Reading progress update: 157 of 277 pages.
Srebrenica: The monster of all Bosnian massacre sites, with 8,000 men of all ages taken away from their families and killed in various locations in the Srebrenica area, or picked up and killed on their way to (believed, relative) safety in nearby Tuzla. The team to which Koff belonged exhumed several hundred bodies at two sites associated with the Srebrenica massacre; after Koff had left, her boss / mentor Bill Haglund and several other team members also worked on other sites, including the infamous Pilica / Branjevo Military Farm.
Even much more than those in Kibuye and Kigali, this was a high pressure environment and assignment, which essentially came to an end for Koff when she burned out — a development doubtlessly helped on by the fact that she had less than a week back home in California between Kigali and this assignment; and that’s not even factoring in the roughly 20 hours of air travel from Kigali to California and almost as much from California to Zagreb, with several hours on war-gutted roads on to the military camp near Srebrenica where they were staying; covering several time zones (and a 9-hour time lag in total each way): True, Koff had already seen these kinds of traveling conditions in connection with her first assignment in Kibuye, but this sort of thing in and of itself alone will grind you down if repeated to frequently or in too short succession (even under the best of conditions, which she clearly didn’t experience). Essentially, she was obviously already worn out before she even started working in Srebrenica. A less young and fit person than her would never even have made it anywhere near the end of their second month there (and indeed, she implies that others did leave before she did).
The equipment on hand was marginally better than that available in Rwanda, but this section of the book, like those covering the two Rwanda assignments, once again brings home just how impromptu and “untested waters” level the whole ICTR and ICTY setup was. This was true for the actual tribunals themselves (and I’ll say more about that in my review of this book once I’m done), which were virtually unprecedented, but it was equally true, as Koff describes in great detail, for the missions “on the ground”.
Most of all, I was shocked to learn that they were working in an environment known to be riddled with anti-personnel landmines (which are extremely hard, indeed virtually impossible to spot on the ground) — without even having been given the most basic training and instruction how to move in an environment like that. Only a few years later, when I participated in several EU / OECD training programs for humanitarian missions, it would never have occurred to anyone not to make this a core part of our training — and for a reason. The same applies, similarly, to interactions with the inhabitants of their deployment area — not only the survivors of the war crimes (who were a crucial source of information, but as explained in my last status update, also needed to be approached with due care in order not to “taint” them as trial witnesses), but also, and in the Eastern Bosnian area where Koff worked in particular, the majority of the population, who constituted a considerable security risk to any member of an international team, because they were openly hostile and frequently extremely disruptive vis-à.vis to the U.N., NATO and IFOR (the international peacekeeping forces), as well as towards anybody collecting evidence that might lead to the arrest and prosecution of the instigators of the massacres, who to these people were (and in many cases still are today) nothing short of national heroes.
The modus operandi in these massacres is the one I remember from my own work on an ICTY case as well: single out the men, line them up with their hands bound behind their backs near the edge of a hillside, cliff, ravine, or other form of slope (or somewhere near the edge of a wood), and then mow them down, either shooting from the bottom or the other side of the ravine / slope / hillside or walking past them firing from (semi-)automatic weapons. (The women survived, but were gang-raped by the hundreds and thousends: This practice, both in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, led to the recognition of systematic rape as a war crime in and of itself, which it previously hadn’t been — and in fact still wasn’t, according to the bare-bones language of the ICTY and ICTR statutes.)
The Srebrenica massacre was central to the single largest subset of ICTY proceedings, against:
- Slobodan Milošević,
- Vujadin Popović, Ljubiša Beara, Drago Nikolić, Radivoje Miletić, Vinko Pandurević, Ljubomir Borovčanin, Milan Gvero,
- Zdravko Tolimir,
- Radislav Krstić,
- Dražen Erdemović,
- Momir Nikolić,
- Dragan Obrenović,
- Vidoje Blagojević and Dragan Jokić,
as well as later also against
Milošević, Karadžić and Mladić not merely stood trial for their responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre, of course, but also for a host of other war crimes, as well as their overall responsibility for the crimes committed by the forces under their control and command.
