ATTACKS ON MUSLIM VILLAGES AROUND SREBRENICA IN 1992, THREE YEARS BEFORE GENOCIDE
PHOTO of a Bosniak village of Voljavica, located around Srebrenica. The village had been torched and destroyed by the Bosnian Serbs in the first weeks of war and more than three years before the Srebrenica genocide. Even today, the signs of destruction are clearly visible.
Approximately 99% of all war crimes in the Srebrenica region had been committed by notorious Serb forces with an active assistance of Yugoslav Peoples Army, full logistical and military support of neighbouring Serbia, and an active participation of Bosnian Serb civilians stationed in heavily militarized villages around Srebrenica.
Nobody has yet answered the charges for hundreds of torched Bosnian Muslim villages around Srebrenica in the first months of war, three years before the Srebrenica genocide. War criminals from heavily militarized Serb villages around Srebrenica raided, plundered, torched and destroyed hundreds of Bosniak villages around Srebrenica in the first months of war. A closing statement in Naser Oric case provides a good summary of Serbian vandalism and deliberate intentions to starve to death Bosniak civilians trapped in Srebrenica. As to why Bosniak civilians resisted Serb attacks by counter-attacking Serbian criminals residing in militarized villages around Srebrenica is very clear to anyone who has a shred of intelligence and connection with logic in their head.
VASVIJA VIDOVIC: At the very start of this case, of this trial, we described the hell in Srebrenica in the course of 1992 and 1993 in using four words: Genocide, siege, starvation, and disease.
We believe that the Honourable Chamber realised the situation even if the Prosecution did not. At the end of the Prosecution case, you announced that you accepted the fact that Srebrenica was under siege and that it was confronted with starvation during the relevant time period. It faced not only starvation, Your Honours, but the daily threat of terrible massacres by Serbs were the defence lines to fall. What happened in July 1995 might have happened also in December 1992, in January 1993, in February 1993, at any point in time. The people living there were with their backs to the wall and the only possibility they had was to flee below the ground. These people were aware of that....
And in our case, why did thousands of [Bosniak] civilians go into action to get hold of food? Because they were dying of hunger. And why were they dying of hunger? Because the Serbs chased them away from their homes and then held them under siege.
Who held them under siege? Serbs from the surrounding villages. Which villages? The ones that were attacked, the ones that were mentioned and alleged in the indictment. Which Serbs? The villagers of Rakovica, Jezestica, Fakovici, Bjelovac and Kravica. Many of the witnesses in this case.
Why didn't the fighters [defenders of Srebrenica] have uniforms? Because it wasn't an army. These were citizens responding to an attack. Why did they have so few weapons, mostly hunting rifles? Because that was all that they had at the time the Serb army attacked them in their homes.
Your Honours, every fact in this case is directly and specifically connected with the ethnic cleansing by Serbs and the humanitarian catastrophe that was the result of the ethnic cleansing. The phenomenon of a soldier/citizen or levee en masse, lack of communications. Where the accused [Naser Oric] was depended on where a deathly threat had to be confronted. These facts cannot be separated from the ethnic cleansing of eastern Bosnia. Every single fact in this case is a result of that.
Your Honour, this also applies to the credibility of Serb witnesses. The Honourable Chamber understood the situation in Srebrenica describing it as hell on earth in its decision dated 4th of July, 2005, the findings case -- decision. You referred to the siege of Srebrenica and the enormous military predominance of Serbs. What, then, of the credibility of Serb witnesses who came here and denied all that? It has to be and is disrupted by the fact that they refused to acknowledge the reality. In our final brief we spoke about the invisible arm which, in the submission of the Prosecution, must have held Srebrenica under siege.
Truth be told, they call it the so-called siege of Srebrenica. Your Honours, you accepted that Srebrenica was under siege but not so the Prosecution. This tells a lot of their realism and of their approach to the people of Srebrenica, whose suffering under siege they don't even wish to mention. You remember the words from the book of Larry Hollingworth. In this book he described how the Serb army, and I quote:
"Persecuted innocent [Bosnian Muslim] women and children from village to village until they were finally chased away to Srebrenica, a place where one had no where to flee from, and where their destiny was to be transported as cattle and slaughtered as lambs."
Echoing this situation was their own witness, Colonel Tucker, who they referred to frequently in their final -- in their closing arguments, and I quote:
"The issue for the refugees in Srebrenica, for those who surrounded us, was that they believed that they would die. The question was not whether they would die. The question was only when they would die."
And that's his testimony on the 15th of March 2005, transcript pages 5959 to 5960.
The ambassador, Diego Arria, described the situation in Srebrenica that he experienced as the slow-motion genocide. That is the way UN documents described it. I refer you to D956.
