Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Oric Trial Hears of “Muslim Destruction”
The trial of the Srebrenica Muslims’ military commander Naser Oric seemed to have settled into a routine this week, with three new witnesses offering their testimony on a series of attacks launched against their villages by Muslim forces in autumn and winter 1992/1993.
The trial chamber heard about Muslim attacks on two Serb hamlets on the banks of the Drina river and on the village of Glogova – an originally Muslim village that had been ethnically cleansed by Serbs in spring 1992, and then repopulated by them.
Witnesses spoke about systematic burning and plundering that was carried out by the forces allegedly under control of Oric, who is charged with leading and participating in such attacks. The defendant is also charged with the mistreatment and death of Serb detainees kept in Srebrenica.
Oric is considered by many Srebrenica Muslims as a man who helped repel Serb forces in 1992 and 1993 and defended tens of thousands of its inhabitants until the town was proclaimed a United Nations safe area. All the crimes he is charged with are alleged to have taken place during this period.
Less than three year later, in summer 1995, Serb forces finally overran the town, expelling its population and murdering some 7,000 of its men in the biggest war crime in post-war Europe.
The testimonies heard in the Hague courtroom this week focused on autumn and winter of 1992 and 1993.
Slavisa Eric, a medical technician from the village of Kravica, spoke about how the Muslim attack on Glogova on December 24, 1992 and its subsequent recapture by Muslim forces had cut off his village from the road. He said Kravica was encircled by Muslim forces and subsequently attacked two weeks later, on January 7, Serbian Orthodox Christmas.
“All of it – everything that could be burned, burned,” Eric described the village following the Christmas attack.
The prosecution showed a series of photos depicting this destruction, including burned Kravica homes and a schoolhouse. Eric denied that any of the buildings were legitimate military targets and said that the forces flagrantly disregarded any distinction between civilian and military targets. “To them it was all the same,” he said.
The defence tried to show that the village of Kravica at the time of the attack was home to heavily armed Serb forces.
Amongst the evidence they presented during the cross-examination was live video footage of a Serbian military commander who made an official announcement that the local brigade was turned into an assault brigade, a “real army”.
The defence asked him if he was aware that in this period some 80,000 Muslims were under siege in Srebrenica, just a few dozen kilometres further inland.
“Yes, they were under siege,” he said. “But 80,000 sounds unbelievable. We were defending ourselves. If they suddenly found themselves under siege, too bad.”
The week continued with the testimony of two women, Novka Bosic and Savka Okic, from the neighbouring Serb villages of Radiovici and Diovici.
Both witnesses told of an attack on their respective hamlets on October 5, 1992 – Family Patron Saint’s Day - describing burning and looting that accompanied them.
“We were in the field gathering the crop and then suddenly there was firing, shooting broke,” said Bosic. “You could see smoke and burning and then we realised that there was an attack. We could hear them shouting: ‘Catch the Chetniks alive!’ ”
Bosic said that many of the houses burned down and those that didn’t were “pockmarked to a large extent”.
The extent of the damage is a key point for both the prosecution and the defence.
The defence pointed out that in Bosic’s village, only four out of 25 houses were damaged. They argue that if the destruction was not on a large scale then it is not sufficient to qualify as a breach of international law. The prosecution contends that partial destruction is sufficient to constitute such a breach.
The prosecution also focused on the issue of plunder, another crime that Oric is charged with. The two witnesses testified that their livestock was plundered from the villages during the attacks.
But the defence alluded to the fact that many of the cows in the Serbian villages may have actually been the original property of the Muslims who were expelled in the spring of 1992, and therefore could not have been “plundered”.
Throughout their testimony, both women denied that any official military units were present in their villages, supporting the prosecution position that the attacks against their villages were aimed civilians and therefore illegal. The defence contended that their respective villages were heavily mined and were home to heavy weaponry – thus becoming legitimate military targets.
Amongst testimony about the burning of homes and plundering of livestock, the prosecution made it a point to describe in detail the killings that occurred during the attacks, saying that it is necessary for an accurate depiction of the crime scene.
But the defence team argues that the prosecution should not be able to introduce evidence about the killings involved during the attacks, since Oric was never charged with them. The indictment charges Oric with being responsible for deaths that occurred under the watch of his subordinates in Srebrenica detention centres, but it does not charge him with the death of any people during the attacks on Serb villages.
Lauren Etter is an IWPR intern in The Hague.
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