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15 October 2009

Srebrenica Survivors Await Next Genocide Verdict

Merima Husejnović BIRN BiH
Two verdicts of genocide have already been pronounced for the slaughter of around 8,,000 men in Srebrenica in 1995. If Milorad Trbic is convicted of the same high crime, it will be a third.

On October 16, the verdict is due to be pronounced before the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina for genocide committed in Srebrenica in the case of Milorad Trbic.

The former Assistant Commander for Security with the Zvornik Brigade of the Republika Srpska Army, VRS, was originally indicted before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, in The Hague.

In June 2007, on a request of the Hague Prosecution, Trbic’s case was transferred to the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina for further processing. He is the highest-ranking member of the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, to be tried before the State Court.

The indictment alleges that in collaboration with other members of the VRS and the Bosnian Serb interior ministry, Trbic took part in the execution of more than 7,000 Bosniaks in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica from July 11 to November 1, 1995.

The remains of more than 6,000 people have been exhumed so far of whom 3,737 have been identified, according to court experts.

During Trbic’s trial the prosecution examined Munira Subasic, among others. A survivor of Srebrenica, she lost 22 members of her family in the massacre and still does not know what happened to some of them.

“The mental suffering is the worst because you keep asking yourself what happened, and why it happened,” she said. “Even now, 13 years on, we start our day by telling each other who dreamt about the war and about her child, and we speak about who has been found in what grave,” Subasic added.

The Prosecution also examined protected witness P21, who took part in the provision of help for the families coming from Srebrenica. “The women are still waiting for answers, this witness said.

“They still hope they will find out what happened. True healing cannot begin until the mourning process has been completed and this process will only be completed once they have found their dearest ones.”
A UN ‘protected’ area:

In April 1993 the United Nations declared Srebrenica and its surroundings a “UN protected zone”, which was supposed to render it safe from armed attacks and other military activities.

Troops from the UN peacekeeping force, UNPROFOR, deployed in the town, tasked with protection of the civilian population. Two years later, in front of the UN troops’ eyes, the UN failed to stop the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War. 

Verdicts already passed down by the ICTY say that in March 1995 the Bosnian Serb leadership under Radovan Karadzic issued orders calling for the creation of “an atmosphere of total lack of safety, unbearable living conditions and lack of perspective for the further continuation of life” in Srebrenica.

After admitting participation in the crimes in Srebrenica, the ICTY sentenced Dragan Obrenovic, former Acting Commander of the Zvornik Infantry Brigade, to 17 years’ imprisonment in December 2003.

“We did not even notice when we were being dragged into the insanity of inter-ethnic animosity… and that death was approaching,” Obrenovic recalled at his trial.

“Death became our reality and unfortunately it became part of our everyday lives… In the storm of horrible disaster and horror, the horror of Srebrenica happened,” he added.

The Tribunal determined that from July 6 to July 11, 1995 the Drina Corps forces shelled, attacked and occupied the Bosniak (Muslim) enclave, triggering the flight of several thousands of women and children to the UN base at Potocari.

Radislav Krstic, Deputy Commander of the Drina Corps, is the only person the ICTY has found guilty of the crime of genocide so far. In April 2004 the court sentenced him to 35 years’ imprisonment for “having helped and supported genocide”.

Verdicts confirm thousands died:

The ICTY is soon due to pronounce another verdict related to Srebrenica, at the trial for genocide of seven officers of the VRS and Bosnian Serb police.

These are Vujadin Popovic, Ljubisa Beara, Drago Nikolic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Radivoje Miletic, Milan Gvero and Vinko Pandurevic. The trial ended in mid-September. 

Besides them, Zdravko Tolimir, former Assistant Commander for Counter-intelligence of the Main Headquarters of the VRS, and Radovan Karadzic, the former Republika Srpska president, are awaiting trials for genocide to begin.

According to the verdict issued against Krstic, Karadzic gave the order on 9 July, 1995 for the Drina Corps to occupy Srebrenica. The verdict says that two days later, Ratko Mladic, Krstic and other VRS officers were “walking the streets of Srebrenica in triumph”.  The hunt for Mladic, charged with genocide and numerous other crimes, goes on as he remains at large.

According to earlier court verdicts, on July 11, 1995 buses and trucks started arriving in Potocari to evacuate about 25,000 women, children and old people to territory controlled by the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It is believed that in parallel with this the VRS forces drew up and implemented a plan for the total elimination of Bosniak men deemed capable of military service.

“The men were detained while their women and children were loaded into buses and forcibly transferred to territory controlled by Muslims,” the verdict against Momir Nikolic said in 2006.