For the Prosecution, the ethnic cleansing of eastern Bosnia and the military predominance of Serbs seemed to have existed in a parallel dimension, as if in some other parallel dimension there existed camps set up pursuant to the order of the Serbian government of Birac on the moving out of the Muslim population. As you know, the area of Srebrenica was part of Birac. As you know, Your Honours, you saw this order in D731 and you know that this was organised and ordered.
[Bosniak woman] Edina Karic told a touching story about this in her testimony on the 14th of September, 2005, transcript pages 11037, 11039. On these camps and persecutions, their own witness, Ibrahim Becirevic, spoke in detail, and I refer to the transcript dated 25 April 2005, page 7617. Many others spoke of this.
The reality, in essence, is very simple and the procedure of placing an area under siege is easily understandable. The Serbs first chased away all the Muslims from the surrounding areas. The areas can be seen on the map. You can see the map now; it's D705. We are well familiar with their names now. The Muslims were chased away from Podrinje along the Drina east of Srebrenica, from the north of the Bratunac area to the west of Srebrenica, from Vlasenica, Milici, Han Pijesak and to the south from the area of Skelani. Srebrenica was surrounded and cut off from the rest of the world.
After that, food supplies were interdicted in order to starve the [Bosnian Muslim] population. They achieved this easily by controlling the main roads. It was only the American food packages in the air drops in February 1993 that somewhat hindered Serbs in their intentions. The fact that it was necessary to drop packages from the air perfectly illustrates that the only way to reach Srebrenica was vertically, from the air. Unfortunately the residents of Srebrenica did not have wings. Luckily for them the Americans did.
In the course of 1992, the people in Srebrenica were completely cut off and desperately hungry. They ate berries and grounded acorns -- and ground acorns in order to make bread. They lived like animals under open air in woods, and the Serbs shelled and fired upon them, as if they had been beasts.
In what way was the siege maintained? Around every single Serb village, including Ratkovici, Fakovici, Bjelovac, Jezestica and Kravica minefields were laid. There was patrolling and shells were fired upon the places where there were Muslims, be it villages or woods. In this way, Muslims were held like sheep in a fold.
JUDGE AGIUS: One moment, I am not receiving interpretation, unless there is a delay. I notice I think that -- yes. There has been a switch between interpreters. Would you mind, Ms. Vidovic, repeating your last two sentences? Basically that's what we have missed. I'm sorry to have interrupted you like this.
MS. VIDOVIC: [Interpretation] Thank you, Your Honour. It will be my pleasure.The Prosecution claims that the local Serbs were peace-loving and that they were only defending themselves. In a way, Your Honours, they were indeed defending themselves. The Serbs were in their villages, surrounded by their minefields, with their guns and artillery, and they really could believe that they were only defending themselves. But if one besieges a people [Bosniak people in Srebrenica], cutting off their food supply, and on top of that you keep shelling them, you're doing something incredibly violent, threatening their very lives. Whilst those who lay the siege wait for the enemy to starve to death, they indeed have this attitude of defending themselves but nonetheless a lethal one. Those besieged, starving, have to attack in order to get some food, ammunition, and medication.... To call those [Bosniaks] who were besieged attackers and to call those [Serbs] who lay the siege defenders shouldn't fool anyone apart from those people who are blatantly wrong. The localities in the indictment were of no marginal importance for the siege of Srebrenica and the Muslim villages of the area. They were the siege.
Mr. Ramic, in his testimony of the 28th of August, 2005, on page 9915 of the transcript, described the suffering of the expelled Muslim population in a forest called Poljana, in the area of Poznanovici.
The suffering of thousands of [Bosniak] people in the open, including women, children and the elderly. He described that they were attacked by the Serb forces from Ratkovici. He described the daily shelling of the Muslim villages of Mocevici, Dedici, Podkorjen, from Ratkovici, during June of 1992.
Witness Tiro described the very same. On the 5th of September, 2005, he described the attack on Orlica, and he identified the attackers as people being from Grabovacka Rijeka and Fakovici. When they left, they left the wasteland and death. They killed every captured Muslim.
The testimonies and other evidence mentioning the killings by the people from Fakovici are distressing. Please recall the story of the Serb soldier Slobodan Misic and his statement to a journalist. It was D832. He described the murders of Muslims around Fakovici, specifically in the village of Tegare. And you should also recall that Misic received his salary for August 1992 as a fighter from the Fakovici unit.
You should also bear in mind the document of the Drina Corps [of Bosnian Serb Army] which is the report of the 14th of September, 1992, confirming that Tegare were liberated in entirety. That was D966. Could we please see slide number 3 now?
