Milan Babić held several of the highest level Croatian Serb leadership positions between May 1991 and February 1992 including President of the Republika Srpska Krajina. Indicted by the Tribunal, he pleaded guilty to crimes committed in Croatia.
Milan Babić describes a conversation that he had with Slobodan Milošević and Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadžić in July 1991 about the strategy to expel Muslims from territories the Serbs claimed in Bosnia and Herzegovina:
"Karadžić said the following: that he held [Bosnian President] Alija Izetbegović in his little pocket, that he could settle accounts with him at any time, but the time was not ripe for it so that the Serbs should not be blamed for things, that it would be better to wait for Izetbegović to first make the wrong political move and that is when accounts would be settled, and the Muslims would be expelled or crammed into the river valleys and that he would link up all Serb territories in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but he said that he wasn't sure whether he would take Zenica [located 70km north of Sarajevo] from them.
Q. What was Mr. Milošević's reaction to this remark, if any?
A. He said that I shouldn't be stubborn and … stand in Radovan's way"
Milan Babić was one of the Prosecution’s most important insider witnesses. Between August 1991 and February 1992, Babić held the highest-level positions in the self-proclaimed Serb governments in Croatia, serving as Prime Minister and President of the Serbian Autonomous Region (SAO) Krajina and President of the Republika Srpska Krajina (RSK). In 12 days of testimony, Babić described his conversations and meetings with Slobodan Milošević and a number of his co-perpetrators and their role in the commission of crimes in Croatia in 1991. Babić provided crucial insight into Slobodan Milošević’s state of mind and the control he exercised over institutions and structures he used to carry out his plan to rid large areas of Croatia of non-Serbs. Babić’s testimony showed that Slobodan Milošević played a central role in the crimes that were committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
Babić testified that Milošević controlled all of Serbia’s institutions and a number of its highest-level leaders, as well as Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb leaders. He stated that Milošević was at the top of the Yugoslav military chain of command and appointed its leading officers, as well as those of the Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb armies.
Legally, Babić explained, the JNA Commander-in-Chief was the SFRY Presidency. However, Babić found out that Milošević effectively took over the JNA’s Supreme Command in July 1991, by controlling half its members (called the Rump Presidency), as well as the SFRY’s Defence Minister Veljko Kadijević and the JNA’s Chief of the General Staff Blagoje Adžić. Milošević, Babić said, was the one deploying the JNA all around Croatia from October 1991.
Once the FRY succeeded the SFRY, and the Yugoslav Army (VJ) replaced the JNA, Babić testified that Milošević continued to be the army's commander-in-chief. Milošević was a member of the FRY’s Supreme Defence Council, a body with command authority over the VJ, together with Montenegrin President Momir Bulatović and FRY President Zoran Lilić [Lilić testified for the Prosecution in the Milošević case]. Babić testified that Lilić and Bulatović were just figureheads who executed Milošević’s policy. Babić told the court that he heard Lilić describe himself as someone who was at Milošević’s disposal.
As evidence of Milošević’s control over the army, Babić described a conversation with Radovan Karadžić and Milošević in which the latter constantly referred to the JNA. Babić thought that this was because Milošević wanted to let him and Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadžić know that he controlled the army. At the end of this conversation, Milošević looked up at Karadžić and asked him again where Karadžić wanted the JNA to be deployed. Karadžić said: “On the borders with Croatia”. Then Milošević looked up at Babić, who said: “In Krajina to protect Krajina.” Milošević said “fine.”
As further evidence of Milošević’s control over the JNA, Babić testified that Milošević appointed its officers. The appointment of JNA officer Mile Mrkšić [whom the Tribunal Prosecution later indicted for crimes committed in Vukovar, eastern Croatia] was a case in point. Milan Babić knew because he participated in both the decision-making and the implementation of his appointment. Babić said that Milošević de facto appointed the JNA’s leading officers, and the General Staff and the Presidency implemented his decisions. Babić said that Milošević also de facto appointed the leading officers of the JNA’s successor, the VJ, as well as those of the Croatian Serb and Bosnian Serb armies.
Babić told the court about parallel structures in Croatian Serb territories that financed and directed units that committed crimes in Croatia, and the role of a number of Serbia’s highest-level officials, all connected to Milošević, who supported those units. The central figure in the parallel structure was Jovica Stanišić, the head of the Serbian State Security Service, who was seconded by his close associate Franko “Frenki” Simatović. [The Tribunal’s Prosecution indicted both men for their alleged role in crimes in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina]. During Babić’s testimony, Milošević commented that he had heard of this parallel structure.
Babić gave evidence that supported the Prosecution’s contention that Milošević effectively controlled central figures in the Croatian leadership. He testified that Milan Martić, the Croatian Serb political entity’s police chief and later its President, always supported Milošević’s policies. Babić said that he acknowledged his loyalty to Milošević publicly, saying that he would only be the Krajina’s provisional president, and he would be happy to hand over power to Milošević when the time comes [The Tribunal convicted Martić of crimes committed in Croatia].
Babić also provided evidence showing how he himself followed Milošević’s orders. Before each of his three meetings in October 1991 with Henry Wijnaendts, a European Community envoy to Yugoslavia, in relation to a proposed peace plan, Babić had to meet with Milošević to get instructions on which stand to take.
In addition to testifying about the involvement of high-level leaders, Babić also gave evidence of crimes committed on the ground. He testified that the Yugoslav army and other forces attacked villages in Croatia with majority Croatian inhabitants that had no military significance. The usual pattern of attack was the following: police or volunteer units under the control of the State Security Service shot at villages in order to provoke them. The JNA then joined the fight with its artillery, and all the units under its control. After they entered the village, the JNA and other forces looted and torched property. The Croatian population fled; very few people, mostly elderly, stayed behind. Babić said there were individual killings, which were not investigated. People were also detained in two camps, one controlled by the army and the other by the police. Babić heard that those detained in the camp held by the police were mistreated.
Like other witnesses, Babić testified that Milošević's rhetoric did not match his actions. He said that the provisions of the Vance plan, another effort to end the conflict in Croatia, were not respected even though Milošević had agreed to it. The area of the Krajina was not demilitarised as had been promised. Most of the weapons were hidden or handed over to the Krajina police. Also, the RSK Army took over the heavy weapons the JNA had left in warehouses. As in many other instances, Babić said, Milošević publicly spoke about peace but in fact advocated war.
The Office of the Prosecutor indicted Milan Babić for participating together with Slobodan Milošević in a joint criminal enterprise to drive non-Serbs out of large parts of Croatia. Milan Babić pleaded guilty to committing crimes in Croatia, and was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment. He testified for the Prosecution in the case against Milošević between 18 November and 9 December 2002. Milan Babić committed suicide in his cell in the United Nations Detention Unit in The Hague on 5 March 2006. At the time, he was testifying in the case against fellow Croatian Serb leader Milan Martić.
Milan Babić testified from 18 November to 9 December 2002. The relevant transcripts can be accessed through the Cases page on this site.