Families of victims of the Srebrenica massacre want to file a lawsuit against Carla del Ponte over the destruction of artifacts found in mass graves at the site.
Hajra Catic from the Women of Srebrenica association said that several thousand signatures had been gathered thus far in support of a lawsuit against del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.
“We still do not know where we will file this suit, but we will find out. Somebody is responsible for the destruction and she was the chief prosecutor,” Catic said for Balkan Insight.
More than 1,000 artifacts found in 1996 and 1997 in mass graves with remains of victims of Srebrenica were destroyed in 2005 and 2006 in The Hague. According to the prosecution, the objects were destroyed after they had started to decompose and the decision was made that they represented a health hazard.
Carla del Ponte was the chief prosecutor at the ICTY when the artifacts were destroyed.
The artifacts were held in a container in the back of the ICTY building in The Hague. Victims were not aware that the objects were being held there nor that they were destroyed until Balkan Insight reported on the situation in a May 2009 story.
The initiative is supported by other associations of relatives of Srebrenica victims, though they share a common scepticism that persons from the international community will be held responsible for anything that has to do with Srebrenica.
“You can see what happened with our case against the UN Dutch battalion. Nothing! I would like to know what happened to those things; so many unjust things are happening and that is just one more,” Munira Subasic from the Mothers of Srebrenica association told Balkan Insight.
The Mothers of Srebrenica association previously tried to file civil charges against the State of the Netherlands and the UN, but in March this year, the Dutch Court of Appeals ruled that the UN enjoys absolute immunity from prosecution.
Subasic and Catic said they had informed Serge Bremmertz, who is del Ponte's successor as chief prosecutor at the ICTY, about their intention and that he repeated once again that the artifacts needed to be destroyed because they presented a health hazard.
“I do not believe that. I do not believe there was no way to protect these things. They could have given them to us, to the families,” Catic said.
In July 1995 more than 8,000 man and boys were massacred in Srebrenica by the Republika Srpska army under the command of General Ratko Mladic, who has been indicted by the ICTY for war crimes.
The first mass graves at the site were discovered as early as 1996 in the villages of Pilice, Cerska and Kozluci. 21 exhumations were conducted by the prosecution.
Since then, Bosnian authorities have taken over the exhumations and discovered an additional 41 mass graves.
The prosecution office claims that they have a list of artifacts that were destroyed in 2005 and 2006. In May 2009, they initially denied that anything had been destroyed.
Asked if it was possible to establish who was responsible for the destruction of the objects, ICTY prosecution spokesperson Olga Kavran refused to “speculate”.
However, Kavran claimed that relevant information from those artifacts was used during some trials, and that the government in Sarajevo was aware of everything related to this issue.
“There were pieces of fabric used for tying up hands and eyes of the victims, blood samples, hair and tissue, parts of construction material like bricks and similar, as well as a number of documents and objects that were found close to the bodies but were contaminated,” Kavran told Balkan Insight.
Meawhile, Begovic and Subasic claim that the families were never informed about what was destroyed and to whom it belonged.
During a hearing on May 14 at the trial of Zdravko Tolimir in The Hague, the prosecution said that up to April 2010, 6,557 victims from Srebrenica have been identified. The International Commission on Missing People, ICMP, claims that 1,300 people are still missing.
Tolimir was assistant commander for intelligence and security of the Republika Srpska army during the occupation of Srebrenica. He is accused of genocide by the ICTY, along with Radovan Karadzic, wartime leader of Bosnian Serbs, whose trial is ongoing.
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