Suad Smajlovic testified on the horrific scenes of murders [of Bosnian Muslim civilians] in Tegare that he learned of. He testified on the 6th of December, 2005, page 14483 of the transcript.
Ibro Alic testified on the same topic as well on the 17th of October, 2005, transcript page 12542. Both these witnesses confirmed that the [Serb] killers came from [Serb village] Fakovici.
An eyewitness in his testimony on the 3rd of October, 2005, transcript page 11800, described that the Serb soldiers from Jezestica and Kravica set on fire a house in Velika Glogova in which there was a little [Bosnian Muslim] boy, and on the same day they killed 12 elderly [Bosnian Muslim] people and women who were unable to flee the Muslim village of Adzici in June 1992. He identified Nedjo Nikolic, aka Djedura from Jezestica as one of the key figures in the attack on Glogova on the 9th of May, 1992. He identified commander Najdan Mladjenovic from the nearby Serb village of Hranca who issued orders to kill. He identified many of his neighbours from Kravica and Jezestica who brutally killed around 65 people in a single day.
And Najdan Mladjenovic, Your Honours, the very same Najdan Mladjenovic who, on Prosecution's behalf in this case, identified the allegedly torched Serb houses of that area, and one can find that in P487.
We also heard a distressing testimony of Edina Karic, the then 15-year-old girl. She was raped, inter alia, by the Serb soldiers from Bjelovac. She had identified them many years before this case, when she --
JUDGE AGIUS: Let's go to private session for a while.
[Judge enters 'Private Session' to protect identities of Bosnian Muslim women who were raped by Serbs around Srebrenica in 1992, three years before the Srebrenica genocide]
JUDGE AGIUS: And please proceed, and my apologies to you.
MS. VIDOVIC: [Interpretation] She had identified them many years prior to this trial, when she provided the first statement you saw. She had identified them on the payroll lists of the Territorial Defence of Bjelovac in D83. She identified many local Serbs from Bjelovac, Sase and Pobrdje who ran the camp of Gradina where they killed and tortured people as well as raped little girls. She testified on the 14th of September, 2005, transcript page 11037 to 11042.
The siege of Srebrenica and the Muslim villages of the area was not put in place by an invisible hand. It was put in place by the local Serbs. Closely knit and well organised units of the Serb army. And many Prosecution witnesses in this case were also participants of the siege.
Mladen Simic, Dragan Djuric, Slavisa Eric, Stanisa and Milenko Stevanovic, Milo Rankovic, Slavoljub Rankic, Slavoljub Filipovic, Nikola Petrovic, Nikola Popovic, Slavoljub Zikic, Dragomir Miladinovic. Evidence shows that they were members of the local Serb army units who lay the siege of Srebrenica. This is important as to their credibility, and it is also important for the issue of military necessity.
Your Honours, I wanted to talk about the military necessity itself.
At the end of the Prosecution case [against Naser Oric], Your Honours accepted that the actions mentioned in the indictment had to be undertaken in order to gain food, ammunition and medication. Both Prosecution and Defence may agree on only one thing in this case, and that is precisely this: Additional Protocol I sets out the criteria for what a military target indeed is, or a military objective. In Article 52(2) of Additional Protocol I, we can read the following:
"Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which, by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction capture or neutralisation in the circumstances ruling at the time offers a definite military advantage."
Your Honours, by going to the localities mentioned in the indictment and capturing them resulted in clear military advantage [for Bosniaks]. The seizure of food, ammunition, weapons, and medication helped those besieged to survive for another couple of days. The Serbs shelled Muslims from the places mentioned in the indictment, thus killing and mutilating. Therefore, to neutralise such objectives resulted in a clear military advantage.
By not allowing the enemy [Serbs] to use those locations, key for the siege of Srebrenica and its villages, indeed represented a clear military advantage, as well as to neutralise the trenches and positions of the artillery.
Evidence confirms that the soldiers lived in the houses of the Serb villages and locations. Even in the houses where women and children stayed, there were shells and guns.
I will remind you of a Drina Corps document, D723. It is a combat report stating that on the 4th of November, 1992, a five-year-old boy, in the village of Brezovica, was killed during his play with an anti-aircraft gun. The safety was off and it fired accidentally.
Your Honours, in the Serb villages around Srebrenica, even little children played with such weaponry. There was a boy playing with an anti-aircraft gun.
Your Honours, a correction for the transcript. We provided the speech to the interpreters. I said that in the houses where there were women and children, there were shells, grenades and guns.
During those actions, the soldiers used the houses to fire from. Whether Prosecution likes it or not, the absolute military reality is that if a soldier is firing from a house trying to kill you, you are entitled to return fire, and should the fire be -- should the house be set on fire due to the activity of the weapon, for example, a grenade or a hand-held rocket launcher, that's the reality of war. It would be insane to claim that a fighter who -- should try in any which way possible to cause any damage to property when fighting for his life.
