The Numbers Game

Those who have asked questions about the Srebrenica numbers over the last ten years have invariably been treated with withering scorn. At best they have been characterised as would-be revisionists; at worst, deniers of a modern-day holocaust. Yet no serious analysis of events in and around Srebrenica in the summer of 1995 could be complete without detailed examination of the numbers. From the outset the numbers were used and abused, for a variety of political and other purposes, to conceal the fundamental truth of what had happened.

Origins of the massacre allegations Over the years it has been held to be highly significant that original ballpark estimates for the number who might have been massacred at Srebrenica corresponded closely to the 'missing' list of 7,300 compiled by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). But the early estimates were based on nothing more than the simple combination of an estimated 3,000 men last seen at the UN base at Potocari and an estimated 5,000 people reported 'to have left the enclave before it fell'. Neither of these figures could be considered reliable: the estimate of the Dutch peacekeeping force in Srebrenica (Dutchbat) of males at Potocari was far lower. And, as the British journalist Linda Ryan pointed out in an article in 1996, the words 'before it fell' probably refer to the substantial numbers of the refugee population who had left the safe area days, weeks or months before the Serb takeover to move to other Muslim controlled areas. It was only because the Bosnian Muslim government refused to provide information on what had become of these people that they remained technically 'unaccounted for'.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of the 7-8,000 figure is that it has always been represented as synonymous with the number of people executed. This was never a possibility: numerous contemporary accounts noted that UN and other independent observers had witnessed fierce fighting with significant casualties on both sides. It was also known that others had fled to Muslim-held territory around Tuzla and Zepa, that some had made their way westwards and northwards, and that some had fled into Serbia. It is therefore certain that nowhere near all the missing could have been executed

These points provide strong reasons for scepticism about the extent of the massacre claims. As further information has emerged over the last ten years, the version of events which was established in 1995 has come to seem more and more unlikely. The most fundamental problem of all is that the arithmetic does not add up.

The sums that don't add up By the end of the first week in August 1995 35,632 people had been registered by the World Health Organisation and Bosnian Government as displaced persons from the Srebrenica safe area - in other words, survivors of Srebrenica. The Red Cross had also seen and noted that 'several thousand' armed Muslim men from Srebrenica had passed safely behind Muslim lines to an area called Sapna Finger and had then been redeployed to fight elsewhere 'without their families being informed'. As noted above, some 700 soldiers from Srebrenica had made their way to Zepa, emerging safely from that town when it fell to the Serbs during the last week of July 1995. So there were in total at least 38,000 / 39,000 survivors of Srebrenica – a figure that precisely coincides with the total pre-fall population estimates of the major aid agencies.

Making the sums add up becomes even more difficult because the figures above take no account of casualties from the fighting between the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) and the armed column that left Srebrenica for Muslim-held territory. It is common ground in accounts of what happened that there were significant casualties on both sides from these clashes. A report published in September 2002 by Republika Srpska estimated an overall figure of approximately 2,000 Bosnian Muslim Army (ABiH) combat deaths, in addition to some 500 BSA fatalities. Whilst some of these casualties were from the ABiH Tuzla brigade, which had come out in support, the vast majority were from the armed column which had left Srebrenica.

It doesn't end there. Both the Dutch peacekeeping force (Dutchbat) contingent in Srebrenica and undercover British SAS intelligence officers who were in the town when it fell said they had witnessed bitter fighting between Muslims in Srebrenica shortly before the Serbs entered the town. Descriptions suggest that around 100 may have died and that their bodies were left where they had fallen. There are also reports that considerable numbers of Muslims died when they crossed a minefield which had been laid by their own side.

Taking all these factors together, in order for 7,300 people from Srebrenica to have been massacred, the population of the safe area before it fell to the Serbs would have had to be well over 46,000 – a figure far in excess of any credible estimate put forward at the time.

It is immensely significant that one of the judges in the Krstic case, Judge Patricia Wald, estimated the total pre-fall population of Srebrenica at 37,000 when writing an account of the Krstic case for the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics. (The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics Spring 2003, SECTION: Vol. 16, No. 3; Pg. 445; ISSN: 10415548, HEADLINE: General Radislav Krstic: A war crimes case study, BYLINE: PATRICIA M. WALD)

“Prior to the attack, Srebrenica was a village of some 37,000 inhabitants." Judge Wald was apparently supremely unaware that her own figure made it impossible for the crimes for which Krstic was convicted to have taken place.

Unreliable witnesses

Witness evidence has been equally insubstantial. With the exception of one execution at Potocari that was virtually witnessed by a UN soldier (though it did not quite occur within his sight), and a separate incident in which ten men were led behind a building and nine bodies were subsequently discovered, the main supporting evidence for summary executions comes from the handful of men who claimed to have survived mass executions by playing dead. It is on this flimsy basis that the crude 3,000 plus 5,000 sum remains the basis of massacre estimates. The figures have never been revised downwards. Indeed, it has been fashionable for human rights activists to inflate the Srebrenica figures to 10,000 or 12,000.

In fact the very first claims that many thousands of people might have been massacred at Srebrenica began to be made by members of the Bosnian Muslim government before the enclave had even fallen. President Alijah Izetbegovic and Foreign Minister Mohamed Sacirbey were on the telephone to world statesmen with a series of prescient reports. Further allegations were made by refugees when they began to arrive at Tuzla a few days after Srebrenica had fallen. Such claims had by this time become a stock-in-trade of the Balkan conflicts. The story was fuelled, however, on 20 July when the Dutch Co-operation Minister Jan Pronk, who had been sent by his government to find out what had happened at Srebrenica, was reported by the ANP News organisation to have said (in an interview given to the Dutch current affairs television programme 'Nova') that 'Thousands had been murdered by the Serbs'. The article went on:

“Pronk said the claims of widespread abuses by Bosnian Serbs against Muslims could not be dismissed on the grounds that they had not been confirmed by the UN. "They have been confirmed by those involved," he said.

And he added that past experience of Bosnian Serb conduct did not inspire confidence. The Serbs had repeatedly violated human rights and committed war crimes in the last few years. The Muslims were justified in their fear of the Serbs because of these experiences, Pronk said. Thousands of people had been murdered, the minister added in a clearly emotional reaction to his three-day trip to refugee camps around Tuzla and to the Muslim-led Bosnian government in Sarajevo."

In common with many politicians and journalists, Pronk was prepared to reach judgement on the basis of uncorroborated accounts. He apparently did so because they were vivid and convincing – something which later found expression in the journalistic formula 'documented, consistent and credible'. As a standard of proof, it did not amount to much.

On 27 July 1995 The Boston Globe reported that atrocities were 'unconfirmed so far': (The Boston Globe July 27, 1995, Thursday, City Edition , HEADLINE: Reports of atrocities unconfirmed so far; US aerial surveillance reveals little. BYLINE: By Paul Quinn-Judge, Globe Staff)

“The Clinton administration has not obtained independent confirmation of reported atrocities by Bosnian Serbs but does not doubt that they have occurred, State Department and other administration officials said yesterday.

"The bottom line is that these guys have been indicted as war criminals," said a State Department spokesman, referring to the Bosnian Serb leadership.

The official noted eyewitness accounts of arbitrary executions provided by Dutch UN troops, and credible reports of atrocities from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"These people are the experts, we trust them," the official said.

But there are ways to confirm what witnesses say, he added. If massacres were large enough "and if the timing is right, the birds can take a picture," he said, referring to spy satellites. So far, the official said, satellites have produced nothing.

Other sources with knowledge of the secretary of state's daily intelligence briefing said that Warren M. Christopher has not been presented with any intelligence imagery that could confirm massacres."

Although no further evidence was forthcoming in the following weeks, 'eyewitness' accounts sustained the story. Analysis of official reports and press coverage reveals that the same half-dozen or so men, all purporting to have survived massacres by playing dead, provided the 'evidence' from which David Rohde and other journalists projected the mass killings to the world. Little effort was made to test the credibility of these witnesses. Their testimony was accepted at face value, even though one of the most articulate, Mevludin Oric was a cousin of Naser Oric, the Bosnian Army Commander of Srebrenica.

When asked several years later by journalism students how he knew which witnesses he could believe, Rohde explained that his acid test had been whether they presented themselves as heroes or terrified victims; if the latter, he found them credible. Whether this can be considered a valid basis for judgement is a matter of opinion; it certainly made Rohde a potential victim of deception.

In an article entitled “The Construction of a Trauma", the Dutch anthropologist René Grémaux and the historian / journalist Abe de Vries drew attention to the inconsistencies in the accounts given by 'survivors':

“Oric's personal history is reason enough for doubt, but the inconsistencies in the accounts of Smail Hodzic and Hurem Suljic are obvious as well.

“Smail Hodzic: A basketball stadium becomes a soccer stadium becomes a School. “Hodzic Story 1: Hodzic first said he witnessed ambushes by the Serbs on the road to Zvornik. He was captured and then moved to a "basketball stadium near Bratunac" and subsequently taken to the execution spot, "a large field not far from a forest," he declared to Alexandra Stiglmayer in Die Woche of July 28. Hodzic Story 2: Soon thereafter, Hodzic told Roy Gutman (in Die Tageszeitung of August 11), that he was held at the "soccer stadium in Nova Kasaba," from where he and others were moved to be killed, "probably in a town called Grbavce." Hodzic Story 3: In the third version, told on October 4 to Aida Cerkez of Associated Press, Hodzic went through the same experience as Oric, Suljic and Avdic. Now he was taken to "a school in Krizevci" and the executions now took place not far from Karakaj.

“Hurem Suljic: Murder in a school becomes beatings in a department store Murders were committed at this school according to Suljic as well. On February 16 of that year, he spoke on BBC Newsnight. Footage of a not specified "school near Karakaj" indeed showed bullet holes, one in the ceiling and one at the toilet. But in the elaborate coverage of Suljic in 'The Washington Post' of 6 November 1995, there isn't a word about executions in a school; there is mention of beatings in a department store near Bratunac, a location where Suljic supposedly was kept prisoner.

Serbian woman: A school becomes a sports complex “Woman's Story# 1: Bratunac is the location of another school where Massacres supposedly took place, according to Robert Block in The Independent, July, 1995. A woman is quoted. She is supposedly an inhabitant of Serbia who recently visited her brother-in-law, a soldier in the Bosnian Serb Army: "He and his friends are quite open-hearted about what happened over there," she said. "They are killing Muslim soldiers. They said that only yesterday (note: Monday, July 17) they killed one thousand six hundred, and they estimate to have killed about four thousand in total. They said to be in great hurry, and therefore shot most of them." Woman's Story# 2: A few days later, Block's colleague Louise Branson of The Sunday Times brought the Serbian woman into the spotlight. Her husband, also fighting in the Bosnian Serb Army, mentioned mass shootings with more than three thousand dead. But not in a school in Bratunac. In a sports complex. “Up to this moment, human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have not been able to trace survivors of this crime. "There has to be a more detailed investigation, in order to establish the scale of violation of human rights that have taken place in the area of Bratunac," says their respective report." Grémaux and de Vries went on to quote an interview given by a Dutch soldier, Captain Schouten:

“It is noticeable, however, that there has been little attention to the account of Captain Schouten, although this Dutchman was the only UN military officer in Bratunac, where he stayed for several days, at the time the alleged bloodbath took place. Schouten, quoted in Het Parool of July 27, 1995:

"Everybody is parroting everybody, but nobody shows hard evidence. I notice that in the Netherlands people want to prove at all costs that genocide has been committed. (...) If executions have taken place, the Serbs have been hiding it damn well. Thus, I don't believe any of it. The day after the collapse of Srebrenica, July 13, I arrived in Bratunac and stayed there for eight days. I was able to go wherever I wanted to. I was granted all possible assistance; nowhere was I stopped."

So the official version of what happened in and around Srebrenica in July 1995 rests heavily on the testimony of a small number of individuals who contradicted themselves. Others who have spoken to the media have also given accounts that test credibility to the limits – for example, a report for BBC Newsnight in 1999 included this 'witness' narrative:

“This mother she fell on the side of the truck and broke her neck [demonstrates bringing both hands to her neck]. But as she slid down she grabbed my legs asking me to help her. I could not help her. I was holding my own child. She had a baby and I just managed to lift the baby with my leg to save her baby. My son was saying “Mum, I will die do not let go of me, hold me with both your hands". I said, “Son, let me save this tiny baby as well. Its mother is dead". When we finally reached Tuzla I handed the baby to the Red Cross and told them his mother is dead. I bathed that baby in Coca Cola."

A lack of evidence Hard evidence of massacres was (and still is) in very short supply. Despite spending five days at the Tuzla airport refugee camp, where well over 20,000 Srebrenica survivors were gathered, the UN chief investigator into human rights abuses could find no eyewitnesses to atrocities:

The Daily Telegraph Monday 24 July 1995 “Serb Atrocities In Srebrenica Are Unproved - By Tim Butcher in Tuzla

After five days of interviews the United Nations chief investigator into alleged human rights abuses during the fall of Srebrenica has not found any first‑hand witnesses of atrocities...

(UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) Mr Henry Wieland said yesterday “.. we have not found anyone who saw with their own eyes an atrocity taking place. " ...Mr Wieland travelled to Tuzla, the Bosnian city where almost all of the Srebrenica refugees were taken, with a team of investigators to gather evidence of human rights abuses...He said his team had spoken to scores of Muslims at the main refugee camp at Tuzla airfield and at other collective centres but no first‑hand witnesses had been found..."

The Dutch were also unable to find any eyewitnesses. Dr Dick Schoonoord of the Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdoumentatie (NIOD) confirmed at the beginning of 2005:

“It has been impossible during our investigations in Bosnia to find any people who witnessed the mass murder or would talk about the fate of the missing men."

There were other indications from an early stage that the massacre claims were unreliable. A former US State Department official, who remained in close contact with past colleagues at very senior levels, wrote in 1997 that he had been told that the South Central Europe section in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research 'saw nothing, repeat nothing, that had substantiated claims in the press'. He added that the individual who had told him this had security clearances to the highest level and 'would have had to know about it' had any such information existed.

The last decade has been littered with instances where strong and specific allegations have been made, such as the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the 2003 war, which have later proved to be false. In 1999 NATO countries claimed that thousands (one US government official suggested a total of 500,000) of Kosovo Albanians had been summarily executed by the Serbs. When the post-war body hunt in Kosovo produced fewer than 3,000 bodies in total, from all sides and all causes of death, stories began to emerge of a huge and immensely effective cover-up involving the mass transportation of bodies to burial sites in Serbia. The parallels with Srebrenica are obvious.

A rare example of consistency The unchanging numbers of missing from Srebrenica are noteworthy also precisely because they have not moved in ten years. Military actions and terrorist incidents usually follow a very different pattern, as 9/11 clearly demonstrates:

The Office of the Medical Examiner of New York City reported in January 2004 that it had issued a total of 2,749 death certificates in connection with the hijacker attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. "We believe this is the final number," a spokesperson for the medical examiner said.

"Two weeks after the attack," Associated Press reported at the time (January 23, 2004), "the number of missing-person reports [filed with New York authorities] peaked at 6,886 amid confusion and calls from frantic relatives. The number stood at 2,792 from December 2002 until October [2003], when 40 unsolved cases were removed from the list."

This final 2,749 figure represents less than half (39.9 percent) of the peak-number of missing-person reports that were filed amid the anguish and confusion of the early days. The outrage took place in the richest city in the richest country in the world, with all of the resources necessary to get the body count right. It was not a relatively impoverished, war-torn country with internally-displaced people scattered in all directions.

The role of Madeleine Albright International outrage over Srebrenica was first provoked by claims made by the US Ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, in late July 1995. Mrs Albright displayed US surveillance photographs to the UN Security Council, maintaining that they revealed mass execution and grave sites. Following the Dayton peace agreement in November 1995, the presumption was that these sites, and the rest of the surrounding area, would be fully investigated as soon as the winter was over. Mrs Albright added that the US would keep careful watch to ensure any attempt to cover up massacres was detected ('We will keep watching to see if the Bosnian Serbs try to erase the evidence of what they have done.'"). Shortly after Mrs Albright's UN performance, the Croatian army (with massive US assistance) invaded the Serbian Krijina, displacing some 200,000 people from their homeland of 400 years' standing. Many believed that the Srebrenica massacre claims had provided a vital distraction from the greatest act of ethnic cleansing of the 1990s Balkan wars. Mrs Albright never again showed much interest in establishing what had happened at Srebrenica.

The facts of this are remarkable. Mrs Albright, as US Ambassador to the UN, had told the world that the sites around Nova Kosaba, shown on the satellite images she had brandished at the UN, might contain 2,700 bodies. Eventually just 33 bodies were discovered at Nova Kasaba, at four different sites and no detailed information was issued about circumstances of death (i.e. whether or not there was evidence of execution). As Nova Kasaba is an isolated hamlet in the mountains, 19km from Srebrenica, and accessible only by a single-track, unmade-up road, it is difficult to imagine that anyone would have chosen it as a mass execution site – particularly as there was a chronic shortage of gasoline. Many lorries and journeys would have been required to transport 2700 men there. Such an exercise would have been highly conspicuous and easily captured by satellite photo since, despite the dry summer weather, the necessary levels of traffic would have been likely to cause considerable and readily visible damage to the road.

International journalists In March 1996, the UK magazine LM reported:

“Many (international TV) crews did not even bother to search out the site shown on the CIA satellite photograph because it had generally been agreed in media circles that it was not a mass grave".

This also probably reflected the fact that some 30 international journalists had visited the Srebrenica area soon after it fell. None had published any kind of confirmation of mass slaughter allegations and one of their number, Jacques Merlino of the French Antenne 2 station, had broadcast a story saying he had found nothing.

Miroslav Deronjic, the civilian commissioner for the Srebrenica-Skelani municipality, was reported by Tanjug on 21 December 1995 as saying that on 25 August 1995 he received a group of 10 correspondents from the USA, Great Britain and Austria, led by Mike Wallace the anchor and co-editor of CBS' 60 Minutes programme. They brought with them many photographs taken from an AWACS of alleged mass graves of Muslim victims. Deronjic is quoted thus:

“They insisted that we should take them to the sites in the photographs so that they could assess for themselves the truth of the Muslim allegations. Without hesitation, in other words immediately, although I had not seen the photographs, I agreed to take them personally to every place in which they were interested. They showed me photographs in the region of Hrncici, K. Polje and Kasaba, and asked to be taken to these places. I got into the car with Wallace and immediately took the whole group to these locations. I spent 44 hours with them driving around the area, and allowed them to see for themselves...after the investigation, Mike Wallace personally thanked me and expressed his belief that the allegations were completely unfounded, and that the entire international public had been manipulated".

