Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July 2014, 16:05 GMT

"Not Knowing and Not Seeing" at Srebrenica

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Author Goran Jungvirth
Publication Date 15 March 2013
Citation / Document Symbol TRI Issue 780
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, "Not Knowing and Not Seeing" at Srebrenica, 15 March 2013, TRI Issue 780, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/51497df82.html [accessed 10 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Two former Bosnian Serb officials this week blamed paramilitary units for any crimes committed against non-Serbs in their municipality, Bratunac.

Brothers Branimir and Aleksandar Tesic appeared as defence witnesses for wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, who represents himself in the courtroom and is conducting his own defence case.

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, is responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which "contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory".

He is also accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of some 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.

In relation to Bratunac muncipality, Karadzic is charged with the killing of at least 12 people in the village of Hranca and of at least 65 men in the village of Glogova in early May 1992. In addition, he is accused of responsibility for the killing of about 50 people who were detained in the Vuk Karadzic school in Bratunac between May 10 and 16, 1992.

During the cross-examination, prosecutors confronted both brothers with the fact that they had been present in Bratunac as Bosnian Serb forces "cleansed" the area and committed numerous crimes against non-Serbs, including murder.

The Tesic brothers denied that the Serb-run local authorities had anything to do with the crimes, and claimed they only found out later that it was the work of the paramilitaries.

According to other witnesses in the case, Branimir Tesic, who was deputy police commander in Bratunac, was involved in the process of collecting non-Serbs from the municipality and taking them to the local stadium. Women, children and elderly people were bused out of the municipality, while several hundred of the men were taken to the Vuk Karadzic School and held prisoner there.

Although he did admit he was there, policeman Tesic said he had not seen men being divided from the women, children and elderly. He claimed they came to the stadium "mostly voluntarily".

The prosecution argued that as a senior law-enforcement officer, Tesic must have been familiar with what had been happening to the men imprisoned near the police station, but the witness kept denying it. He said that the police were not allowed to interfere in what the army was doing with prisoners.

"I repeat, we were ordered not to interfere in the work of the [local] Territorial Defence, which was under the armed forces of the JNA [Yugoslav People's Army]," the witness said.

Branimir Tesic claimed that the Bosnian Serb police force did not participate in ethnic cleansing in the Bratunac area.

According to his testimony, the local police only did traffic management, both in 1992, when buses carrying non-Serbs left the area, and also in July 1995, when Serb forces took control of Srebrenica, which is about ten kilometres from Bratunac.

In the days that followed the takeover of Srebrenica, more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces.

The prosecution insisted that in 1995, Tesic must have known of the fate of the men and boys from Srebrenica, since there were policemen from the Bratunac police station on the buses that took prisoners to the places where they were killed.

Tesic denied this, and said that the police had not been tasked with securing the buses carrying thousands of prisoners from Srebrenica who spent the night of 13 July, 1995 in Bratunac. They were only tasked with securing the prisoners' passage to Kravica and Konjevic Polje.

Although he admitted to being in Potocari – where thousands of Bosniaks fled after the takeover of Srebrenica – on July 12, 1995, Tesic denied seeing boys and men being divided from their families.

"I did not see only women and children; there were men there as well. I was there only in the beginning, when people were being taken into the first buses. I was in Potocari for just a while – not even 30 minutes – and then I returned to my police station. That was the first day Muslims came to Potocari," he said, rejecting testimony given by insider witness and policeman Dragan Neskovic, who said that both he and Tesic "had seen the misery and distress of people he could not help".

Branimir Tesic's brother, Aleksandar Tesic, was a member of the Bosnian Serb Crisis Staff in Bratunac.

Like his brother, Aleksandar Tesic told the court that the local authorities were not to blame for the killing of non-Serbs in Bratunac; this was done by paramilitary units, he said.

He also said that after learning that the paramilitaries were responsible, the crisis staff decided to ban them from the area.

The prosecution reminded the witness that these volunteers were banished by local authorities only after they had become a threat to Serbs because of their intentions to loot property, and that they cooperated with the army and police in the persecution of non-Serbs.

Prosecutor Julian Nicholls said it was hard to believe that as a distinguished municipal official, Tesic was not aware of developments in his town. After all, the lawyer said, shots could be heard when prisoners were killed at the Vuk Karadzic school in 1992.

Aleksandar Tesic repeatedly denied that he had known anything about the events of May 1992, although he was in a nearby municipal building at the time.

"I later heard there were some prisoners. I did not hear about it that day or the next, but after a few days, maybe, because it was impossible to hide that," he said. "Those who wanted to know and who passed by the school probably saw. I did not go there and I did not see anything."

When it came to the events of 1995, however, the witness admitted to seeing a large pile of corpses in front of a warehouse in Kravica on July 14, a day after 1,000 prisoners from Srebrenica had been killed there.

"I think there were between 200 and 300 corpses in a pile which was around a metre-and-a-half high. From afar, it seemed to be piled firewood. That's what it looked like. When I came closer, I saw those were human corpses. We went slowly past them. It was horrible; the impression was horrific," the witness recalled.

He said he was afraid to approach the numerous armed Serb soldiers, and was in a hurry to transfer the recruits he was in charge of to Zvornik.

Tesic denied that as a municipal official and the local representative of the Bosnian Serb defence ministry, he would inevitably have been aware of actions take to cover up the scale of the Srebrenica killings.

"I did not know anything about that for a long time. I neither knew where [the corpses were removed from] nor where [they were hidden]," he said. "I preferred not knowing and not seeing certain things."

The trial continues next week.

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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