Your Honours, please recall the Drina Corps document ordering that, from the territories of the Serb villages, Srebrenica was to be attacked. To put forth such silly assertions that -- such as ones that no army in the world wouldn't and couldn't abide by is not in the interests of international humanitarian law. The only consequence of such assertions is the loss of reputation enjoyed by international law in general. In our final brief, we cited in detail and explained why each of the actions undertaken was directed against the legitimate military objectives.... Perhaps [Bosnian Muslim] civilians did irresponsibly torch houses because they were furious since they themselves had been expelled from their homes and had lost their homes. In some cases we heard the reasons for this. They were sometimes very painful.....
Ejub Dedic and Sidik Ademovic, as well as D005, testified that these locations [militarized Serb villages] precisely were used to attack the Muslim population in December 1992. According to the testimony of those witnesses and numerous other evidence, the fighting in these villages took place after the 7th of January, 1993. P317, its second part, shows the panoramic view of Banjavici on the 12th of January, 1993. You saw it yourselves, and I believe you remember that. Only one house seems to have been torched. What can be seen, though, is that in the close proximity of that house, there was a large group of Serb soldiers armed to their teeth and well-equipped, firing off a mortar and another heavy artillery piece.
In its argument supposing the notion of a levee en masse the Prosecution then says if a civilian did night fight without a uniform and without a weapon, then he "becomes a war criminal" a war criminal "by feigning a civilian status." That's paragraph 245 of their closing brief and they rely on additional protocol 1's prohibition on perfidy, Article 37(1)(C) of that protocol. This is yet another extraordinary proposition by the Prosecution, that some poor soul fighting for his lifer against Serb ethnic cleansing becomes a perfidious war criminal for taking up arms against the Serbs when he doesn't have a uniform and maybe not even a weapon. And those attacking him, the Bosnian Serb army I suppose are legitimate combatants because they have nice uniforms. But we are back in Alice in Wonderland again with the Prosecution's theory of this case. In the Prosecution's hall of mirrors the Bosniak defenders of their homes are not only vicious attackers of the peace-loving Serbs in the villages surrounding them, they've now become war criminals too. That it was the, dues used by General Mladic's forces for killing 7.000 men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995, that they were all war criminals and I shudder to think that the Prosecution's arguments in this case can now be called in aid to justify that label. Srebrenica's fighters were not war criminals but brave and desperate people fighting with tremendous courage against a superior foe....
A further argument, and I think I can deal with this before the break, deployed by the Prosecution on Monday to argue against a levee en masse is as the indictment concerns attacks that's factually different from taking up arms upon the approach of the enemy but that, too, is a simplistic and misguided argument. You don't assess whether a mass of people are levee or not action by action, you can't be a levee one day and then not a levee, and then a levee again depending on whether the enemy is approaching you or you're approaching them. It's an assessment of the fighting forces as they existed in an area at a given time.
I.e., is it a proper army with barracks, ranks, uniforms, armouries, salaries, and regularly formed unit or not? And by all those criteria in 1992 to 1993 Srebrenica's fighters were not a real army and time and again that was the evidence of Prosecution witnesses as well as Defence witnesses and international observers: Not a real army.
The Prosecution also argues, finally, that a levee en masse can only be a temporary state of affairs because it soon gets organised.
Well, that's pure theory as well. It ignores all the evidence of ho things did not get better and better in Srebrenica in 1992 and 1993 but progressively worse, how [Bosniak] villages were cut off from each other by Serb patrols, ambushes, and shelling, and how they felt that the Serb Pac-man, referring to the video game of that name, with the enemy gobbling up village by village. That's the enemy approaching. The enemy [Serbs] gobbling up village by village, and they were doing it in March and April of 1993 as they were in 1992.
So that's another prosecutorial myth based on nothing, that things always go from good to better. In Srebrenica they went from bad to worse and finally to catastrophic....
In its brief in response the Prosecution's ultimate fall back is, well, no attack should have been launched on these villages. That rather than risking damage to Serb property, the Muslims in Srebrenica should have stayed in the basements and cellars where they were sheltering from Serb shelling and simply died, starved to death. There is no law against dying, only fighting back.
I'm sure the people of Srebrenica are glad that they were defended by people of [Naser] Oric's ilk and not people with that attitude because that's simply a chance for defeatists. It's a counsel for lambs to be led to slaughter rather than to resist.
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READ MORE: Attacks on Bosnian Muslim Villages Around Srebrenica in 1992, Three Years Before the Srebrenica Genocide.