Hiding Bodies

12. April 2013.00:00
Testifying at Ratko Mladic’s trial, former Chief Hague Prosecution Investigator Jean-Rene Ruez describes the discovery of several locations at which, according to the indictment and previous International Tribunal’s verdicts, Serb forces shot thousands of captured Muslims from Srebrenica in July 1995.

While presenting numerous photographs and satellite images, Ruez said that the bodies of killed people were transferred from mass graves in the vicinity of scaffolds to about twenty secondary mass graves later on in an attempt to prevent the discovery of those bodies.

On the third day of his testimony Ruez said that, in 1996 and 1997 he participated in the discovery of seven secondary graves, where victims of shooting in Orahovac village were buried, 13 graves, containing bodies of people killed on Branjevo farm, and three graves, containing the remains of Muslims shot in Kozluk. All of the executions were committed by the Republika Srpska Army, VRS, between July 14 and 17, 1995.

The then VRS Commander Mladic is charged with genocide against about 7,000 Muslims from Srebrenica. According to the charges, about 1,200 prisoners were killed on Branjevo farm, while about 1,000 prisoners were killed in Orahovac. The same number of victims was shot in Kozluk and near the school building in Rocevici.

Investigator Ruez said that a location near the dam in Karakaj was discovered on the basis of statements given by survivors. According to the charges, about 1,000 Muslims, who had previously been detained in the school building in Petkovci, were shot at that location on July 14, 1995. Ruez said that human bones, skulls and many bullet capsules were found on the ground surface at that location in 1997. As he said, those objects were compared to those found in mass graves later on.

The witness said that, on the basis of glass bottle parts and labels found next to the bodies in secondary mass graves near Cancari, the investigators discovered a scaffold and primary mass grave near Kozluk in the vicinity of the “Vitinka” juice factory.

Hague investigators found out about the execution of more than 1,000 Muslims on Branjevo military farm from Drazen Erdemovic, who told them, in 1996, that he participated in the shooting on July 16, 1995. Erdemovic admitted guilt for crimes in Srebrenica. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

In March 1996 Ruez and his team found bullet capsules, remains of one body, shoes with human bones in them and other objects on corn fields in Branjevo. The witness said that US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was present at the crime location on that occasion. Prosecutor Peter McCloskey then presented a note from Mladic’s wartime diary written on March 22, 1996.

Mladic wrote down what Republika Srpska, RS, President Radovan Karadzic said: “They organised a big show for Albright. She expected to find 1,200 bodies, but they only found five”.

According to Ruez’ testimony, Erdemovic also informed them about the execution of about 500 Muslims from Srebrenica in the Cultural Centre in Pilica, near the Branjevo farm.

At the beginning of cross-examination Mladic’s Defence attorney Branko Lukic suggested to the witness that, following the occupation of Srebrenica, VRS did not capture more than “4,050” Muslims. Ruez responded by saying that he was “pleased to hear the Defence attorney say that 4,050 Muslim men were captured”. Lukic said that it was not the Defence’s statement, but a sum of captives mentioned in witnesses’ statements.

Mladic is also charged with the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, terror against civilians in Sarajevo by long-lasting shelling and sniping and taking members of international peace forces hostage.

The trial of Mladic is due to continue on Monday, April 15.

Radoša Milutinović