Little appetite for investigation Scrutiny of media coverage over the last ten years suggests that, once made, the massacre claims, were treated as established fact by politicians and journalists. There are no indications of any 'rational scepticism'. This is surprising on two counts. First, natural justice demands that indictments for appalling crimes should be made only on the basis of very strong evidence. Second, where there is a history of false accusations, new allegations should be treated with the greatest caution. By 1995 the wars in the Balkans had generated repeated massacre claims. One of the most notorious was the charge – delivered in live television broadcasts by the Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Siladzic - that Serbs had massacred 70,000 Muslims in Bihac. It transpired that this was completely untrue – Bihac was never captured by the Serbs. Of the allegations involving significant numbers, none has subsequently been proven.

Veteran journalist John Pilger, in a December 2004 piece for the New Statesman magazine, noted a similar phenomenon during the Kosovo crisis of 1999:

'Like the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, the media coverage in the spring of 1999 was a series of fraudulent justifications, beginning with US Defence Secretary William Cohen's claim that "we've now seen about 100,000 military-aged [Albanian] men missing... they may have been murdered." David Scheffer, the US ambassador at large for war crimes, announced that as many as "225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59" may have been killed. Blair invoked the Holocaust and "the spirit of the Second World War". The British press took its cue. "Flight from genocide," said the Daily Mail. "Echoes of the Holocaust," chorused the Sun and the Mirror. By June 1999, with the bombardment over, international forensic teams began subjecting Kosovo to minute examination. The American FBI arrived to investigate what was called "the largest crime scene in the FBI's forensic history". Several weeks later, having not found a single mass grave, the FBI went home. The Spanish forensic team also returned home, its leader complaining angrily that he and his colleagues had become part of "a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines, because we did not find one - not one - mass grave." In November 1999, the Wall Street Journal published the results of its own investigation, dismissing "the mass grave obsession". Instead of "the huge killing fields some investigators were led to expect ... the pattern is of scattered killings [mostly] in areas where the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army had been active." The Journal concluded that Nato stepped up its claims about Serb killing fields when it "saw a fatigued press corps drifting toward the contrarian story: civilians killed by Nato's bombs .... The war in Kosovo was "cruel, bitter, savage; genocide it wasn't."'

Revisionism Four months after Srebrenica fell to the Serbs the Dayton agreement brought an end to the wars in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The cold Balkan winter made it impracticable to search for mass graves until spring came, but the international community showed little urgency in getting the process underway. It was not until mid to late summer of 1996 that the Boston-based organisation Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) began work in the area around Srebrenica. When they halted work in the late autumn they had recovered a total of around 200 bodies from 20 separate sites. Notwithstanding hawkish comments by their leader William Haglund, this was clearly regarded as a very disappointing haul.

During the winter this surfaced in the media. One of the earlier versions was a suggestion in the New York Times that the Serbs had destroyed the corpses with a corrosive agent: "American officials said today that they suspect Bosnian Serb soldiers may have tried to destroy evidence that they killed thousands of Muslim men seized in and around the town of Srebrenica in July. The Serbs are suspected of pouring corrosive chemicals on the bodies and scattering corpses that had been buried in mass graves, the officials said. The suspicions first arose in early August, after Central Intelligence Agency experts analyzed pictures of the area taken in July by reconnaissance satellites and U-2 planes."

Jon Swain of The Sunday Times wrote an article on 3 November 1996 entitled “Empty Bosnian Graves baffle UN". Ignoring the evident possibility that an 'empty' grave might hold no bodies because, in fact, it had never been a mass grave, Swain contrived a bizarre logic:

“In several months of digging at mass graves in the macabre hinterland around Srebrenica, the investigators recovered far fewer bodies than they had expected. Of the thousands of men and boys from the UN safe area who were executed by Bosnian Serbs in July 1995, only a few hundred ‑ less than 10% of the 7,000 Muslims missing ‑ have been dug up.

The empty graves speak volumes about the conspiracy by Bosnian Serbs to cover up the massacre at Srebrenica. Their leadership claims that few bodies have been found because the stories of atrocities there were exaggerated. The more plausible theory is that bodies have been made to "disappear"."

