Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) witness testified this week at the Hague tribunal trial of former Bosnian Serb military official Zdravko Tolimir about the killing of 1,000 Bosniaks in the Kravica warehouse near Srebrenica in the summer of 1995.
Tolimir, the former assistant commander for military intelligence and security in the Bosnian Serb army, VRS, general staff, is charged with eight counts including genocide, conspiring to perpetrate genocide, extermination, murder, expulsion, forced transfer of population and deportation of Bosniaks from Srebrenica and Zepa in July 1995.
In July 1995, some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed after the United Nations-protected enclave of Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces.
Protected prosecution witness PW 005 is the sole survivor of the killing of 1,000 Bosniaks from Srebrenica which took place in an agricultural collective warehouse in the village of Kravica on July 13, 1995.
According to the indictment against Tolimir, the VRS used automatic weapons and hand grenades to murder imprisoned Bosniaks who had surrendered to Bosnian Serb forces in the area of Bratunac earlier in the day.
PW 005 previously testified in February 2007 in the trial of seven Bosnian Serb military and police officers indicted for the crimes committed in Srebrenica in 1995. The seven have been on trial for genocide, murder, persecutions, forcible transfer and deportation committed in the Srebrenica enclave.
The prosecution and defence presented their closing arguments in September this year, and the verdict is due next week. This week, at the trial of Tolimir, PW 005 confirmed the authenticity of his testimony given in the so-called Srebrenica Seven case. A short summary of that testimony was read in court by prosecutor Kweku Wanderpuye.
"The testimony speaks of how the witness survived the execution of men and boys by the VRS and the Serb MUP (interior ministry forces), which was carried out in the Kravica warehouse on July 13, 1995," the prosecutor said.
According to the testimony summary, on July 11, 1995, after Srebrenica had fallen into the hands of the VRS, PW 005 fled the town. It said he left his wife and two daughters in the village of Ravne Njive and went towards the village of Potocari.
On that day, around 25,000 Bosniak refugees sought refuge in the UN base in Potocari before Bosnian Serb troops began their forcible transfer from the enclave the next day.
The witness arrived in the village of Jaglice where he found out that this was the place where the men from Srebrenica would gather to make their way through the woods in order to reach territory controlled by the Bosnian army, the witness testimony said.
On July 12, 1995, it went on, the witness reached a hill called Buljim where he fell into a Bosnian Serb ambush. According to the summary, many people were killed that day and one had to walk over their dead bodies.
That night, the witness and seven men from his group fell yet again into a VRS ambush not far from the village of Kamenica, where the group was shot at with mortars, the witness testimony said.
The next day, it said, Bosnian Serb forces fired at them once more, forcing them to surrender near the village of Sandici. The witness estimated that some 2,000 prisoners were gathered in a field in the vicinity of Sandici. According to PW 005, VRS chief, General Ratko Mladic, then addressed them, saying that they would be transported to territory controlled by the Bosnian army and allowed to join their families.
Mladic, commander of the main staff of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, is wanted by the tribunal for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has evaded arrest for 15 years and is thought to be hiding in Serbia.
According to the witness, Mladic then said "nobody will beat you, nobody will torture you, and we will provide food for you. But it's very hot here, let us take you to a cooler place".
Half an hour after Mladic spoke to them, the prisoners were ordered to move towards the warehouse in Kravica – and all their belongings were confiscated, including any valuables they were carrying along, the testimony summary said.
The witness said he arrived at the Kravica warehouse at 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon – and he and other prisoners were then forced inside and told to sit on the floor. "The warehouse was soon completely full and the last prisoner who came in couldn't find a place to sit," the prosecutor read from the testimony.
"When one prisoner said that there was no room on the floor for him to sit down, a Serb soldier shot him."
At that moment, the witness testimony said, Bosnian Serbs opened fire on the prisoners - the shooting continuing through the night. "The witness found a place to hide, lying quietly between corpses for several hours, covered with blood," the prosecutor said.
On July 14, the witness said he covered himself with two dead bodies and stayed there the whole day – and, at dawn, Bosnian Serb soldiers came back into the warehouse calling the wounded survivors and telling them that they would be taken to hospital and treated.
The wounded left the warehouse and were killed immediately afterwards, the testimony summary said.
The witness also remembered that two further surviving prisoners in the warehouse were killed after they had called a man in another building, asking him for water.
The witness went on to claim that at one moment he heard an order from the soldiers for the cement floor to be washed and then for the dead bodies to be covered with hay. The witness said that he was eventually able to escape from the warehouse.
After two months of hiding, he said he reached Bosnian army territory on September 18, 1995.
After Wanderpuye read the testimony, he showed PW 005 a photograph of the Kravica warehouse. The witness identified the warehouse as the site where the massacre took place.
The first indictment against Tolimir was presented on February 25, 2005, and he was arrested on May 31, 2007.
On December 16, 2009 he pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The trial continues next week.
Vesna Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight