July 13, 1995. Bosnians both Muslims as well as Croats rushed to places of their choice for safety. Croats, who had relatives in the mainland of Croatia, sought refuge there and who hadn’t faced Serbian savagery. But a good number of Muslims who had nowhere to go, headed towards Srebrenica to avoid persecution, rape, torture, extermination and killing. Muslim Bosnia and Herzegovina, surrounded by non-Muslim Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, is a country with no friendly country borders as is the case with predominantly Muslim Bangladesh which has no border with any Muslim country. Fear-stricken faces were only looking for the secured places they can take shelter. Unarmed civilians started fleeing. They ran to and fro in face of Serb oppression and persecution. No destination. No future in Europe. To the Bosnians both Muslims and Croats the days were like doomsday. It seemed to be the protracted judgment day for them. Panicked people knew nothing about their crime for which they are being punished and massacred. Moments passed by. More and more news of death, destruction, demonising Muslims, dishonoring of women, maiming of parents and killing of children were running everywhere. Guns, goons and gunpowder were everywhere. Babies were never spared from bayoneting, bombing, brutalities and bizarre behaviour of barbaric Serbs. Sonic boom was an everyday affair along with murder and mayhem. The next day Muslims took shelters with their near and dear ones in the small town of Sebrenica from neighbouring towns like Zepa. The Muslim relatives Drina thought the valley protected by UN soldiers.
But all were in vain. The moments ticked by. Two days to them were like two years. It was July 15. Children came out at a whistling sound. Even Muslim boys who were not supposed to come out in broad daylight because of the insecurity, got out their homes. It was spread in the whole area that Ratko Mladic is distributing chocolates among the children. In the meantime the males from under 15 to old over 65 years were segregated from the women and babies. Ali was over 10 who also came to collect chocolate from Mladic. When Ali was taking chocolate from Mladic his soldiers of Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) killed Ali’s father at a place a blocks away. Ali, who is now 25 years old, told what happened all around Sebrenica on July 15. Slowly the awful day dawned. Not only Ali’s father but also several thousand others were killed one by one on the fateful day.
This killing of unarmed civilians was known as the Srebrenica genocide. More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys, in and around the town of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, by units of VRS under the command of General Ratko Mladić during the Bosnian War, in the largest mass murder committed in Europe since World War II. A paramilitary unit from Serbia known as the Scorpions, officially part of the Serbian Interior Ministry until 1991, participated in the massacre and it is alleged that foreign volunteers including the Greek Volunteer Guard also participated.
In April 1993 the United Nations declared the besieged enclave of Srebrenica in the Drina Valley of north-eastern Bosnia a “safe area” under UN protection. However, in July 1995, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), represented on the ground by a 400-strong contingent of Dutch peacekeepers, Dutchbat, failed to prevent the town’s capture by the VRS and the subsequent massacre. It is also alleged that Dutch peacekeepers offered little or no resistance to save the inhabitants of Sebrenica on that day.
The Srebrenica massacre is the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II. In 2004, in a unanimous ruling on the “Prosecutor v. Krstić” case, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), located in The Hague, ruled that the massacre of the enclave’s male inhabitants constituted a crime of genocide. The forcible transfer of between 25,000 to 30,000 Bosniak women, children and elderly which accompanied the massacre was found to be confirming evidence of the genocidal intent of members of the VRS Main Staff who orchestrated the massacre.
About the massacre Theodor Meron, the presiding judge of the Appeals Chamber, stated: By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general. They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity. The Balkan war ended. The war criminals Milosevic, Karadzic, Mladic and dozen others went into hiding.
In a message to the tenth anniversary commemoration of the genocide, the Secretary-General of the United Nations noted that, while blame lay first and foremost with those who planned and carried out the massacre and those who assisted and harboured them, great nations had failed to respond adequately, the UN itself had made serious errors of judgement and the tragedy of Srebrenica would haunt the UN’s history forever.
Twelve years on. In February 2007 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concurred with the ICTY judgment, stating: The Court concludes that the acts committed at Srebrenica falling within Article II (a) and (b) of the Convention were committed with the specific intent to destroy in part the group of the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina as such; and accordingly that these were acts of genocide, committed by members of the VRS in and around Srebrenica from about 13 July 1995.
The ICJ ruled that neither Federal Republic of Yugoslavia nor modern Serbia was guilty of genocide, however it also ruled that Serbia” had violated the obligation to prevent genocide” and that Serbia was to cooperate fully with the ICTY, including the transfer of individuals accused of genocide to the ICTY. Ratko Mladić had been accused by the ICTY and was suspected of hiding in Serbia until his arrest there on 25 May 2011.
The majority of those killed were adult men and teenage boys but the victims included boys aged under 15, men over the age of 65, women and reportedly even several babies. The Preliminary List of People Missing or Killed in Srebrenica compiled by the Bosnian Federal Commission of Missing Persons contains 8,373 names, some 500 of them under 18, and includes several dozen women and girls. As of June 2011, 6594 genocide victims have been identified through DNA analysis of body parts recovered from mass graves and 4,524 victims have been buried at the Memorial Centre of Potočari.
Life of Mladić
Mladić was born in the village of Božanovići located near Mount Treskavica, southeast of Sarajevo, in the municipality of Kalinovik west of Goražde on 12 March 1943. The place was at the time a part of the short-lived Independent State of Croatia, or NDH, a fascist puppet-state created after Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy invaded and partitioned the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941. Mladić’s father, a Bosnian Serb communist partisan, was killed in 1945 while leading a partisan attack on the home village of Ante Pavelić.
Mladić entered the Military Industry School in Zemun in 1961, then went on to the KOV Military Academy, and then Officers Academy, graduating at the top of his class in 1965 with a grade of 9.57. The same year, he joined the Yugoslav Communist Party, remaining a member until the party disintegrated in 1990. His first post as an officer was in Skopje, where he was the youngest soldier in the unit which he commanded. Beginning as a second lieutenant, he proved himself to be a capable officer, first commanding a platoon, then a battalion, and then a brigade. In 1989 he was promoted to the post of head of the Education Department of the Third Military District of Skopje.
Ratko Mladić was arrested on 26 May 2011 in Lazarevo, near Zrenjanin in the Banat region of the northern province of Vojvodina. His arrest was carried out by two dozen Serbian special police officers wearing black uniforms and masks, and sporting no insignia. The police were accompanied by Security Information Agency and War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office agents. He was then taken to Belgrade. Before his arrest it was alleged that he killed two of his bodyguards and the news of the killings were reported in the local newspapers.
On 31 May Mladić was sent on a plane bound for the UN detention unit in The Hague. Mladić’s trial began on 3 June 2011 with a hearing to list the charges against him and ask him for a plea. After the judge read out the charges, Mladić responded by calling them “obnoxious” and “monstrous”.
The charges brought against Mladić are:
1. Genocide against a part of the Bosniak and/or Bosnian Croat national ethnical and or religious groups with the object of permanently removing Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats from the territories of Bosnia-Herzegovina claimed as Bosnian Serb territory.
2. Genocide against Bosniaks in Srebrenica by killing the men and boys of Srebrenica and forcibly removing the women, young children and some elderly.
3. Persecutions as a crime against humanity including murder, torture, beatings and rape against Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats.
4. Extermination and murder of Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats in the municipalities.
5. Murder of Bosniaks in Srebrenica.
6. Murder of civilians in Sarajevo.
7. Forcible deportation of Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats or other non-Serbs from the municipalities.
8. Forcible deportation of Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats or other non-Serbs from Srebrenica.
9. Terror and unlawful attacks against civilians.
10. Sniping and shelling against civilians in Sarajevo.
11. Hostage-taking of United Nations military observers and peacekeepers.
The trial is currently adjourned until 4 July 2011.
