Genocide under the UN Flag - Srebrenica 1995-2009
Author: Dženana Karup-Druško
Uploaded: Sunday, 16 August, 2009
Moving account by a Sarajevo journalist, herself from an ethnically cleansed family, of her first attendance at the annual commemoration - and reburial of newly identified victims - of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Her report includes horrific testimony from survivors concerning their lost ones and their own experiences.
In July 1995, after the fall of Srebrenica, I left besieged Sarajevo for Tuzla, where a tent camp had been set up for the surviving people of Srebrenica. I left the city with a tunnel pass signed by the then security officer of the 1st Corps of the Bosnian Army, Sead Čudić, and wearing an army uniform to facilitate travel. After several transfers and a journey that lasted nearly two days, I finally arrived at Dubrava. The airport was under UNPROFOR control and it was they who decided who could come in. Looking ironically at my uniform and the proffered press card, they told me curtly: ‘Local journalists are not allowed in.’
As I waited hoping that the soldiers might change their mind, a group of foreign journalists turned up and were welcomed in by the UNPROFOR men with a smile and no questions asked. I found myself afterwards in many even more delicate situations, but don’t recall ever feeling quite so humiliated. I retreated, my head bowed and with tears in my eyes. Revolted by what they saw, my friends from Tuzla, who had brought me to the airport, told me they would find a way for me to enter the airport. We circled around by car until we saw a hole in the fence. I squeezed through. I will never forget the picture I saw next: though it was daylight, all the searchlights at the airport were lit up. UNPROFOR soldiers and officers were marching up and down the concrete paths in spick-and-span uniforms and shining boots. I was reminded for a moment of SS troops in American movies. Only a few steps away from them, stuck in deep mud, were white tents made out of synthetic fibre, full of mothers, sisters, wives... They told me about their missing relatives, about the killings, about the hell through which they had passed. I watched them with my eyes full of tears as I listened to their talk of the horrible deaths they had witnessed.
Losing three sons
A mother with two small children sat in a flooded tent that I found hard to reach even with my army boots, wading through the deep mud. ‘We were in Potočari. On the second day, around ten in the morning, I was sitting with the children, having laid out some food. Five of them turned up. They pointed to my son and asked him to go with them for questioning. I told them he was not yet fifteen. He was still at school. They took him away. I followed them. One of the soldiers looked back and asked me if I would like them to take my son to Kladanj. Of course, I said, I’d give my eye for it. He told me that everything was fine, and I went back. Soon after a woman came up and said that ‘they are butchering people further along, in the wheat field’. Five or six of them rushed off to see if one of their relatives was involved. There was a block laid out among the wheat, a metre or two wide. A dozen heads that had been cut off were laid out on it. Around it were bodies in their last throes. Blood. Blood everywhere. A Chetnik [member of the Army of Republika Srpska, VRS] ordered it to be washed down. The others took cans and began to pour water. The blood spilt across the ripening wheat. There was a body nailed to the block. Its throat had been cut. The head was still attached. They had not quite cut through. He was nailed alive. They had slaughtered my son. I was screaming. They tried to shoo me away. But I could not leave. Nothing mattered to me any longer, they could kill me too.’
That evening her second son was taken away. He was twenty. ‘I entered the house as they were taking him away. The Chetniks were pushing me away. I wouldn’t leave. There were seven or eight of our people there. They lined them up for the slaughter. While one of the Chetniks held them, another would thrust his knife into their necks, from the side. The one who was holding them would then cut across their throat and throw down the body. I screamed when I saw my son among them: ‘My son!’ He saw me. He opened his arms towards me. A Chetnik grabbed him, stuck his knife into his neck, the other cut his throat. The blood spurted out.’
She was crying as she spoke. She was unable to continue. She sighed and talked to herself. At some point I realised she was talking to her dead son. Her eyes were open but she did not see me. She started to sob, which appeared to soothe her a little. She next looked at me and said: ‘I drank more of his blood than of water at Potočari.’
This unhappy mother lost yet another son, her third. She had no idea where he was. Nor her husband who was kept back at Potočari. They took him away, crowding them into the buses. The youngest son, who was then three years old, was in his father’s arms. He was crying, not wishing to leave his father. A Chetnik seized him and threw him on the asphalt. Another kicked him with his foot. This unhappy woman wouldn’t tell me her name, out of fear, she said, that it might harm the son and husband for whom she was waiting. They never came.
