The international war-crimes tribunal on the former Yugoslavia heard testimony Wednesday that Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander, was in and around the Bosnian city of Srebrenica when thousands of Muslim men were massacred there in July 1995.
The testimony marked the high point of a weeklong hearing designed to brand Mladic and the Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic, as international fugitives subject to mandatory worldwide arrest on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
By holding the public hearings, the tribunal apparently has sought to generate additional pressure on the United States and other NATO countries to bring the two Bosnian leaders to justice.
Many of the details produced in court already have been published piecemeal in newspapers and magazines or featured in radio and television documentaries about the fall of Srebrenica and its aftermath, the bloodiest single incident in the 3-1/2-year-long war in Bosnia. But the elaborately documented testimony, delivered over more than four hours, was the first time evidence about the Srebrenica massacre has been placed before a tribunal.
At prosecutor Mark Harmon’s request, court investigator Jean-Rene Ruez put black stickers on a map of the Srebrenica area to demonstrate Mladic’s presence at seven sites where Muslim prisoners were later executed. In one case, Ruez said, prisoners were killed only 15 minutes after he left.
Bosnian authorities estimated that 10,300 Srebrenica residents remain unaccounted for, Ruez told the court, but he said he could not confirm the number. Other estimates place the number of missing at closer to 6,000.
Located near the Drina river dividing eastern Bosnia from Serbia, Srebrenica was a town of 7,000 residents before the war broke out in 1992. But Ruez said that by 1993, when Srebrenica was declared a U.N. “safe area,” Muslims driven by Serbs from villages nearby had swelled its population to 40,000, not counting the 3,000 to 6,000 armed Muslim fighters.
Evidence took the form of exhumed corpses, shreds of clothing and aerial photographs suggesting the Serbs had tampered with mass graves in a coverup effort. But just as telling were the words of the two indicted war criminals themselves.
A videotape showed a joyful Mladic last July 11, the day the Muslim enclave fell to his forces, invoking a Serb religious holiday and saying, “We give the Serb people this city as a present.” He added, “Our moment has finally come to take revenge on the Turks” for a Serb defeat in 1804 at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, then ruling much of what became Yugoslavia.
On the following three days, according to Ruez, Mladic was present at a number of sites, repeatedly reassuring Muslim prisoners that they soon would be exchanged for Bosnian Serbs captured by the predominantly Muslim government forces. Ruez said that Mladic visited Srebrenica itself, Potocari, Bratunac, Sandici, Nova Kasaba and Karakaj, all places where Muslims were executed. He also placed Mladic near Cserka, which served as a marshalling area for prisoners transported elsewhere for execution.
Karadzic, who heads the self-styled Serb republic in Bosnia, denied responsibility on Bosnian Serb television last Jan. 24 for the Srebrenica deaths. In a statement entered as evidence, he said, “Our army did not commit war crimes; our army followed orders from the general staff and the general staff commander,” meaning Mladic.
Earlier that month, in an interview with the New York Times also entered as evidence, Karadzic denied that any orders approving executions were issued, saying, “No one under my command would dare kill anyone.” But he accepted overall responsibility by adding that “everything concerning the Republika Sprska is in my hands.”