Again, Koff’s boss and mentor Bill Haglund testified: a collection of video snippets from his testimony at the trial against Radovan Karadžić can be found on the Physicians for Human Rights website and on YouTube. (At least in part, these snippets don’t concern the exhumation sites that Koff worked on but the one at Pilica Farm.)
Taking the trials one by one, here is what stands out:
— Explanatory preface note: “Trial Chamber” always refers to the specific Trial Chamber hearing the case in question (there were several). By contrast, ICTY had only one Appeals Chamber, but the composition of the Appeals Chamber of course changed over the course of the two decades of ICTY’s existence (as did the composition of the Trial Chambers). —
The former president of Serbia and the Federated Republic of Yugoslavia; in the latter capacity, also President of the Supreme Defence Council of the FRY and the Supreme Commander of the Yugoslav Army. He died in detention on March 11, 2006 before the trial against him had been concluded. His cause of death was initially given as “heart attack”, but upon examining his body, the pathologists found the presence of a substance that (inter alia) counteracted the effect of his heart medication. It is therefore possible (although was never definitely proven) that he committed suicide.
Milošević stood trial for a staggering amount of offenses; his indictment is, in essence, the war in the Former Yugoslavia in a nutshell. According to the ICTY case information sheet:, with regard to Bosnia and Herzegovina alone he stood accused of:
- The widespread killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims during and after the takeover of territories within Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- The killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in detention facilities within Bosnia and Herzegovina
- The causing of serious bodily and mental harm to thousands of Bosnian Muslims during their confinement in detention facilities within Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- The confinement of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in detention facilities within Bosnia and Herzegovina, under conditions of life calculated to bring about the partial physical destruction of those groups, namely through starvation, contaminated water, forced labour, inadequate medical care and constant physical and psychological assault.
- The extermination, murder and wilful killings of non-Serbs, principally Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats living in the territories of Banja Luka, Bihać, Bijeljina, Bileća, Bosanska Krupa, Bosanski Novi, Bosanski Šamac, Bratunac, Brčko, Čajniče, Doboj, Fo<ča, Gacko, Sarajevo (Ilijaš), Ključ, Kalinovik, Kotor Varoš, Nevesinje, Sarajevo (Novi Grad), Prijedor, Prnjavor, Rogatica, Sanski Most, Srebrenica, Teslić, Višegrad, Vlasenica and Zvornik.
- The cruel and inhumane treatment of Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians. Such inhumane treatment including, but not limited to, sexual violence, torture, physical and psychological abuse and forced existence under inhumane living conditions.
- The imposition of restrictive and discriminatory measures against Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats and other non-Serbs, such as the restriction of freedom of movement; removal from positions of authority in local government institutions and the police; dismissal from jobs; arbitrary searches of their homes; denial of the right to judicial process; and denial of the right of equal access to public services, including proper medical care.
- The forcible transfer and deportation of thousands of Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians to locations outside of Serb-held territories.
- The intentional and wanton destruction of homes, other public and private property belonging to Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, cultural and religious institutions, historical monuments and other sacred sites.
- The obstruction of humanitarian aid, in particular medical and food supplies, into the besieged enclaves Bihać, Goražde, Srebrenica and Žepa, and the withholding of water supplies for the civilians trapped in the enclaves, designed to create unbearable living conditions.
The former President of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina / Republika Srpska and Supreme Commander of the armed forces of Republika Srpska. Sentenced by the ICTY Trial Chamber to 40 years’ imprisonment on March 24, 2016. Almost exactly three years later, on March 20, 2019, the Appeals Chamber in a majority judgment set aside the sentence imposed at trial and, instead, imposed on Mr. Karadžić a sentence of life imprisonment.
(One up for the prosecution, who had appealed the trial judgment.)
The occurrences in the Srebrenica area cover a whole volume of the almost 3,000-pages long Karadžić trial judgment.