I have no one left
The entry of Serb tanks and soldiers dressed in UN uniforms on 10 July 1995 from the direction of Zeleni Jadro into the Srebrenica hamlet of Petrič broke the agreement of 8 May 1993 according to which the UN had promised the Bosnian government to protect this enclave on the Drina. Within 48 hours all of the Bosniak population was driven out of the area. Around 30,000 people from Srebrenica were driven out of their homes. Some places disappeared, as have the people. Some families were totally destroyed. Around 8,000 people went missing. What happened to them is testified to by the Potočari Memorial Centre and the thousands of graves in a cemetery where the discovered remains of the victims of this horrific crime have kept being buried each year. There were 534 funerals this year alone.
I make my way to Srebrenica for the first time, on 10 July 2009. We enter Potočari. I gaze at the former factories: Cinkara, Akumulatorka, Ekspres Transport. Thousands of people were imprisoned in them in 1995. Most of them were murdered. The sun shines in Potočari, but I feel chilled, remembering what the Srebrenica survivors told me: ‘On the second night the Chetniks got among the people at the UNPROFOR camp. Panic ensued. People were fleeing, leaping over each other, children were crying, women screaming for help. As if the devil himself had turned up among us. They kicked, stamped, dragged out girls to rape them, killed the men.’ Ratko Mladić came to Srebrenica and said that everything would be fine. Mensura Osmović said she heard him herself. He brought chocolate. As the children extended their hands, he would give it to them. On the following they he brought television, distributed chocolate again. Mensura spent that night under a burnt-out bus watching people being led away. They were driven off in the direction of Bratunac. I heard a young man call out: ‘Help me, mother! The Chetniks are butchering me.’
At around seven o’clock in the evening on 10 July 2009, 543 coffins are brought from the Memorial Centre basement and taken to the cemetery where they will be buried the next day. The coffins passed from one man to the next, for over an hour. A four-year-old girl stands by a coffin saying Al-Fâtiha. When she finishes she asks her mother as she points to the next coffin: ‘Mother, shall I say it also for this uncle?’ Her mother answers her in tears: ‘Do, my child, they are all our dead.’ The girl’s mother is called Dževada Mašić. She whispers to me as she sobs: ‘They murdered the whole of my family. I have no one left.’ I look at her and cry. I recall my own dead, who were killed a little further along the Drina, in Goražde and Foča, and think about what she tells me in her firm voice: ‘May they be damned! Let them have no peace in this world or the next.’ As a small girl, she was holding her father by the hand as the Chetniks wrenched him away. For ever. ‘They took him away at this very place. They killed my grandfather and his five sons. My father’s bones have not been found, so I can’t bury him. I have buried only one uncle. Tomorrow I will bury my grandfather.’
An old man wearing a French beret is sitting by a coffin. I ask him quietly: ‘Grandpa, whom are you burying?’ ‘My son.’, he whispers. He was born in 1961. I have no wish to question him further, and sit next to him in silence. The old man, Behadil Čardaković, tells me: ‘They found him in Zvornik. His wife has re-married and has gone to America. I haven’t seen either son or grandson since 1993. I have asked my grandson to come back ...’.
Five years for shooting one thousand
A woman, her head covered, sits a little further away. They tell me she is burying her third son. She says nothing, only wipes her weeping eyes with a handkerchief. I crouch next to her and squeeze her hand, saying nothing. What can one ask a mother who has lost three sons? She looks at me and says: ‘My child, there is nothing I can tell you. I know how I feel..’.
The women sitting next to her count their dead: one lost her husband and two brothers, another her mother-in-law and brothers-in-law, a third brothers and nephews, a fourth a son and a husband, a fifth uncles, a child... One of them says: ‘Let Allah punish them for this!’
Dražen Erdemović, soldier of the 10th commando unit of the Bosnian Serb Army was sentenced by the Hague tribunal to five years in prison, after confessing that he had taken part in the murder of 1,200 men and himself killed seventy. This was the first Hague verdict on the crimes committed in Srebrenica. Erdemović pathetically declared in the courthouse: ‘I feel sorry for all the victims, not only those who were killed on the farm.’ Because of his confession and his readiness to cooperate, Erdemović’s sentence was scandalously low. Should the victims be happy with this justice? After serving his sentence in Norway, Erdemović was released in 2000.
Erdemović testified at the trial of Momčilo Perišić, chief of staff of the Army of Yugoslavia at the time of the Srebrenica massacre, who was charged with aiding and abetting the crime. Erdemović told the court: ‘On 16 July, five days after the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) had taken Srebrenica, at the farm of Branjevo near Zvornik we shot the Bosniaks who had been brought in, on the orders of officer Brane Gojković. The unit’s commander was lance-corporal Milorad Pelemiš, who took orders from Petar Salapura, intelligence chief of the main staff of the VRS. Some of the soldiers of the 10th commando platoon had been trained in late 1994 at the [Serbian] Army of Yugoslavia’s barracks in Pančevo. The victims were men between 15 and 60 years of age and were all wearing civilian clothes. They were taken under military police guard in groups of 10 from 15 or 20 buses and shot in the back on a field outside the farm, only one of them offering resistance. My unit was firing from 10.00 until 14.00 or 15.00, when the killing was continued by another unit from Bratunac.’
