Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Srebrenica Deaths "Not Battle-Related" – Witness

“All those individuals were killed at the same time in the same manner,” former Hague investigator says at Mladic trial.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Prosecution witness Dean Manning in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
    Prosecution witness Dean Manning in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

A former investigator in the office of the Hague prosecutor has told the tribunal that human remains exhumed from mass graves after the 1995 Srebrenica massacre could not have been the result of battle related casualties.

Prosecution witness Dean Manning, who was employed as an investigator at the tribunal from 1998 to 2004, was giving testimony this week in the trial of wartime Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic.

Mladic is charged with planning and overseeing the Srebrenica massacre, during which more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces after the enclave was captured on July 11, 1995.

The indictment – which lists 11 counts in total – alleges that he was responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.

The defence has previously suggested that individuals found in mass graves were killed in battle, and not summarily executed as part of a massacre.

The witness told the court how “part of the exhumation process was to identify how these people died”.

“The evidence we have, particularly from ‘primary’ mass graves, is that individuals were not killed as result of battle. They were not picked up and placed in a sanitary mass grave – they were executed and placed in mass graves in an attempt to hide the bodies,” Manning said.

The witness said he dealt with “primary” graves – the original sites where bodies were placed – and also with the “secondary” graves to which they were later moved to, allegedly as part of a cover-up.

As a result of this subsequent relocation of remains, a majority of the graves were “disturbed” and left bodies “broken apart – part in one grave and part in another, and indeed part in the third”, the witness said.

“That meant you had what you thought represented most of a body in one grave, and part of what represented most of a body in a second grave,” he explained.

Manning went on to describe one “primary undisturbed” grave in Cerska, where there were about 150 bodies .

“There is evidence of them being shot in that location, falling by the side of the road and being covered up in that location,” he said. “Not all men were bound, but the ones that weren’t bound were in the same condition as ones that were bound. I believe the evidence shows that all those individuals were killed at the same time in the same manner.”

In addition, he said, had it been the case that the bodies had been “picked up in the battlefield, you would see that reflected in a way they were placed in the grave”.

Setting out why this would be obvious, he said, “If you pick a body up with a machine, you pick up a layer of soil and leaves and sand and dirt and whatever else the body is laying on, and if you put the body in a pit or a grave… you will see several layers of bodies interspersed with several layers of soil.”

Manning noted that almost all the mass graves he encountered, particularly the primary ones, had a “consistency” about them.

“The Kosluk mass grave – we have evidence that they were made to kneel among broken glass in a rubbish pit. Many of them were bound and blindfolded, shot there, and tumbled forward and covered up with soil,” he said.

The witness said that not all the bodies were blindfolded and bound, but that “again, there is that consistency.”

He said there was nothing to indicate that the bodies had been collected together from different locations.

“At the execution point of Kravica warehouse, when [the bodies] were taken to the primary grave, they reflected that they had been killed at the warehouse,” he said. “Pieces of the warehouse, machinery, straw – evidence that followed those bodies from the warehouse to the primary mass graves and to the secondary mass graves.”

As investigators, Manning said, “we were looking for indications that these individuals were killed in battle, and what we saw was that they were held captive, executed and buried”.

During the cross-examination, Mladic’s defence lawyer Dragan Ivetic asked the witness whether he played any role in “drafting, preparing or revising” the indictments against the accused or against other individuals indicted for Srebrenica-related crimes.

Manning replied that he did not believe he had been involved in the Mladic indictment, but that he was part of the Srebrenica investigations team for almost four years.

“In that period, I believe we amended indictments against a number of individuals. I would have been part of that process as a member of the team… [to] provide information or review material to make sure it was correct as far as we were aware,” he said. “Yes, I would have been part of that process [but] I can’t remember specific instances.”

Ivetic asked the witness whether he had a “personal interest” in seeing defendants convicted under indictments that he helped revise.

To this, Manning said, “I came to the tribunal because I wished to be part of an investigation for war crimes…. I had an involvement and an interest in seeing those investigations carried to their conclusions, which is in this courtroom.”

Ivetic pressed him again on the point, saying, “I understand as an investigator – but do you think you have a personal interest as a witness to see these indictments, which you assisted in drafting or amending, come to fruition with the convictions of persons under the same [indictments]?”

“I don’t think that’s up to me,” Manning said. “I’m presenting my evidence and my information and what I know before the court with the hope that the outcome will be based on what was presented to the court. I don’t think it’s correct to say I have a personal interest outside my employment or being a witness in this court.”

The trial continues next week.

Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.

More IWPR's Global Voices