Interestingly, one of the sites where the Trial Chamber had rejected the assertions of the indictment was the first of the sites on which Koff worked in the Srebrenica area, namely, Cerska Valley. As in the Kigali case (Koff’s second Rwanda assignment), the issue was not whether or not the bodies found there were victims of executions (not even Karadžić himself disputed this). However, the prosecution had nailed down the date of the execution as between July 13 and 17, 1995, and it had also asserted in the indictment that there had only been one single execution — whereas the Trial Chamber found that about a third of the victims identified from the Cerska Valley site had last been seen alive after the dates set forth in the indictment. Thus, the Trial Chamber did not see itself able to find the facts as stated in the indictment.
It did, however, place reliance on Dr. Haglund’s expert testimony with regard to Pilica (AKA Branjevo Military Farm), one of the most atrocious mass execution sites of the entire war. The trial judgment states:
“The gravesite was exhumed between 10 and 24 September 1996 by a Tribunal exhumation team under the direction of William Haglund. The remains found at the gravesite were then examined under the direction of Robert Kirschner. William Haglund prepared a report on both the exhumation of the gravesite and the results of the post-mortem examination of the remains found therein.
The Branjevo Military Farm gravesite is an approximately three metre deep grave, consisting of a trench extending 28 by 10 metres. The gravesite showed evidence of robbing and disturbance evidenced, first, by aerial images and the discovery of partial bodies and, further, by soil samples from the surface of the gravesite.
A minimum of 132 individuals were found at the gravesite. All the individuals for whom sex could be determined were male. It was established that the victims’ ages ranged from 15 to 61, with the majority of the victims being over 25 years old. All the victims were found wearing civilian clothing, with the exception of one, who was wearing military-type trousers. Further, two blindfolds and 83 ligatures were recovered at the gravesite. The cause of death for at least 130 bodies was attributed to gunshot injuries.
As of 13 January 2012, DNA analysis has led to the identification of 138 individuals in the Branjevo Military Farm grave as persons listed as missing following the take-over of Srebrenica.”
In a later passage of the judgment, the Trial Chamber also sustains the experts’ findings as to such things as the differing degrees of decomposition and the interlocked positions of the bodies (Karadžić had argued that the varying states of decomposition indicated that the sites were just general dumping grounds for corpses used again and again), the blindfolding of the victims (which Karadžić had suggested weren’t blindfolds but military-style bandannas) and other findings common to all or most of the sites in the Srebrenica area.
Notably, the trial judgment relies substantially on the guilty pleas, evidence collected and and earlier judgments passed (and confirmed) with regard to the direct participants in the Srebrenica massacre, who had already stood trial before ICTY while Karadžić and Mladić were still at large, such as Drazen Erdemović, Momir Nikolić, and Dragan Obrenović (see further below).
The Karadžić Appeals Judgment doesn’t seem to have been made available to the public yet (all I’m finding is the scheduling order for the judgment and a general note as to its outcome).
Formerly Commander of the Main Staff of the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (“VRS”); convicted by the ICTY Trial Chamber of genocide in the area of Srebrenica in 1995 and of persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane acts (forcible transfer), terror, unlawful attacks on civilians and the taking of hostages; and sentenced to life imprisonment on November 22, 2017.
Mladić has appealed the judgment; the appellate proceedings are still ongoing.
The trial judgment seems to be under seal; at least, I couldn’t find it in the electronic database whichever way I looked. I’d expect it to be substantially similar to the Karadžić judgment with regard to Srebrenica, however.
Popović et al.
The proceedings against the men chiefly in command of the incidents at Srebrenica — the dates given below are those of the respective final judgments, which in all but the last two cases is the appeals judgment.
- Vujadin Popović (Lieutenant Colonel and the Chief of Security of the Drina Corps of the Army of Republika Srpska [“Vojska Republike Srpske” or “VRS”]) and Ljubiša Beara (Colonel and Chief of Security of the VRS Main Staff), both sentenced to life imprisonment on 30 January 2015.
- Drago Nikolić (2nd Lieutenant who served as Chief of Security for the Zvornik Brigade of the VRS), sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment on 30 January 2015.
- Radivoje Miletić (Chief of Operations and Training Administration of the VRS Main Staff), sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment on 30 January 2015.
- Vinko Pandurević (Lieutenant Colonel and Commander of the Zvornik Brigade of the Drina Corps of the VRS), sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on 30 January 2015.