Erdemović testified also at the trial of General Radislav Krstić, former commander of the Drina Corps. The Hague tribunal sentenced Krstić to 35 years in prison. Krstić was the highest ranking officer found guilty for taking part in genocide. The intelligence chief of the VRS, Zdravko Tolimir, was also charged. The tribunal in The Hague has found guilty also four VRS commanders for the crime in Srebrenica: Momir Nikolić, Dragan Obrenović, Vidoje Blagojević and Dragan Jokić who were sentenced respectively to 20, 17, 15 and 9 years in prison. The latest indictment against Radovan Karadžić accuses him of committing the gravest of crimes, including genocide, deportations, killings and other acts against humanicty committed during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 27 municipalities including that of Srebrenica.
Questions that remain unanswered
Ten years after Srebrenica, the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina confirmed its first charge for genocide. The indictment charged Miloš Stupar, Milenko Trifunović, Petar Mitrović, Aleksandar Radovanović, Miladin Stevanović, Brano Džinić, Slobodan Jakovljević, Branislav Medan, Dragoša Živanović, Velibor Maksimović and Milovan Matić with crimes committed in the Peasant Association building in Kravice. They were sentenced to 284 years in prison, but four of them were found not guilty. Last year the Bosnia-Herzegovina Court issued another verdict for the crimes in Srebrenica: Mladen Blagojević was sentenced to seven years in prison, while Zdravko Božić, Željko Zarić and Zoran Živanović were set free. The charge was that as members of the military police of the Bratunac VRS light infantry brigade they took part in deportations, killings, and guarding the premises in which Bosniaks from Srebrenica were kept after 11 July 1995. As for those set free, the court argued that ‘the Bosnia-Herzegovina prosecution did not prove their presence’ at the place where the victims were imprisoned, and the court did not ‘quite believe’ its witnesses.
Last year the Bosnia-Herzegovina Court confirmed the indictment charging Zoran Tomić, a former member of the second battalion of the Š eković special police, with participation in the Srebrenica genocide. It charged Tomić also that on 13 July 1995 he took part in an attack on a column of Bosniaks, forcing them to surrender, and with capturing several thousand of the men from Srebrenica, of whom around one thousand were taken away and shot in the Peasant Association depot at Kravice. The Bosnia-Herzegovina Court filed a charge of genocide committed in Srebrenica against Željko Ivanović, called Arkan, a former member of the second battalion of the Republika Srpska special police, for participating on 13 July 1995 in the arrest and killing of more than one thousand of the men and boys from Srebrenica at the Peasant Association premises in Kravice.
The mothers of Srebrenica have initiated proceedings against the UN troops for the genocide that took place in Srebrenica, stating among other things: ‘Around 10,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically killed in only a few days by the army of the Bosnian Serbs commanded by Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić. At this time the indicted UN representatives and officials refused deliberately and treacherously to take any measure to prevent the genocide in the Srebrenica "safe area".’
Are the people of Srebrenica happy with the verdicts handed down and the current legal initiatives? Naturally they are not, for, as they say: ‘Thousands of people were killed and this could not be committed by the few dozen who have been imprisoned. What about the others? Will they ever be called to account, or will it all end with the shameless sentencing of the immediate executors? What about their superiors? When will it be finally acknowledged that Serbia was involved in it all?’ There is no sign that the victims’ questions will be answered any time soon.
Where are my children?
On 11 July 2009 Fatima Halilović buried her second brother. Two places were left next to them for the two that have not yet been found. Two of those who were found lay close to the surface in the area of Cerska. On 11 July 1995 Fatima set off with her daughters to seek the protection of UNPROFOR. She stopped one of them: ‘He was black - I don’t know if he was Dutch. Not knowing English, I told the older girl to ask where we should go. The soldier said: "Where the big chief directs." I don’t know who the big chief was. It might have been Milošević or Mladić. They drove us at this time to Potočari, many people having died on the way to the place. We walked over dead bodies. Shells were exploding, troop carriers were passing. We were next bussed to liberated territory, but the men had been separated and killed.’