“The forcible transfer was accompanied by the terrorization, humiliation and extremely cruel treatment of people. The detained men were taken from Potocari to be executed.”

After Nikolic admitted guilt in March 2006, the ICTY sentenced the former Assistant Commander for Security and Intelligence Affairs with the VRS Bratunac Brigade to 20 years’ imprisonment for the murder of thousands of Bosniak civilians and the forcible transfer of the population from Srebrenica. 

The Brigade Commander, Vidoje Blagojevic, was sentenced, in May 2007, to 15 years’ imprisonment for “having helped and supported the persecution of Bosniaks from the Srebrenica enclave”.

The ICTY verdicts agree that from July 13 to July 19, 1995 several thousand men were detained or caught and systematically killed in a series of mass executions in the Srebrenica region. 

Serbian forces shot more than 1,000 people detained in the Kravica Agricultural Cooperative hangar, in Kravica village, near Bratunac, on the evening of July 13, 1995.

In the first verdict for genocide pronounced in 2008  before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milenko Trifunovic, Aleksandar Radovanovic and Brano Dzinic were sentenced to 42 years’ imprisonment, Milos Stupar, Slobodan Jakovljevic and Branislav Medan to 40 years and Petar Mitrovic to 38 years’ imprisonment for this crime. At the time, the seven were members of the Second Special Police Squad from Sekovici, commanded by Milos Stupar..

Vaso Todorovic, another member of the Second Squad, was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for the same crime. He signed a guilt admission agreement with the Prosecution. As a result, his crime was qualified as a crime against humanity. 

The trial of three more members of the Second Squad charged with genocide and the murder of the detainees in Kravica is underway before the State Court.

Besides the hangar in Kravica, men from Srebrenica were detained in “Vuk Karadzic” primary school building in nearby Bratunac in the night between July 13 and 14, 1995 where they endured terrible abuse and mistreatment before execution. 

In a first-instance verdict, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sentenced Mladen Blagojevic, former military policeman with the Bratunac Light Infantry Brigade, to seven years’ imprisonment for having opened fire on the school building in which several thousands of men were detained.

The Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina charged Momir Pelemis, Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff of the First Battalion with the Zvornik Brigade, and Slavko Peric, Assistant Commander for Security with the same Brigade, with genocide.

They are charged with having “planned, abetted, ordered and helped” the capture and murder of about 1,200 Srebrenica residents at Branjevo military farm and at the Pilica Centre in Zvornik municipality, where about 600 men were detained. The indictment alleges that the murders were committed on July 15 and 16, 1995.

In May 2007 the ICTY sentenced Dragan Jokic, former Chief of the Engineering Unit with the Zvornik Brigade, to nine years’ imprisonment for having “helped and supported” the murder of men in Branjevo.

Drazen Erdemovic, a former member of the Tenth Reconnaissance Squad with the VRS, admitted having participated in this crime and personally killed about 70 people. In March 1998 he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

“In most cases mass executions were conducted as per a strictly determined formula,” the verdict against Krstic states. “The men were first taken to empty school buildings or warehouses… Right after that and sometimes during the executions machines would arrive and bury the bodies at the execution location or some other nearby location.”

Forensic evidence in cases pertaining to the murders committed in Srebrenica has convinced the ICTY that a total of 7,000 to 8,000 men were executed in July 1995.

Court experts examined before the State Court said they had exhumed the men’s remains from dozens of mass graves over the years.
“Srebrenica town no longer exists. Whose town is it today? Serbian? Muslim? This is the town of dead people,” Miroslav Deronjic said in his statement. “It does not have a present or a future. All it has is its past”.

Deronjic, former President of the Crisis Committee in Bratunac, admitted guilt for crimes committed in village of Glogova in 1992. In July 2005 he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. He died two years later. 

The prosecution has called on the State Court to sentence Trbic to 45 years’ imprisonment, the maximum sentence allowable by law. 

“Although the indictee is a family man, the prosecution considers there are no mitigating circumstances in his case because he has not done anything to help the people suffering from the consequences of the war since 1995,” Prosecutor Kwai Hong Ip said in his closing arguments.

“The only sentence that would demonstrate the horrible nature of this crime and confirm international condemnation of the crime would be the maximum prison sentence of 45 years,” he added.

On the other hand the defence considers that the prosecution has not proved the indictee’s guilt in the trial, which began on November 8, 2007. It urges the court to acquit him of all charges. 

Trbic insists he was not to blame. “I do not fear the truth. I believe it is on my side. I know I performed my duties in line with regulations. The Trial Chamber should determine the same,” he said.

Merima Husejnovic is BIRN – Justice Report journalist. [email protected]. Justice Report is BIRN online weekly publication.

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