ICJ President Rosalyn Higgins noted that there was a lot of evidence to prove that crimes against humanity and war crimes had been committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina such as widespread killings, the siege of towns, mass rapes, torture, deportation to camps and detention centres, but the ICJ did not have jurisdiction over them, because the case dealt “exclusively with genocide in a limited legal sense and not in the broader sense sometimes given to this term”. Moreover, the Court found “that Serbia has not committed genocide” nor “conspired to” or “incited the commission of genocide”. It did however, find that Serbia had failed “to take all measures within its power to prevent genocide in Srebrenica” and to comply fully with the ICTY by failing to transfer Ratko Mladić to the custody of the ICTY in The Hague and that Serbia must in future transfer to The Hague all ICTY indicted individuals, who reside under Serbian jurisdiction.
ICJ Judgement under lens
Though a section of experts particularly the European nations hailed the arrest, prosecution and trial of individual persons by ICJ but Vice-President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Al-Khasawneh, criticized the judgment as not reflecting the evidence with respect to Serbia’s direct responsibility for genocide at Srebrenica: “The ‘effective control’ test for attribution established in the Nicaragua case is not suitable to questions of State responsibility for international crimes committed with a common purpose. The ‘overall control’ test for attribution established in the Tadić case is more appropriate when the commission of international crimes is the common objective of the controlling State and the non-State actors. The Court’s refusal to infer genocidal intent from a consistent pattern of conduct in Bosnia and Herzegovina is inconsistent with the established jurisprudence of the ICTY. The FRY’s knowledge of the genocide set to unfold in Srebrenica is clearly established. The Court should have treated the Scorpions as a de jure organ of the FRY. The statement by the Serbian Council of Ministers in response to the massacre of Muslim men by the Scorpions amounted to an admission of responsibility. The Court failed to appreciate the definitional complexity of the crime of genocide and to assess the facts before it accordingly.”
Individuals prosecuted for genocide
About 30 people have been indicted for participating in genocide or complicity in genocide during the early 1990s in Bosnia. To date, after several plea bargains and some convictions that were successfully challenged on appeal, two men, Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara, have been found guilty of genocide, and two others, Radislav Krstic and Drago Nikolic, have been found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide, by an international court for their participation in the Srebrenica massacre.
Four have been found guilty of participating in genocides in Bosnia by German courts, one of whom Nikola Jorgic lost an appeal against his conviction in the European Court of Human Rights. After 13 years State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina found Milenko Trifunovic, Brano Dzinic, Aleksandar Radovanovic, Milos Stupar, Slobodan Jakovljevic Branislav Medan and Petar Mitrovic guilty of genocide for their part in the Srebrenica massacre, and on 16 October 2009 the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina found Milorad Trbic, a former member of the Bosnian Serb security forces, guilty of genocide for his participation in the genocide in the Srebrenica massacre.
Slobodan Milosevic, the former President of Serbia and of Yugoslavia, was the most senior political figure to stand trial at the ICTY. He was charged with having committed genocide, either alone or in concert with other named members of a joint criminal enterprise. The indictment accused him of planning, preparing and executing the destruction, in whole or in part, of the Bosnian Muslim national, ethnical, racial or religious groups, as such, in territories within Bosnia and Herzegovina including Bijeljina, Bosanski Novi, Brcko, Kljuc, Kotor Varos, Prijedor, Sanski Most and Srebrenica. He died during his trial, on 11 March 2006, and no verdict was returned. Outside Bosnia the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf, Germany, in September 1997, handed down a genocide conviction against Nikola Jorgić, a Bosnian Serb who was the leader of a paramilitary group located in the Doboj region. He was sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment for his involvement in genocidal actions that took place in regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, other than Srebrenica.
If a narrow definition of genocide is used, as favoured by the international courts, then during the Srebrenica massacre between 8,000 and 9,000 Bosnian (Bosniaks) men and boys were murdered and the remainder of the population (between 25,000–30,000, Bosniak women, children and elderly people) was forced to leave the area.
If a wider definition is used, then the number is much larger. For example in a statement on 23 September 2008 to the United Nations Dr Haris Silajdzic, as head of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Delegation to the United Nations, 63rd Session of the General Assembly, said that “According to the ICRC data, 200,000 people were killed, 12,000 of them children, up to 50,000 women were raped, and 2.2 million were forced to flee their homes. This was a veritable genocide and sociocide”. More recently in October 2009, the Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo published its findings and found 97,214 persons dead.