Surveillance The reality as far as Srebrenica is concerned is that a cover-up would almost certainly have been impossible to achieve in the manner suggested. The area was under intense electronic and on-the-ground surveillance throughout the period:

“US satellites make at least eight passes over Bosnia daily, according to John Pike, an expert on satellites at the Federation of American Scientists. These include Keyhole satellites, which can detect object as small as four inches but which cannot see through clouds, and Lacrosse satellites, which can see through clouds but cannot focus enough to detect something the size of a human being. Then there are the Predators, known technically as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly referred to as drones. Built by General Atomics, these small, remote controlled vehicles can hover over targets for more than 24 hours at a time. Four of the latest versions are thought to operate from a base in Albania. Designed to provide 'round-the-clock' coverage, the Predators are almost invisible to the naked eye and difficult to pick up on radar. They can fly at up to 25,000 feet, have infrared detectors for night vision and can purportedly relay video footage back to the Pentagon in real time." – New York Times 26 July 1995 Confirmation that electronic surveillance had revealed nothing came in April 1996 when US LtCol John Batiste was quoted by AP as saying that satellite surveillance of mass graves showed “they had not been tampered with".

The cover-up theory is also unlikely for a host of low-tech reasons. The excavation, removal, transportation and reburial of 7,000 bodies – around 500 tonnes in total weight – could hardly have escaped normal human detection. There were many UN personnel in Bosnia throughout the autumn and winter of 1995/6. Moreover, the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) was under immense military pressure during the late summer and autumn of 1995, combating determined offensives in several areas and defending a front line almost a thousand miles long. It is inconceivable that the BSA could have spared either the men or the equipment necessary for such an operation. It is also unlikely that they could have found the gasoline- their supplies were so low they had been reduced to buying fuel from the Muslims on the black market.

The hunt for graves

During the first five years after Dayton, relatively few mass grave discoveries were reported. It sometimes seemed, in fact, that the search had been quietly abandoned, only for occasional excitements of the kind described by Mike O'Connor in the New York Times in May 1998:

"Deep in a remote rural stretch of Bosnia, war crimes investigators have found a tangle of buried bodies that they say is the remains of some of the 7,500 Muslim men that were hidden to try to thwart the prosecution of Bosnian Serb leaders for genocide. (...) Exhumations in 1996 recovered 460 bodies, but 7,500 others were still missing from the town of Srebrenica. Finding the others has been the goal of war-crimes investigators for more than two years. (...) The discovery Tuesday - and the thousands of bodies that investigators expect to find nearby - will bolster the cases against 2 Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, the investigators say. Both have been indicted for genocide by the tribunal in the Hague. Investigators for the tribunal spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity. Satellites that can locate bodies decomposing underground, according to foreign military officers working with the tribunal, aided the search. Witnesses to the reburial also offered testimony, tribunal officials said. The first remains were uncovered Tuesday morning. Investigators unfurled a thin silvery sheet to protect their find from the sun. Next to it, small orange flags had been stuck in the ground to mark pieces of evidence such as bits of clothing or shell casings. Tuesday evening, according to a tribunal official, a layer of tangled bodies across an ares of 200 ft (18 m) had been exposed. The bones were so intertwined, the official said, that it was not possible to exhume any of them Tuesday. Proving that the soil around the bodies came from the original mass graves, or that shell casings found here match those found at execution sites, will establish the connection they are looking for, investigators said.

When the original sites were inspected in 1996, investigators suspected most of the bodies had been moved. Doubts were cast on American military's satellite surveillance, with some investigators charging at the time that slipshod monitoring had allowed Bosnian Serb authorities to move the bodies undetected. Now, however, tribunal officials say the bodies were moved in October 1995, before the pinpoint satellite surveillance was requested by the tribunal. Once the original sites were discovered to have been tampered with, American satellite photographs of the region were reviewed and were found to show trucks and earth-moving equipment at the original burial sites, according to tribunal officials. Anonymous investigators say that the find "will bolster the cases against the 2 Bosnian Serb leaders".

In 2000/2001 there was a sea-change. Reports such as this began to appear with great regularity : “AP 11 July 2001

Since the end of the war, tribunal experts and the Muslim Commission for Missing Persons have exhumed the remains of about 4,800 victims, of whom only about 100 have been identified. ``By the end of the year, we are planning to exhume 1,000 more bodies'' said Amor Masovic, head of the commission."

From this point regular mass grave reports were to be seen in the international media. Some were prompted by further mass grave discoveries; others, such as the one below, measured progress. Without exception, reports referred to Srebrenica massacres as established fact, not allegation. Most included at least one reference to the Holocaust:

“Monday April 15, 2002

The smell is so overpowering that you try to breathe through your mouth. It's no good, and soon all you can taste is decay. All around, laid on shelves stretching in every direction, are the corpses of men, women and children who died in the biggest act of genocide in Europe since the Holocaust. Above the bodies, each wrapped in white plastic and marked with a serial number, are stacked brown paper bags, the kind American stores pack groceries in. They contain the washed and ironed clothes of the victims below. This warehouse, on the outskirts of Tuzla in Bosnia, belongs to the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), which has been exhuming the remains of people killed in the massacre at Srebrenica. The organisation was set up by Bill Clinton when he was US president to return victims' bodies to their families. …Last week the ICMP made the 112th DNA identification."