The Serb forces moved the dead around several times over. The body of one of the dead at the funeral was made up of parts found at eleven different locations. In 1992 Suada Mujić left Srebrenica with two of her children and two of her brothers-in-law. But she was caught in Serbia, after which she was sent to the Palić camp at Subotica, which she left, she says, thanks to Fadil Banjović. She left behind in Srebrenica her husband, three brothers-in-law, three sisters-in-law, and her mother-in-law. One of her brothers-in-law, Mevludin Mujić, was killed in 1994, while another, Muharem, fled and ended up in the United States. Her husband and the third, Smajo, disappeared. Her father’s remains were found in Kamenica. ‘It is one graveyard after another. One searches through the bones and material in the hope of recognising something. I turned everything over last year and found my father. I recognised him from his clothes. His skull had been crushed. In his pocket I found a watch, a metal tobacco box, a lighter and his glasses with one of the lenses missing - we found it later in his pocket. I found my husband in Čančare near Zvornik. That was just a bit of his legs. The rest was found in Kamenica, albeit not the neck and the head. Last Friday, on the 11th, they found in Kamenica also his head. There was no sign of a bullet, but his right teeth had been smashed.’
Suada’s mother-in-law died on 29 May of this year. She did not witness the discovery of her son’s remains. Suada says: ‘During the old [World War II] war, her immediate family was killed in Višegrad. She fled as an orphan to Srebrenica, where she was adopted by some people who did not have children of their own. She got married there and lived to see a war during which her whole family perished again. Many members of our family perished in Višegrad too. Mijesira Memišević, my mother-in-law’s cousin, lost both of her children, 17-year-old Meliha and 12-year-old Edin. She testified at the court in The Hague, and faced the criminal who had murdered her children. She told him: ‘I will not proclaim you guilty, but only tell me where my children are so that I can bury them.’ Eleven members of the immediate family of Suada’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law died in Srebrenica.
Why was it necessary for so many people to die on 11 July 1995? Many of the people of Srebrenica are asking this question. One of our interlocutors says that it would have been better if Srebrenica had fallen in 1992 to Arkan’s men. ‘Two or three thousand of us would perhaps have perished then, but the rest would have survived.’ Could more have been done from the military point of view? Not wishing to speak about what he did after 1995, some refer to the departure of Naser Orić, the commander who was an unchallenged authority in Srebrenica and who also dared to undertake forays at the head of his soldiers. His departure on the eve of Srebrenica’s fall many consider catastrophic - they are sure that everything would have been different had he been there. The fact is, however, that Srebrenica had many brave fighters.
Ejub Golić was a battalion commander in Srebrenica. He led the convoy of soldiers and civilians who moved towards Tuzla after the fall of Srebrenica. The column was over two kilometres long. It marched at night. The people held onto each other’s sleeves in order not to get lost. Shells fell all round them. The dead were left by the road, and the wounded carried on. On the entry to Koljević Polje, someone from the column moved a desiccated old trunk leaning against another. There was much noise: those on whom the trees fell began to scream. A shell fell at this moment in the nearest vicinity. Chaos and panic ensued. The people fled in all directions. This was the first break-down of the column. One of the few who tried to organise and collect the people, say the survivors, was Commander Golić. At Konjević Polje he managed to put the column back together. He said then that no wounded would be left behind. And they weren’t. He would go back for the people. Entreated them to endure, not to surrender. The people trusted him. They followed behind him. He got killed in the last ambush. When his soldiers heard of his death, several of them threw themselves at the tanks. And they succeeded. They broke through the Serb line. The path was open for several thousand people from Srebrenica, but not for Commander Golić. His fighters and compatriots say, however, that they remember him. They insist: ‘He will always be our hero.’ And not only theirs.
Those who went with the army through the forest came to the base in Potočari. Hasan Nuhanovićspoke later about the role of the Dutch battalion in the Srebrenica massacre: ‘The UNPROFOR base was enormous and could receive the whole of the population that sought protection. They let in five or six thousand, while the rest was left to the mercy of the Serb forces which arrived at Potočari. Years later various excuses are being cited for this decision. One of them is that the base could not accommodate 25,000 people. I have filed a charge against Holland because of this decision, for it was possible to save the people. It is complicity in crime, in my view. They drove people out of the base into the murderous arms of the Serbs. They were taken to the stadium in Bratunac, where most of them were killed. As they left they were frisked by Dutch soldiers in full battle dress, who insisted they should leave behind anything that could be considered as potential weapons. The women too surrendered nail scissors, pencils...’ Nuhanović said in conclusion: ‘This is the only genocide in history that occurred under the UN flag.’
Not even half of those missing have been buried at Potočari. They are still being sought.
On my return from Potočari, I walked through a police line. A Serb police line. Wearing Serb uniforms. Carrying Serb insignia. I recall the words of Zijad Bećirović, one of the participants at the conference ‘Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina - Consequences of the International Court of Justice Verdict’ held in Srebrenica, who in his paper ‘Are we cohabiting with war criminals?’ asked: ‘How many of those who are policing this meeting took part in the Srebrenica genocide?’
Translated from the independent weekly Dani.(Sarajevo), 17 July 2009