Bullet marks and blood stains told tale of Srebrenica horror

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The sentence of 46 years handed down to General Radislav Krstic yesterday might sound severe, but the massacre at Srebrenica was perhaps the most shocking episode of the bloody Balkan war because the thousands who died had sheltered in a UN "safe haven".

The enclave was targeted by Serb forces on 6 July 1995 and, within five days, lightly-armed Dutch peace-keepers who had declared Srebrenica a protected zone in 1993, capitulated.

The carnage that followed saw the forced deportation of more than 25,000 Muslims and the slaughter of between 7,000 and 8,000 men and boys.

Even by the standards of the war crimes tribunal this trial was harrowing as prosecutors catalogued extermination, decapitations and torture, painting a picture of systematic executions unknown on this scale since the Second World War. Men and boys were separated from the women and held in a detention centres, including schools, before being taken off to their deaths.

According to prosecutors, one firing squad left some of its victims in agony overnight, begging to be killed, returning the following day to finish them off. One meadow was said by survivors to be completely covered in corpses.

The former team leader in the office of the prosecutor, Jean-Rene Ruez, told the court that at another site "the size of the execution area was large and was entirely covered by bodies so that they had to walk to find an empty spot".

During an attack on 13 July some of those who tried to escape were forced to sing Serbian songs before being shot.

The following day 1,000 people were blindfolded and taken to a field where machines were already digging up the ground.

One of the most horrific massacres took place at the Pilica "House of Culture", a building used for showing films but which was converted into a detention centre. Hand grenades were lobbed through the projectionist's window and about 500 prisoners were sprayed with machine gun fire.

As judge Almiro Rodrigues put it yesterday: "There would be no survivors. When the investigators forced open the door to the cultural centre they discovered clear traces of the massacre and the conditions in which it had been perpetrated: bullet marks, traces of explosives, bloods stains, bits of human remains everywhere, high up on the walls and even under the stage of the theatre. And a single forgotten identity document belonging to a Bosnian Muslim."

And so it went on. Such was the quality of the forensic evidence, of the accounts of survivors of the massacre and even of one of those who carried out some of the shootings, the fact that the carnage took place was not in doubt. But the defence disputed that genocide took place, and denied that Krstic, who was first deputy-commander, then commander of the Drina Corps, was responsible for the murders.

Although the UN war crimes tribunal for Rwanda has made eight genocide convictions, yesterday's was the first at The Hague, where war crime cases in the former Yugoslavia are heard. The charge is difficult to prove because its definition includes acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnical, racial or religious group as such".

Although the court accepted that there was no pre-determined attempt to destroy the Muslim population when the siege began, it said there was a decision to start ethnic cleansing which developed into something even worse.

It was impossible for Krstic not to have known what was taking place. One intercepted telephone call illustrated his guilt, albeit obliquely. On 15 July, Krstic was contacted by the security chief of the main staff asking for help in dealing with "3,500 packages".

Judge Rodrigues argued yesterday: "You knew exactly what was mean by 'packages', General Krstic – Bosnian Muslims who were to be executed."

Although he did not personally participate in the atrocities the judgment said Krstic provided men to help executions and remained "largely passive in the face of his knowledge of what was going on".