Slowly but surely media coverage helped to establish an impression that the missing bodies were now being found and identified in very large numbers and that the proof of large-scale massacres at Srebrenica had been assembled. Yet even within the terms of progress defined by the international community, there had been hardly any advance. By April 2002 – nearly seven years after Srebrenica fell - the BBC's Alex Kroeger reported that only 200 bodies had been identified:

Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK Identifying Srebrenica's victims

Bosnian Muslim women remember the massacre

By Alix Kroeger BBC Belgrade correspondent

Around 6,000[5] bodies from the Srebrenica massacre of Muslim men and boys have so far been recovered, but fewer than 200 have been positively identified, most through DNA analysis. ….Nearly 200 bodies have been matched with blood and bone samples taken from their surviving relatives, and identifications are now going ahead at a rate of two or three a day. “

Fifteen months later, in July 2003, the Washington Times reported a huge leap in the number of identified bodies:

The Washington Times


12 July 2003/Pg.A5 'Forensics experts have exhumed more than 5,000 bodies, 1,650 of which have been identified through DNA analysis and other techniques.'

Even at this stage, however, the picture remained confused. Agence France Press in October 2003 placed a very different set of figures in the public domain:

'Since its introduction two years ago the new DNA testing technique 5,000 Srebrenica victims have been identified, compared to 73 in the six previous years'.

The ICMP now (June 2005) states on its website:

“One month before the 10th anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica in 1995, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has completed identifications of more than 2,000 of the Srebrenica victims."

This confusing coverage reveals one thing above all – that at the time the ICTYindictments were issued in 1995 against Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic the Tribunal had no hard evidence to support its allegations of genocide. It had, in other words, issued indictments without having even the basis of a case.


If details of the mass grave excavations were few and far between, so was information about the breakthrough DNA technique, developed in Bosnia, which had suddenly allowed identifications to be made at the claimed rate of three a day – something of an improvement on the three managed during the entire first year of investigations. Until recently, this excerpt from an article in Science magazine on August 24, 2001 was the most detailed explanation of the new technique:

“…The ICMP project got going last year, when it began dispatching teams to collect blood from relatives of the missing persons. So far the ICMP has amassed more than 12,000 samples, with some relatives coming here from as far away as Australia. On average, it requires 2.5 donors to identify a body, says Huffine. The ICMP has 100,000 blood kits in hand, enough in principle to identify 40,000 bodies. "Once we have 100,000 samples, then we can expect that almost every body we find can be identified," says Amor Masovic, director of the Bosnian Muslims' missing persons commission."

A paper by John Crews, published by the OST publication on Science & technology in April 2005, gave more detail about the DNA methodology devised by the ICMP. Mr Crews noted that:

“ As the DNA Laboratory Development and Operations Director from March 2001 through December 2002, I was charged with establishing six DNA laboratories throughout the former Yugoslavia to identify the remains of missing persons exhumed from mass graves in the region. The work was particularly difficult as high-end, high-purity supplies needed for a DNA laboratory were difficult to procure in-country. Compounding this issue was the lack of individuals with experience in such high-caliber laboratories and knowledge of the equipment being used. However, by the end of 2001 a supply line was established from both in-country and international vendors; the staff had not only completed validation and begun work, but grew from only eight at the beginning of 2001, to 34 – including three senior scientists – in less than a year….

Mr Crews goes on to give some information about the 'cutting-edge' DNA procedures developed by the ICMP:

“The process of DNA-based human identification relies upon the comparison of DNA analysis of blood samples from living family members to the analyzed DNA from bone samples cut from the femurs or molar teeth extracted from exhumed remains…. “Blood samples were collected using Schleicher & Schuell Specimen Collection Paper and extracted using a simple, quick, and inexpensive water-based technique (contact author for protocol). This process allows for the extraction and amplification set-up of a plate of 96 samples in less than two hours. With this capacity, the blood processing laboratory in Tuzla, BiH is capable of processing up to 8,000 blood samples per month. The bone extraction procedure (contact author for protocol) relies upon a technique pioneered in the Sarajevo laboratory where DNA is bound to a silica membrane (DNA Blood Maxi Kit from Qiagen,, effectively isolating the DNA from other cellular contaminants. The silica-based DNA extraction procedure uses chaotropic salts that dehydrate the DNA and enhance intermolecular attractions that bind the DNA to the silica membrane. Elution of DNA from the membrane using ultra-pure (18 mOhms of resistivity), UV-irradiated water (to kill microbes, inactivate enzymes, and cross-link potentially contaminating DNA) provides approximately 30ml of DNA at a concentration of 250pg/ml to 1ng/ml with ~90% recovery of extracted DNA."

