Chilling Video Footage Shown of Purported Execution of Srebrenica Muslims By 'Scorpions' Paramilitary Unit - Allegedly Under Serbian MUP Command

Chilling Video Footage Shown of Purported Execution of Srebrenica Muslims By 'Scorpions' Paramilitary Unit - Allegedly Under Serbian MUP Command

The Prosecution presented chilling video footage today in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.   During its cross examination of defense witness police General Obrad Stevanovic, the Prosecution played several clips in court of what it claims are Muslim prisoners from Srebrenica being executed by a paramilitary unit called the 'Scorpions' in 1995.   The Scorpions, the Prosecution alleges, were under the command of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP), which oversaw state security and policing in Serbia.    

 The video, if authenticated and admitted, is potentially crippling to Milosevic's denials of any Serbian involvement in the Srebrenica massacre which claimed upwards of 7,500 lives in July of 1995.   In order for the video to make this impact, the Prosecution must first prove several things.  First of all, the video needs to be proven reliable.   It will be important to show who filmed it and the 'chain of custody' of the tape between its creation and the time it appeared in court.  By showing that there was no opportunity for the tape to be doctored, its reliability can be greatly increased.   Secondly, the Prosecution will need to prove that the tape shows what the Prosecution alleges – that the victims are indeed Muslims from Srebrenica and that the perpetrators were indeed members of the Scorpions unit.    Finally, in what may prove to be the most difficult task, the Prosecution must show that the Scorpions were in fact under MUP control. 


What the tape shows

Only several short segments of the tape, which Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice said runs approximately 2 hours in full, were shown today in court.   The opening segment showed the 'Scorpion' unit receiving a blessing from an Orthodox priest.  The personnel, all wearing black uniforms and red berets stand at attention while the rite is being performed.   The next clip showed the men en route to the Republika Srpska – one clip showed the unit gathered around buses in front of a sign reading 'Pale' – the Bosnian Serb wartime 'capital' overlooking Sarajevo.  A date stamp on the footage revealed that these segments were filmed around the 25-26 of June 1995, only two and a half weeks before the UN-declared 'safe area' of Srebrenica was overrun on 11 July.    


The next batch of footage showed a group of about six men, hands bound behind their backs, piled up in the back of a truck.   An armed guard is seen kicking one of the bound men in the head and voices are heard mocking the helpless men as cry-babies (the verb kmeziti was used).  No date stamp was visible on this portion of the tape.   The bound men were then ordered off the back of the truck by men dressed in black fatigues, some wearing red berets and others in camouflage flak vests.  A voice can be heard shouting in frustration that the battery was running low on the video recorder. The bound men were ordered to lie in a ditch by the side of the road and the lorry then drove off.    Perhaps in response to a plea to wait, a voice could be heard telling the bound men, 'when you were killing Serbs you didn't wait.'


The bound men, all dressed in civilian clothing, some with blue shirts, one barefoot, were then marched through a grassy area in single file, all looking dejected and already lifeless.  One by one they were shot with short bursts of rifle fire.  As each one was shot, the next stepped forward and was shot -- collapsing after a second of standing listlessly upright.  Four men were executed in this manner, and two survivors were instructed to move the corpses.  Again, a voice is heard complaining that the battery is running low on the camera.


Defense Reaction

Steven Kay, court-assigned counsel for the accused immediately objected that no proper foundation was established for introducing the footage, that it was sensationalist and that no questions were being put to the witness about the contents of the tape.  Mr. Kay also noted that the film had not been disclosed to the defense previously yet was being shown for public viewing.


General Stevanovic responded that he was 'astonished' and immediately denied any connection between himself, the units he commanded which were operating in the Republika Srpska at the time and contents of the video.   General Stevanovic said that he did not recognize a single person on the footage.  Prosecutor Nice then systematically went through still footage from the videotape showing close-ups of the men featured, and asked the witness if he recognized any of the men.  Stevanovic could not, although he claimed that he might have seen a man nicknamed 'Boca' (Slobodan Medic, leader of the Scorpions) in Erdut, Serbian Krajina, although he could not place the face.  


Serbian MUP operating in combat role in Republika Srpska

The video footage must be viewed in the context of other evidence, also presented today.

Immediately prior to showing the footage, Prosecutor Nice had introduced some documents obtained from Republika Srpska authorities that indicate that the Serbian MUP was operating in combat roles throughout the RS.  One of the documents recorded desertions by four conscripts from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during operations in the Bratunac-Srebrenica-Konjavac-Polje area (Mr. Milosevic objected to this characterization and argued that while the conscripts may have originally hailed from the FRY, they were serving in the Bosnian Serb forces); another report indicated that two members of the Serbian MUP were wounded in combat near Foca.   Finally a report authored by Ljubomir Borovcanin, an RS MUP commander who is currently indicted for complicity in genocide at Srebrenica recorded 'four members of the Serbian MUP were slightly wounded' after operations.


