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24 August 2009
Analysis

Trbic: Evidence of murders in Srebrenica

Milorad Trbic is the highest-ranking military official to be tried in Sarajevo for crimes committed in Srebrenica in July 1995. The verdict against him might be pronounced as soon as late August.
By: Denis Dzidic

The Prosecution, victims' representatives and the Defence of Milorad Trbic will start presenting their closing arguments on August 24 2009, making it more than twenty months since the beginning of the trial. Under the existing legal regulations, the verdict is due to be pronounced three days later.

Trbic was originally charged before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, under the same indictment as Vinko Pandurevic, Ljubisa Beara, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Milan Gvero, Radivoje Miletic, Drago Nikolic and Vujadin Popovic, former senior officers of the Republika Srpska Army and Police. They were indicted for participating in a criminal enterprise and conspiracy with the aim of committing genocide in Srebrenica. Their trial is still underway.

In June 2007, at the request of the Hague Prosecution, Trbic was transferred to Bosnia and Herzegovina for further processing before its State Court. After the indictment had been adjusted, the trial began in November 2007.

Under the indictment, Trbic is charged in his capacity as former Assistant Commander for Security with the Zvornik Brigade of the Republika Srpska Army, VRS, and is said to be responsible for commanding the Military Police Squad from July 11 to November 1, 1995, with having participated, in collaboration with other members of the VRS and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in the execution of more than 7,000 Bosniaks.

Testifying for the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Richard Butler, an investigator with the Hague Tribunal, presented the results of research indicating that Trbic executed his tasks “with detailed knowledge on what was happening in Srebrenica”.

A former military observer with the United Nations in Srebrenica in July 1995, Kenyan Colonel Joseph Kingori testified as Prosecution witness. He said that the VRS forces seized Srebrenica on July 11, 1995.

“This was a unilateral attack. The shooting came from the Serb positions only,” Kingori said, recalling what he saw at the time.

“In the morning hours on July 12 a Serbian delegation, led by Ratko Mladic, arrived to Potocari. It singled out men and even 13 or 14 years old boys and placed them in 'Bijela kuca’. This was not a big house, but they pushed thousands of men into it,” Kingori said.

The indictment alleges that Trbic, “acting in collaboration with other VRS soldiers”, captured about 15 Bosniaks on July 12, 1995 and took them to “a building, known as ‘Bijela kuca’” in Potocari, where he allegedly questioned them and superintended their execution.

The Hague Tribunal is still seeking for Mladic, former Commander of the VRS Supreme Headquarters.

Witnesses said that women and children were transported by bus from Potocari to the free territory controlled by the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while men were captured and detained in the Kravica agricultural cooperative building, school building and cultural centre in Pilica, schools in Bratunac and Orahovica, as well as other locations where mass killings took place.

Prosecution witness Luka Markovic said that, on July 13, 1995 “16 or 17 buses” driving captured Bosniaks, arrived at the Agricultural Cooperative in Kravica. He said that the men were detained in the hangar during the course of the day, adding that the shooting started in the evening hours.

“First we heard short shooting. Then much more vigorous shooting began. It was all done in 20 minutes,” Markovic said.

Seven former members of special police forces were sentenced, by a first instance verdict pronounced by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to a total of 284 years’ imprisonment for the murder of more than 1,000 Bosniaks in Kravica, while four of them were acquitted of all charges.

Another Prosecution witness, Tanacko Tanic, former treasurer with the VRS Zvornik Brigade Command, told the Court that he knew about the murder of civilians.

“We knew that they were shooting those men. There was no way they were going to be exchanged. When I noticed children among the detainees, I was sorry they did not spare them at least. How can we be considered as true Serb heroes if we shoot kids...” Tanic said.

Defence witnesses Zoran Jovanovic and Dragoje Ivanovic and protected witnesses O1 and O2 denied the allegation that Bosniaks were captured or executed in the zone of responsibility of the VRS Zvornik Brigade.

Munira Subasic, President of the Association of Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves testified at this trial as well. She spoke about the consequences of the Srebrenica genocide.

“Mental pain is the worst kind of pain. We keep asking ourselves what happened or why it happened... Thirteen years later, all our days start by saying who had nightmares about the war or saw in their dreams his or her child or who had been found in one of the graves,” Subasic said.

In February 2009 after having received data on the identification of the genocide victims’ remains, the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina sent 2,500 letters to the injured parties informing them that they could file property and legal requests after the end of the trial.

In order to determine the exact number of identified victims of the Srebrenica genocide, Rifat Kesetovic, Manager of the Podrinje Identification Project, PIP, was examined as the Prosecution’s expert witness. He said that, up to now, 3,737 victims have been identified, while “the identification process is underway for thousands of others”.

“I have been informed that a large number of findings are being processed at the moment. The exact number of victims is therefore much higher. The actual number is close to 6,200 people. The number I am talking about, i.e. 3,737, refers to those people for whom we had issued records on identification and death certificates before the end of last year,” Kesetovic explained.

After having received “several hundreds of property and legal requests” the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced that six, out of 19 legal teams representing the injured parties’ families wanted to present their closing arguments. This request was approved.

The Trial Chamber rendered a decision referring the injured parties’ to file legal suits, “irrespective of the final outcome of this trial”.

Denis Dzidic is BIRN - Justice Report journalist. [email protected] Justice Report is BIRN weekly online publication.
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