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

Tomasica Mass Graves Indicate Ethnic Cleansing

Demographer tells Hague tribunal that victims “died violent deaths in extremely dramatic circumstances”.
By Daniella Peled
  • Polish demographer Ewa Tabeau giving evidence in the Mladic trial at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)
    Polish demographer Ewa Tabeau giving evidence in the Mladic trial at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)

An expert witness in the trial of former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic maintained this week that individuals in a mass grave in Tomasica were killed as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The prosecution case against Mladic at the Hague tribunal has been reopened to call additional evidence relating to a mass grave near the town of Prijedor.

Prijedor is listed in the indictment, together with Foca, Kljuc, Kotor Varos, Sanski Most, and Vlasenica as a location of crimes that amounted to genocide. The Srebrenica massacre comes under a separate count of genocide. Prosecutors allege that Mladic is responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible population transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.

Polish demographer Ewa Tabeau has written at length about the war’s demographic effects, and has testified in several trials at the Hague tribunal. In her report on the Tomasica graves, she identified a number of the bodies found in the grave as victims who had been killed in attacks on Bosniak (Bosnian) Muslim villages, in what prosecutors claim was a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Defence lawyer Dragan Ivetic began his cross-examination by asking Tabeau about the sources she used to write her expert report, including data gathered by pathologist Dr John Clark, who recently testified in the reopened prosecution case.

Tabeau said Dr Clark’s data about the causes of death of the exhumed bodies had been “invaluable”.

Ivetic asked her how she had been able to differentiate between violent deaths occurring in combat and in ethnic cleansing, the term she had used in her report.

“The ethnic cleansing is supported by other findings in my report,” she replied. “I am referring to the part of the report that shows the results of the analysis of missing persons from the Prijedor municipality and Tomasica victims in this context, and also missing persons from the ARK [Autonomous Region of Krajina]. There are very clear findings showing there that non-Serbs were targeted there, especially the Muslims who disappeared in very large numbers [unlike] other ethnic groups – that men actually disappeared in the first place in large numbers, and men of military age between, say, 18 and 65, or something like that.

“So it is a picture that is actually quite indicative of an ethnic cleansing process, I think.”

The defence noted that Tabeau had not considered combat as a cause of death and therefore could not exclude it. Yet she had concluded in her report that ethnic cleansing was the cause of death.

“As I said, I didn’t exclude combat,” the witness replied. “I didn’t draw any conclusions about the combat.”

“Then do you feel that your conclusions as to ethnic cleansing are complete, since you did not take into account the potential impact or role of combat as to the bodies recovered from Tomasica?” Ivetic asked.

“I think the report I made is not about ethnic cleansing, in the first place; it is about the victims of Tomasica,” Tabeau said, at which point Ivetic interrupted her.

“Doctor, I beg to differ. The conclusion I just read is the penultimate conclusion of your report. I put it to you that it is the basic conclusion of your report and it is the key part of the report. If you do not want us to rely on that conclusion, please say so.”

“Well, to me I see a clear picture of ethnic cleansing based on the records I studied, based on the records of missing persons from the Prijedor municipality in particular and from the ARK area as such,” Tabeau replied, noting that “huge number” of victims had gone missing over just a few days in late July 1995.

She went on to insist that “in my view, the deaths the killings of the Tomasica victims were part of the ethnic cleansing. And of course there are quite some results in my report that support ethnic cleansing considerably. I am speaking of ethnic cleansing, from my own experience. It is not the first time that I have been working on the ‘92 victims,” she added, noting that she had also studied other sources of information.

“Well, Doctor, I am really confused,” Ivetic said. “Because you say now, ‘in my view the killing of the Tomasica victims were part of the ethnic cleansing’. On the other hand, Dr Clark says… that he cannot even exclude the possibility that all persons exhumed from Tomasica were the result of combat. And yet you told us that you did not consider combat, you did not look at combat, you did not exclude combat. So how can you sit here today and say to a degree of scientific certainty that all the deaths are related to ethnic cleansing, having not even considered combat which Dr Clark – your main source, who you say is invaluable for cause of death – says that he can’t exclude? Explain that for me.”

Tabeau continued to stand by her assessment of the deaths as the result of ethnic cleansing.

“Sir, I can only tell what kind of causes of death were reported for them on sources like Clark and other documents related to the causes of death. I didn’t study any events like combat or other events that led to their deaths,” she said. “What I tried to do was try to define where and when the events were taking place, and in order to learn more about these events, you would need different resources and a different expertise.

“Yet at the same time, from the analysis – my demographic analysis of disappearance data – I still stand by my conclusion that there was ethnic cleansing in these territories at that time,” the witness continued. “Yet again, I cannot tell how every single victim died, whether it was a part of ethnic cleansing campaign or any other event. I can tell you that this was the facts. There was ethnic cleansing, because it is clear from the disappearance information of the victims.”

Ivetic went on to stress that “neither Dr Clark’s nor other autopsy reports listed ethnic cleansing as a cause of death for any of the Tomasica exhumed bodies. That is a word you inserted into the texts”.

Tabeau noted that Clark had reported “short distance gunshots [and] execution gunshots in the back of the head” among the causes of death.

“So that confirms my conclusion, as well as his conclusion, that these deaths were violent. Whether the events were part of the ethnic cleansing campaign – yes, I think they were, because that is what I see from the disappearance information of the victims. This is supportive and highly indicative of an ethnic cleansing campaign in this territory in this period.”

Ivetic went on to raise the issue that it had been impossible to ascertain cause of death for 22 bodies from the Tomasica mine.

Tabeau corrected him, putting the number whose cause of death remained unknown at 86. This was because many bodies had been fragmented when they were moved from the main site in Tomasica to other graves in Jakarina Kose.

She went on to quote from her own report that “all in all, significant evidence was presented in this report which supports the conclusion that all the Tomasica victims died violent deaths in extremely dramatic circumstances, as part of a broader campaign of ethnic cleansing in the Prijedor municipality and as part of the ARK ethnic cleansing campaign”.

She explained that this conclusion was based not only on the brutal way in which individuals had been killed, but also the way their remains were disposed of, dropped into a disused mine and later divided up.

“The bodies were buried in an unmarked grave, without their names listed and without [people] even knowing bodies are buried there,” she said. “So I stand by this statement – all victims died violent deaths, disregarding the fact that for 86 of them the cause of death remains unascertained, and these 86 are body parts, fragments, legs, hands, pieces of bodies found separately in a different location than the rest of the bodies.”

Ivetic then turned to data which listed the ages of 327 of the male victims at Tomasica as between 15 to 60.

“Would you agree with me that this represents over 91 per cent of all remains of males?” he asked.

Tabeau said this sounded correct.

The defence then read from a May 20, 1992 declaration from the Bosnian presidency that “all citizens between 15 and 60 (men) or 55 (women) have the right and obligation to train for defence if fit to attend for training”.

“Would you agree that this means that a significant portion of the 91 per cent of remains that were males between ages 14 and 60 were within the age with an obligation to defend their country and to report for training?” Ivetic asked.

The witness said her purpose had not been to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

After Tabeau completed her evidence, the prosecution rested its case on the Tomasica mass grave and the defence case was allowed to resume.

Daniella Peled is an IWPR editor in London.