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Exhumation In Brcko

Tribunal Update 39: Last Week In The Hague (28 July-2 August, 1997)

Involved in this programme is a forensic team from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) that-it was announced in The Hague last week-began the exhumation of a mass grave near Brcko. The OTP forensic team consists of approximately 25 archaeologists, anthropologists, pathologists and logistics support personnel.

SFOR will assist generally by providing a secure environment for the exhumation team. The authorities of Republika Srpska have been informed and invited to observe the exhumation.

In the OTP statement it is specified that the mass grave whose exhumation has started is "related to the indictment issued on 21 July 1995 against Goran Jelisic and Ranko Cesic in connection with the confinement and systematic killings of Muslim and Croat men from Brcko at Luka camp."

Goran Jelisic, nick-named "Adolf", according to the indictment, had acted as the commander of the Luka camp during May 1992, while Ranko Cesic held the "position of power" in Brcko and in the camp itself. Both are accused of crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and violations of rules and customs of war (and Jelisic, additionally - as the camp commander - of the gravest crime, genocide).

Within the OTP, it is believed that the exhumation of this site will provide corroborative evidence of the crimes alleged in the indictment. The exhumation and the subsequent post mortem examinations will enable the OTP to establish the manner and cause of death of the victims interred.

Also, the OTP is seeking to gather evidence for other ongoing investigations concerning other alleged war crimes in this area. Once the exhumations at this site are completed, the forensic team will move to other locations envisaged in the programme for 1997-on the condition that the financial means are secured. To date, the OTP has raised only half of the $2.2 million required for the 1997 exhumation programme, and is desperately seeking new donors.

Apart from the statement concerning the beginning of the exhumation according to the programme for 1997, the OTP has published its basic accounting of last year's exhumations of mass graves in the five locations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

In four locations, in the area of Srebrenica (Cerska, Nova Kasaba, Lazete and Pilica) the remains of more that 450 people have been recovered. The OTP has at its disposal the evidence - mostly satellite images - that some of these locations have been "hastily rearranged", that is re-dug with heavy construction machinery, during the autumn and winter of 1995, in an attempt to remove the traces of crimes.

The fifth mass grave that was exhumed last year is the one on the agricultural farm Ovcara near Vukovar, out of which 200 bodies of men, who had been taken out of the hospital and shot, have been recovered.

According to the OTP forensic investigations, the majority of 650 victims recovered last year died from multiple gunshot wounds. Some of the victims were found with their hands bound, and a number had been blindfolded before execution.

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