state was an illegitimate claim” He said, “Dividing up Bosnia was never accepted by the international community until much later.  Nobody wanted the country to be divided up except you and the Bosnian Croats.”


Karadzic reacted to that statement (since Serbs and Croats outnumber Muslims in Bosnia) by saying, “Except for the majority in Bosnia; is that what you want to say? Isn't it true that this (the division of Bosnia) is Cutileiro's plan, proposed by him on behalf of the European Community (prior to the war)?”


Okun was again forced to concede the point saying, “There's no argument about that.  As I've mentioned earlier, the Cutileiro Plan, which you, of course, approved, envisaged three states within one state.”


An Affinity for the Islamic Cause


Okun seemed to have an affinity for the Islamic cause. His criticism wasn’t limited to the Serbs. He was also highly critical of Israel. He said, "The Israeli founding myth was that about half a million Palestinians voluntarily fled their homes in Palestine during the War of Independence in 1948.  That's just not true.  They were forced out."


Contemporaneous documents published in 1948 indicate that the Palestinians left Israeli territory with the intention of returning after the Arab armies had destroyed Israel and drove the Jews into the sea – but that’s another story.


At the end of the hearing the judges told Karadzic to finish his cross-examination by the end of the April 28th hearing.


A transcript of the hearing summarized here is available at:



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