By Selma Ucanbarlic
On the second day of its opening arguments, the Hague prosecution said it would prove that Ratko Mladic was on “the ground and personally involved” in the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995.
Ratko MladicFollowing the completion of the Hague prosecution’s opening statements, the presiding judge, Alphons Orie, announced that the start of the presentation of evidence, originally scheduled for May 29, has been suspended until further notice.
“In light of serious omissions by the prosecution in regard to disclosure of evidence, we have decided to suspend the beginning of the evidence presentation process,” said Orie.
The prosecution was supposed to turn over all the evidence to the defence two weeks before the start of the trial but they realised a few days ago that not all the evidence had been entered into the system.
On the second day of the trial of the former Bosnian Serb army commander, Prosecutor Peter McCloskey said that the prosecution would focus on linking Mladic with the crimes committed in and around Srebrenica.
“This was and will remain genocide… the evidence of this crime is overwhelming,” he added, specifying that during trial soldiers who took part in executions would be examined, as well as the survivors.
Mladic stands accused of orchestrating the slaughter of more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys after the UN safe haven of Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995. He entered the plea of not guilty to all 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the Srebrenica genocide, committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
The prosecution said that during the evidence hearing it would focus on the documents exchanged between Mladic and his staff, because “only an army that is strictly controlled from the top could have carried out the murders of around 7,000 men”.
McCloskey said that in July 1995 the Army of Republika Srpska started the Operation Krivaja-95 which, among other things, was aimed at attacking the civilian population and the United Nations forces.
After the population from farther parts of the Srebrenica enclave had moved to the town’s centre, on July 11, 1995 Mladic and the Bosnian Serb forces entered Srebrenica. At the time, at the UN base located in the Srebrenica neigbourhood of Potocari, there were women, children, elderly, but also a lot of men of combat age.
“Troops from the Army of Republika Srpska seized Potocari. Some buses came to pick up women and children and drive them to the territory controlled by the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The men were separated. Their documents were taken from them,” said McCloskey, adding that Bosniaks had no choice, because Mladic decided to expel them.
The decision to kill the men was taken on July 13, 1995, said the prosecution, and members of the Army of Republika Srpska and the Ministry of the Interior of Republika Srpska executed the imprisoned Srebrenica men in several locations.
“When you see the data on mass graves you may think that these were victims killed in combat. However, we have many survivors who give a testimony of the murders. Many victims found in mass graves had their hands tied and their eyes blindfolded. These people were not killed in combat,” said McCloskey.
The prosecution emphasised it would show concrete examples of Mladic issuing orders to the people who committed criminal acts.
“Mladic filed a motion to defend himself with alibi for the events in Srebrenica. The defence claims that between July 14 and 17, 1995, he was in Belgrade with international negotiators and at a wedding, and that he was in no position to commit or instigate the criminal acts that happened,” said Dermont Groome, the second senior prosecutor at Mladic’s trial, alongside Peter McCloskey.
Groome said that the prosecution accepts that Mladic met with the international representatives, attended a wedding and was in a military hospital at various times, but cannot accept that he did not know what was happening in Srebrenica and that he was unable to take part in crimes.
“The fact that Mladic went to Belgrade does not mean that he did not have an intention to kill the prisoners and that he did not order the killings. The day he was at a wedding, men were being shot at the military farm in Branjevo”, said Groome.
Groome added that Mladic “started that wide scale operation which would lead to the death of 7,000 men and boys and the expulsion of 30,000 women and elderly people”.
The Hague prosecution said that Mladic ensured there was plenty of fuel – approximately five tons – in order to transfer human remains from primary to secondary mass graves and hide them.
According to the prosecution, the biggest mass execution sites were the village of Orahovac, the school in Petkovci, and Kravica warehouse, where 3,000 men and boys were killed, and the village of Pilica near Zvornik, where 1,500 people were shot. Hundreds more lost their lives in the school in Rocevici.
During the opening statements, the prosecutors showed a number of wartime videos featuring Mladic during his stay in Srebrenica in July 1995.
When a video was shown which depicted Mladic talking to a UN representative in Srebrenica and telling him that the international community is smuggling Bosniaks and defending them, the defendant clapped and nodded his head, while looking toward the public gallery.
“One thousand and five hundred men from Srebrenica are still missing, and they may never be found. The deaths of these victims and mutilation of the survivors is called the Bosnian genocide,” said McCloskey.
The defence will present their opening statements after the prosecution finishes with the presentation of its evidence.