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

Karadžić i Milošević predvideli masakr u Srebrenici

Day 256
The first Srebrenica survivor testimony in the Milosevic trial was read in summary by Prosecutor Stefan Wespi. Witness B-1399 returned from work in Serbia to his native Bosnia for the Muslim holiday of Bajram in 1993. War made his efforts to return to his work of 15 years impossible. He was one of the refugees caught in Srebrenica when it fell to the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) in July 1995. The witness joined 10,000 to 15,000 men who fled through the woods towards Tuzla, for fear they would be killed by the victorious Serb forces. On the second day, the column of men were ambushed near the Bratunac - Konjevic Polje Road and ordered to surrender. The witness found himself with 2000 to 2500 other prisoners in the Sandici meadow, where about 50 Serb soldiers took their money and belongings.

General Ratko Mladic arrived around 7:30 and assured them they would be exchanged for Serbian prisoners. The men were put on buses and trucks and taken to Bratunac, where they spent the night. From his position inside the truck, B-1399 witnessed Serb soldiers call out individuals by name and take them to a nearby garage. He heard thuds, screaming and the firing of automatic weapons, followed by silence.

In the morning, the trucks and buses were driven in a convoy of about 30 vehicles to Zvornik. They stopped at the Grbavci schoolyard and were taken into the gymnasium where they joined 7-800 men. By the end of the unloading, 2000 men filled the temporary detention center. Some of their guards identified themselves as 'Karadzic's young Chetniks.'

From the Gymnasium, they were blindfolded with rags and taken out in groups of 30 where they were loaded into a truck with regulation police or military license plates in cyrillic. Taken nearby, they were ordered out of the truck, lined up and the firing began. The man next to B-1399 was hit and fell on him, causing B-1399 to fall to the ground under him. It saved his life. He lay there listening as men still moving were shot, and machinery was brought in to load the bodies and excavate the grave sites. One wounded man begged his executioners to finish him off, but was answered by a soldier's words of refusal, 'Slowly, slowly.'

B-1399 made his escape when another survivor rose up and ran for the woods. The other man didn't make it, but B-1399 did. He remained nearby until almost dawn, and was able to make out a lot of bodies and clothing in the moonlight. Eventually after a 10 day walk, he made his way to 'free territory.'

The witness was able to identify one of the executioners by name, Gojko Simic, because he had worked with him for 15 years in Serbia. The names of two others were called out. He estimated that 6 or 7 men were involved in the execution near the Grbavci School. He described one of the men inside the Gymnasium as a soldier wearing a red beret with Serbian nationalist insignia (4 'C's' -- 'Only Unity Saves the Serbs' -- on a cross in cyrillic).

It took Milosevic a good part of his cross examination time before he asked the witness a relevant question. His initial questions were directed to exposing attacks on Serb villages by Bosniak forces. He listed names of Serbs allegedly killed, asking B-1399 if he knew them. The witness did not. Milosevic described mutilated bodies from an alleged massacre of Serbs in November 1992 near the witness's home. B-1399 was in Serbia until March 1993, prompting Judge May to interrupt. 'I do not know the purpose of this cross examination. You have heard his evidence and are not challenging it. You are trying to put up a counter case.'

The admonition did not deter Milosevic, who began questioning B-1399 about Bosniak attacks against Serb villages staged from the safe area of Srebrenica. When Judge May asked him the relevance, Milosevic responded, 'It was from this safe area that the most horrific crimes were committed against the Serbs.' That does not make them relevant in this case, as the Judge pointed out. 'What is the relevance of that in relation to the crimes committed at Srebrenica and the massacre? Are you saying it was justified? Or an excuse? Otherwise, it has no relevance that the other side committed crimes.' The Accused agreed that one crime cannot justify another, but he insisted that the context had to be understood. Judge May disagreed, reiterating that such context can only provide an explanation, which is not relevant to the charges in the indictment.

This highlights a central point of contention between Milosevic and the Court, which has added substantially to the length of the trial. Milosevic does not acknowledge that the Court has authority to try him and, therefore, he is not mounting a defense per se. Instead, he has brought the Serbian nation into the dock where he insists on defending them. From his point of view, crimes against Serbs are relevant in this proceeding to establish that they alone were not responsible for crimes, that they have received bad press and have been unfairly blamed as the primary aggressors in all the Yugoslav wars. The irony is obvious. Milosevic has been accused as an individual (as have all others indicted by the Tribunal) precisely to remove any specter of collective guilt. Blaming Serbs (or Muslims or Croats) for the wars, ethnic cleansing, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity perpetuates the destructive ethno-nationalism that stoked the wars to begin with.

As Milosevic persists on defending 'the Serbs' who have not been accused, he perpetuates ethnic divisions and ethnic blame. In this guise, the war continues without arms.

But Milosevic has not entirely turned away from his own defense. Eventually, he found some relevant questions to put to the witness. As Judge May suggested to him, one of the most relevant questions about the Srebrenica massacres is 'who did this?' [Milosevic does not contest that the massacres happened, and he made little effort to question the witness's credibility.] Milosevic attempted to get the witness to distinguish between regular VRS forces and those who committed atrocities. While B-1399 agreed that the VRS helped evacuate the women, children and some of the elderly men, he would not exonerate the regular army from participation in the massacres. Milosevic made a half-hearted attempt to question the credibility of the witness's statement, which he didn't pursue when B-1399 was able to explain apparent inconsistencies or illogical actions. Nor could he be discredited for having no adequate answer to the question he must have asked himself many times since the events: 'how did you survive when so many thousands were killed?'

Since Milosevic does not contest that massacres happened at Srebrenica, he could forego all questioning of survivors except that related to who committed the crimes. He would save court time and, more importantly, reduce the trauma to Srebrenica survivors who have been called on multiple times to relive the horrors they experienced. Deciding which side committed the most and worst crimes is not a task for this Tribunal -- nor is it a burden that should be placed on for the survivors of those crimes, whatever their nationality.