- Ljubomir Borovčanin (Deputy Commander of the Republika Srbska Ministry of Internal Affairs Special Police Brigade (“MUP”) and, later, also Commander of a joint force of MUP units subordinated to the Drina Corps of the VRS to participate in the Srebrenica operation), sentenced to 17 years on 10 June 2010, trial judgement not subject to appeal.
- Milan Gvero (Assistant Commander for Morale, Legal and Religious Affairs of the VRS Main Staff), sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment on 10 June 2010, trial verdict determined as final by Appeals Chamber on 7 March 2013 following the accused’s death.
Interestingly, the June 10, 2010 trial judgment in these proceedings still accepted the forensic evidence regarding the Cerska Valley site, as given (chiefly) by Dr. Haglund. Almost even more interestingly, the Appeals Chamber in this case specifically rejected the evidence advanced by the defendants in order to cast doubt on Dr. Haglund’s expert testimony — which at least in part seems to have been substantially the same evidence which, a year later, caused the Karadžić Trial Chamber to reject the prosecution’s case with regard to the Cerska Valley incident(s).
The Popović et al. Trial Chamber found, with regard to Cerska Valley:
“Forensic anthropologists later exhumed a mass grave to the southwest of the narrow, unpaved road through Cerska Valley.
Forensic evidence has established that this grave was a primary, undisturbed grave. Among the remains exhumed from that grave, 142 individuals have been identified as persons reported missing following the fall of Srebrenica, based upon DNA analysis. 150 male individuals were exhumed; all but one had died as a result of gunshot wounds. Cartridges found in the grave matched cartridges found along the road and in the vicinity of the gravesite. Based upon this evidence, William Haglund, the forensic anthropologist who led the exhumation, concluded that the victims were lined up along the southern side of the road, while the individuals who shot them were on the northern side of the road shooting the victims in a spraying-type fashion.
Of the 150 bodies recovered from the grave at Cerska, the oldest were in their fifties and the youngest between 11 and 15. A total of 48 ligatures were found in the grave, 24 of them still binding the arms of the victims behind their backs. 147 bodies were dressed in civilian clothing and items of Muslim affiliation, such as prayer beads and pouches and Islamic community papers, were found on nine individuals.”
On the other hand, the Trial Chamber in these proceedings (again while not casting in doubt the forensic evidence as such) found that the allegations made in the indictment with regard to the second site that Koff worked on in the Srebrenica area — Nova Kasaba — were not sufficiently sustained by the eye witness testimony it had heard. (The Karadžić trial chamber a year later convicted Karadžić for the Nova Kasaba killings, relying chiefly on eye witness testimony.)
The Popović et al. Trial Chamber’s evidentiary findings, including those regarding Dr. Haglund’s forensic evidence, were fully upheld by the Appeals Chamber.
The Popović et al. appeals judgment had become binding (i.e. not subject to any further appeal) by the time the Karadžić trial chamber handed down its judgment.
Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Security of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) Main Staff — another one of the people chiefly responsible for the crimes committed (inter alia) in the Srebrenica area. Sentenced to lifetime imprisonment by the Trial Chamber on December 12, 2012; the sentence was upheld by the Appeals Chamber in its judgment of April 8, 2015.
The Trial Chamber’s findings with regard to the forensic evidence adduced in connection with the Cerska Valley site are essentially the same as those in the Popović et al. proceedings.
Like the Karadžić and Popović et al. Trial Chambers, the Trial Chamber in these proceedings also relied substantially on the evidence collected in the proceedings against, as well as the guilty pleas submitted by perpetrators already adjudicated at this point, such as Drazen Erdemović, Momir Nikolić, and Dragan Obrenović.
Tolimir’s challenge of the evidentiary findings, including the forensic evidence, was rejected by the Appeals Chamber.
Chief of Staff / Deputy Commander — and later Commander — of the Drina Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS). Sentenced to 46 years’ imprisonment by the Trial Chamber on August 2, 2001; reduced to 35 years on appeal by judgment of 19 April 2004.