One RS document noted that a police detachment from Banja Luka replaced the Serbian MUP unit the 'Scorpions' in fighting near Trnovo.  This document, characterizing the Scorpions as a 'MUP unit' is the best indicator so far that the Scorpions were at least perceived as a unit under the command of the Serbian MUP.   Stevanovic volunteered to place a phone call to the Ministry of the Interior to check to see if any of the men listed as MUP officers named in these reports were officially on the rolls of the MUP.


Use of the evidence

Ostensibly, the Prosecution showed the video in order to refute General Stevanovic's testimony about the lawful and legitimate presence of the Serbian MUP on the territory of the Republika Srpska (RS).  Previously, Stevanovic testified that various police units from Serbia were invited to assist local police in the RS and the Serbian Krajina border areas with routine police work such as traffic enforcement.   Stevanovic testified that he was aware of all MUP deployments outside of the territory of Serbia and that none was engaged in combat operations or illegal activities. 


Beyond impeaching these assertions by Stevanovic however, (who repeatedly clarified that he could only testify as to what the public police (as opposed to the 'secret police') was doing – not the 'secret police' or paramilitary groups) the tape along with these other documents could show a link between Belgrade and the killing in Srebrenica.  The short segments shown in court by themselves will not forge the critical link between killings in Srebrenica and official Belgrade complicity – but if it is proven that the Scorpions unit allegedly featured were in fact under Serbian MUP control, the chain of command could be followed all the way to the Milosevic - who was then President of Serbia and in control of its security apparatus.


The value of the video and the RS MUP documents goes far beyond simply impeaching the testimony of Stevanovic.  They speak to the core of the indictment's claims that Milosevic 'participated in the formation, financing, supply, support and direction of special forces of the Republic of Serbia Ministry of Internal Affairs….[and] Serbian irregular forces or paramilitaries.  These forces participated in the execution of the joint criminal enterprise through the commission of crimes….' including genocide.  Furthermore, with the recent indictment of former Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff General Momicilo Perisic for Srebrenica, even more evidence linking Belgrade to Srebrenica may emerge.  The recent surrender of RS MUP commander Ljubomir Borovcanin (whose report was cited today) may also provide more substance to the charges that Serbian MUP was assisting RS MUP in Srebrenica.


This video and the aforementioned RS MUP documents (and potentially more evidence from the Perisic and Srebrenica cases), if introduced for their substance would likely constitute 'fresh' evidence.  It is unlikely to be characterized as 'rebuttal' evidence since it does not appear to rebut a new and specific point made by the defense.  Yet this evidence goes beyond merely 'reinforcing' old Prosecution evidence - or at least what the Prosecution has been able to show in public session.  In order for it to be admissible, the Prosecution may need to re-open its case.  In order to do so, the evidence should not merely 'reinforce' existing evidence presented during the Prosecution's case-in-chief, but should be novel enough so as not to be redundant.  The evidence should have arrived in the Prosecution's hands after the close of its case-in-chief and the Prosecution must demonstrate that it exercised reasonable diligence in identifying and locating it.   


Re-opening the case may be the only fair option.  Given the gravity of the evidence, and the fact that it goes to the center of the Bosnian indictment against Milosevic, the Defense must be given a full opportunity to defend against this new evidence, if it is admitted.


Obrad Stevanovic's possible role in Srebrenica

Prosecutor Nice repeatedly questioned General Stevanovic on his testimony that his police forces were in place to safeguard the border area between Bosnia and Serbia.  At one point he confronted the witness by stating that a paramilitary unit such as the Scorpions, if they crossed over into the RS from Serbia, could not have gotten through 'without the complicity and knowledge of those who controlled the border crossings.'  While Stevanovic attributed border security to the Border Police and not to his units, Prosecutor Nice postulated that Stevanovic was of such senior rank that for a group such as the Scorpions (shown on the tape traveling in a small caravan with buses and other large vehicles) to cross from Serbia to the RS, he must have known. 


Finally, Prosecutor Nice concluded today's Srebrenica questioning by asserting that Stevanovic was entrusted with the task of escorting the DUTCHBAT peacekeepers from Bratunac and out of the RS only because he could be trusted to keep quiet the knowledge of the massacres, a charge which he vehemently denied. 

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