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

Witness Alleges Bosniaks Left Srebrenica "Voluntarily"

Expert witness brought in Tolimir defence case argues that number of victims was exaggerated.
By Velma Šarić
  • Ratko Skrbic, testifying for Tolimir’s defence. (Photo: ICTY)
    Ratko Skrbic, testifying for Tolimir’s defence. (Photo: ICTY)

The trial of former Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, general Zdravko Tolimir continued this week with testimony from an expert witness who told the court that Bosniaks left Srebrenica “voluntarily” in July 1995.

Ratko Skrbic, a former VRS officer who testified for Tolimir’s defence as an expert on the 1995 events in Srebrenica, also said that official reports about the number of Bosniak victims after the enclave’s takeover by Serb forces were greatly inflated.

Tolimir is charged with eight counts including genocide, extermination, murder, and the forced transfer and deportation of Bosniaks from the eastern Bosnian enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa in July 1995.

He was assistant commander for intelligence in the VRS main staff, reporting directly to the army’s commander Ratko Mladic. Mladic is currently facing trial for genocide at the Hague tribunal.

Skrbic did not reveal many details about himself in court, apart from stating that he was a retired VRS colonel who began dealing with the events in Srebrenica “while working with the defence team of Radivoje Miletic”.

Miletic was the chief of operations and training on the VRS main staff when Srebrenica fell to Serb forces in July 1995. In June 2010, the Hague tribunal sentenced him to 19 years in prison for his role in the Srebrenica massacre in which around 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed.

Skrbic is the author of the book “Srebrenica – Genocide Against the Truth” which was published last year. Explaining the reasons why he wrote this book, Skrbic told the judges that his intention was not to express a political opinion, but rather to demonstrate that the “numbers don't add up”.

The witness also wrote an expert report for Tolimir’s defence, with very similar contents to his book. Explaining the methodology he used when putting this report together, Skrbic said that he had undertaken a “detailed analysis of available documentation from the other side and the UN”.

He then specified that by “the other side” he meant the Bosnian army, Bosnian ministry of defence and the Srebrenica municipal authorities.

“In order to prevent anyone accusing me of being biased, I only used non-Serb sources in my reports,” Skrbic told the court.

He then went on to explain some of the claims he made in the report.

“If we assume that there were 35,632 refugees under UN protection registered in Srebrenica [in 1995], and if we subtract the 25,000 who were evacuated during July 12 and 13 [that year], we end up with 10,632 men,” he said.

“For these 10,000 men, it can be assumed that they came, alive, to Tuzla and continued fighting the VRS as part of the [Bosnian Army’s] Second Corps,” Skrbic continued, although he did not give a reason for the assumption that all of them went to Tuzla.

“There is a report from Rasim Delic [then Bosnian government’s army chief] which states that 5,000 men from Srebrenica went on to join the Second Corps,” Skrbic continued. “This is reliable data.

“Plus, because morale was so bad, and the people [in Srebrenica] were seeing that they were losing the war, most of them decided to leave the enclave voluntarily,” he added.

Skrbic claimed that the wording used by Bosnian officials in relation to these events shows that this was part of a deliberate action.

“The Bosnian authorities asked the UN to ensure the population could ‘leave’ the enclave, not that they could be ‘evacuated’, and this clearly implies that if they ‘leave’ a territory, they do not intend to come back,” Skrbic continued.

“The chaotic situation was caused because on July 11 [1995] everybody wanted to leave the enclave voluntarily and simultaneously,” he added.

In his testimony, Skrbic also explained that “there can be no talk of a one-sided attack by the VRS on Srebrenica, but only of a two-sided conflict”.

He said this was a fact that was often ignored.

“It can be seen from the documents that the 28th Division [of the Bosnian army], which was stationed in Srebrenica, was illegally receiving weapons under the watch of the international peacekeepers, and nobody did anything about it,” the witness said.

Skrbic also lamented what he called “a one-sided picture of Bosnian Muslims as the victims of a ‘genocide’ in Srebrenica”. He argued that his findings were supported by enough evidence to show that this was not the case.

Tolimir, who is representing himself in court, asked the witness whether he was familiar with a book by Philip Corwin named “Dubious Mandate: A Memoir of the UN in Bosnia, Summer 1995”. Corwin served as the UN’s chief political officer in Sarajevo during the relevant period.

Tolimir put it to the witness that Corwin wrote this book “to ensure a balanced view of what really happened and challenged in it the depiction of a ‘noble victim’ in the war”.

Skrbic answered that he was familiar with the book, and said that although he had not used it for his own research, he believed it “very much confirms the correctness of my methodology and approach”.

The trial will continue with the cross-examination of the expert witness by the prosecution.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.