The Trial Chamber — while again not casting doubt on Dr. Haglund’s findings as such — did not find sufficient evidence showing that the Drina Corps had been involved in the killings that occurred in the Cerska Valley, so Krstić was not held responsible for these killings. He was found responsible for killings at other locations, including the Pilica / Branjevo Military Farm, however. The Trial Chamber’s findings in this regard are similar (albeit somewhat less detailed) than those of the Karadžić Trial Chamber. — The Apeals Chamber knocked Krstić’s level of criminal responsibility down to “aiding and abetting” in light of the fact that the Srebrenica operations were, in large part, directed and overseen by Radko Mladić himself, which resulted in an 11-year reduction of Krstić’s sentence (but given his age at the time, still was equivalent to a life sentence, or substantially as much).
A soldier in the 10th Sabotage Detachment of the Bosnian Serb Arny (VRS), operating north-west of Zvornik in the Zvornik Municipality of Bosnia and Herzegovina: one of the members of the Pilica Farm firing squad — he personally killed about 70 people — and the first accused to be convicted for these events. Sentenced to a prison term of 5 years; the lenient term having been due to the accused’s substantial cooperation with the prosecution and the Tribunal (including a guilty plea), as well as his (compared with the other accused before the Tribunal) relatively inferior rank and lacking command responsibility.
As the Erdemović judgments were among the first judgments to be handed down by ICTY at all, they were of substantial importance for the later proceedings, both in terms of establishing legal precedents and in terms of the evidentiary findings. As Erdemović had cooperated with the Tribunal and pled guilty, however, no expert forensic evidence needed to be introduced against him.
Assistant commander for security and intelligence of the Bratunac Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army; sentenced on March 8, 2006 by the Appeals Chamber to 20 years’ imprisonment for, inter alia, his participation in the organization of the killings, as well as the systematic racial / ethnic and religious persecution of Bosnian Muslims in the Srebrenica area.
Like Erdemović, Nikolić pled guilty — but by the time of his proceedings, the Tribunal already disposed of a substantial amount of evidence with regard to the war crimes committed in the Srebrenica area; besides, his responsibility was vastly greater than that of a rank and file soldier such as Erdemović; so his guilty plea just barely succeeded in sparing him a life sentence. (The Trial Chamber, in its 2003 sentencing judgment, had even imposed a 27 year sentence.)
Chief of staff and deputy commander of the 1st Zvornik Infantry Brigade of the Drina Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army; briefly in 1995 acting commander of that brigade. Pursuant to a plea agreement following his guilty plea (substantially for the same or similar crimes as Momir Nikolić), sentenced to 17 years imprisonment by judgment of December 10, 2003.
- Vidoje Blagojević (Commander of the Bratunac Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army, which operated in the Bratunac and Zvornik municipalities in eastern Bosnia), sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment
- Dragan Jokić (Chief of Engineering of the Zvornik Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army, which likewise operated in the Bratunac and Zvornik municipalities), sentenced to 9 years’ imprisonment,
both by the appeals judgment of May 9, 2007.
The Trial Chamber in its January 17, 2005 judgment, again while not disputing Dr. Haglund’s expert testimony as such, found insufficient evidence that the two brigades to which these defendants belonged had directly participated in the Cerska Valley and Pilica / Branjevo Military Farm killings (as well as the events at a number of other sites). The sheer number of war crimes locations in the Srebrenica area, however, virtually guaranteed that something would “stick” after all — and what did stick merited, in the eyes of the Trial Chamber, an 18-year sentence for Blagojević (which the Appeals Chamber knocked down to 15 years) and a 9-year sentence for Jokić (which the Appeals Chamber upheld). Among the things that did stick (and were confirmed on appeal) was the knowing provision of logistical assistance for the killings at Branjevo Military Farm. — The prosecution, for its part, appealed the dismissal of the case with regard to some of the incidents where the Trial Chamber had not found sufficient evidence for the direct participation of the two defendants’ brigades, but that appeal failed as well.
Overall Review and Comments on the Book’s Other Sections:
Overall Review: https://themisathena.info/clea-koff-the-bone-woman
Buddy Read Announcement: HERE.
Related Post: Kofi Annan: Interventions: A Life in War and Peace