Srebrenica Anniversary 11 Jul 17

Srebrenica: The Massacres that Went Unpunished

Twenty-two years after the Srebrenica massacres, direct perpetrators of mass killings of Bosniaks at several lesser-known execution sites have still not been charged or put on trial.

Dzana Brkanic BIRN Sarajevo
BIRN's 'TV Justice' programme investigates the unpunished massacres.

“I just lay there, pretending to be dead. No movement. I couldn’t dare to breathe.”

Mevludin Oric is remembering the day in July 1995 when around 1,000 men and boys from Srebrenica were shot dead by Bosnian Serb forces in a field near the village of Orahovac in the Zvornik area.

“I heard them loading their rifles. They screamed, laughed and drank. They enjoyed themselves,” Oric told BIRN.

No one has yet been indicted for taking part in these shootings, either by the Hague Tribunal or the Bosnian judiciary.

But this is not the only massacre in July 1995 for which none of the direct perpetrators has ever been charged.

Two days after the Bosnian Serb Army took Srebrenica, in the valley of Cerska on the banks of the Jadar river, 167 men and boys from Srebrenica were killed.

More shootings took place in Luke, near the village of Tisca, and in Snagovo near Zvornik after the fall of Srebrenica, as well as in Bisina near Sekovici, where around 60 people were killed in July 1995.

Bosniaks who survived the massacres by fleeing to Tuzla through the woods saw these massacres, but the families of the victims are still waiting for justice.

Some of these crimes were mentioned in various cases at the Hague Tribunal, and form part of the charges against former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, whose first-instance verdict is expected in November.

At the Hague Tribunal, a total of 38 former members of the Bosnian Serb police force and army have been sentenced to a total of more than 400 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity in Srebrenica.

Most of the direct perpetrators have been convicted of killings at execution sites in Kravica, Pilica and Branjevo, but not for the other massacres.

The warmth of blood

Mevludin Oric.

Mevludin Oric was detained as he tried to flee through the woods from Srebrenica to freedom in Tuzla, which was under the control of the Bosnian army in July 1995.

He was taken to a school in Orahovac, where he was placed in a cramped hall with other man from Srebrenica and detained in inhumane conditions for a couple of days.

One night, he recalled, the prisoners were blindfolded and taken to a nearby field.

“My cousin Aid and I held hands. He yelled: ‘They’ll kill us’… I did not get a chance to say they won’t before the shooting starte,” said Oric.

His cousin was hit by a bullet and fell on top of him.

He recalled feeling the warmth of his cousin’s blood and his weight on his back.

Oric pretended to be dead.

“I was silent… I did not move. The shooting stopped. Aid was shaking. Crying and shaking. He was trembling… Then he went silent.”

The killings went on deep into the night after his cousin was already gone.

Oric believes he then lost consciousness, and when he woke he realized that the gunmen had left. He could barely get got up; his arms were numb.

“I tried to stand up but could not. I could hardly move Aid. I did not have any strength. I was hungry and thirsty. I saw all those who were in the hall with me on the field. Nobody moved. They were gone. I realised I had to run… there was no other choice.”

Then he started to cry.

At Ratko Mladic’s trial in The Hague, a former Bosnian Serb soldier testified that he saw a child of six or seven who survived the massacre in Orahovac.

This crime is also mentioned in the verdict against former Bosnian Serb Army officers Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara, who were both given life sentences for their role in the genocide.

The verdict states that the first two mass executions of the genocide took place in the valley of Cerska and on the Jadar riverbank on July 13 and 14, 1995.

Zulfo Salihovic was one of the men in the column of fleeing Bosniaks heading from Srebrenica to Tuzla.

Salihovic told BIRN that he saw men captured near Cerska and some killed near a bridge on the river Jadar. A day later, he saw dead bodies in the Cerska valley.

“There was a mass of dead people and nearby I saw wooden crates of munition… I turned over some bodies, but I could not recognize anyone… They had started to dig up a mass grave nearby,” he said.

According to the Institute for Missing Persons, and based on testimonies of men who survived the trek through the woods, 150 bodies were found at Cerska.

A lost husband and son

Fadila Efendic.

Fadila Efendic told BIRN that she said goodbye to her son and husband on July 11, 1995 when she took her daughter to the UN peacekeepers’ base in Potocari near Srebrenica, seeking refuge from Bosnian Serb forces.

The two men fled through the woods, and years after the war, she still thought they were lost but alive. However, she found her husband’s remains in Zeleni Jadar and then some of her son’s bones in Kamenica near Zvornik.

“They told me nothing. They just told me they were dead. Shot or butchered… Since my husband’s skull was found in a second grave, they said there was a chance his head was severed,” said Efendic who blames the Bosnian authorities for not properly investigating her husband’s death.

She is also upset that no one has been prosecuted for her son’s death more than two decades after the crime.

As she drive with BIRN towards the location of the grave in Jadar where her husband was found, Efendic says that this was a place in which she spent a wonderful childhood.

“Who would have thought there would be a mass grave there someday?” she asked.

Abdulkadir Velic was a 20-year-old medical technician in the wartime hospital in Srebrenica. He refused to leave wounded men behind, and stayed with them as they were transported by Serb forces from Srebrenica to a school in Luke in July 1995.

One of the men who was in that convoy of wounded men was Sadik Selimovic. He recalls that Serb soldiers divided the men up in Luke. Some were sent on to Kladanj to the Bosnian Army, some returned to Bratunac, and some stayed in the school.

Velic’s family discovered he had been forced to stay in Luke when some of the prisoners made it to Kladanj. They had hoped nothing bad would happen, as he was protected under international law as a medical technician.

That hope disappeared however Velic’s remains were discovered shortly after the war together with those of some 25 other men in the village of Tisca.

Admir Velic, Abdulkadir’s brother, then tried to discover the truth.

“We learned that one man survived this massacre. He was in the school and he gave us a book that told the story of what happened. He described how, prior to the killings, Abdulkadir was abused more than the others. Until he had consciousness,” said Velic.

Haska Velic, Abdulkadir and Admir’s mother, says her life can never be the same again – and that the perpetrators of the killings, who are still at liberty, must finally be identified and prosecuted.

“I wish they would find whoever did this. To punish him, so he is not free… We will never be free again,” she said.

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