DNA identification has come to be seen, in much the same way as fingerprint technology, as something of a gold standard. The perception is that, if the DNA matches, it constitutes unassailable evidence. This may be the case for matches made on the basis of readily available samples of uncontaminated DNA (from recently deceased bodies); whether it applies to DNA recovered in circumstances such as those associated with the ICMP's work is a matter of debate. The DNA community is deeply divided, for instance, on the validity of the DNA identification of the Romanovs.

No population database

Whether or not the DNA technique is reliable, there are compelling reasons to doubt the identifications made by the ICMP. The ICRC list of missing persons from Srebrenica was drawn up following public appeals for relatives and friends of Srebrenica missing to come forward. This inevitably created enormous potential for both deliberate and unintentional distortion. Since there were no population records for the safe area in 1995, the ICRC had no control data against which they could verify their list. The most recent population records for Srebrenica were from 1991, when the municipality (the town and the many villages in the surrounding area) of Srebrenica had 37,211 inhabitants, of which 27,118 were Muslims (72.8 percent) and 9,381 Serbs (25.2 percent). It is certain that many members of the 1991 population – 25% of whom were Serbs – were no longer living there in 1995. This means that there is no database for the Srebrenica population of July 1995. As Serbian historian Milivoje Ivanisevic has concluded :

“Anybody could add a disappeared person to the list, without any elementary check of the person doing this. ICRC should not be criticized for this. Notifications were often made by individuals who presented themselves without any proof as family members, colleagues, co-combatants, neighbors. This list, without any further actions and checking was declared and transformed into the list of Srebrenica victims, and still later this went further, and the list was transformed into the list of massacred Muslim civilians." Ivanisevic noted a series of further points concerning the list. In addition to Muslims, it included “persons of other nationalities and faiths", some individuals who were known to be still alive, people who had never existed, as well as:

“many that committed crimes in this region and in whose interest it is that they are listed as "disappeared". They change names and under other identity continue living in B&H or in foreign countries as refugees."

No adequate control of grave excavations and body storage It was at the end of 1996 that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) quietly assumed control of continued investigations, taking over from the UN. At first sight it might seem quite reasonable for the ICTY to take charge of the search for mass graves around Srebrenica. But, as a Tribunal set up by nations that had played a direct part in the Balkan conflicts and had an obvious political agenda, the ICTY had none of the crucial checks and balances that characterise inquisitorial legal processes such as the French system.

From the outset ICTY prosecutors and investigators made repeated public pronouncements that the Serbs massacred thousands of Muslim men from Srebrenica, even though the only evidence that such crimes had taken place was uncorroborated witness testimony. There was some respectability attaching to the search for mass graves when it was in the hands of an apparently independent organisation, PHR; the process became fatally compromised when, from 1997 onwards, this work was carried out by the International Commission for Missing Persons, an organisation originally created by the Izetbegovic government – particularly as, notwithstanding the inclusion of some foreign forensic experts in its team, the ICMP effectively remained under Bosnian Muslim control.

In his book, “The Graves", Eric Stover reveals the inadequate nature of the forensic work:

“With the departure of the tribunal's scientists in October 1996, the task of identifying the Srebrenica remains fell to the director of the forensic instituteof the University of Tuzla, Zdenko Cihlarz…. In the main laboratory of the institute, Cihlarz stopped and swept his arm aroundthe room. "So, you see, it's all improvisation. Here you have one of the biggest forensic investigations of a war crime in European history and what have you got? Forensics on a shoestring." In the dimly lit room I could make out boxes of bones stacked against the tiled walls. Here and there, bones had fallen out, collecting dust, on the floor. Makeshift examining tables had been fashioned out of planksand sheets of thick cardboard. Several medical and forensic textbooks laid strewn across table tops, their covers torn and dog-eared. I picked one up and leafed to the title page. It was more that thirty-five years old. On an examining table, laid out in anatomical order, were less than half the bones of a skeleton, and next to it a makeshift bone board, an instrument physical anthropologists use for measuring stature from the long bones. It had been cobbled together by attaching two metal bookends to a smooth wooden plank. Tacked to the top of the board between the bookends was a cloth measuring tape. Fixed to the wall above the table was an illustration of a skeleton cut from the pages of an anatomy book."

Yet it was the ICMP in particular that fostered the belief that the Serbs had mounted a major cover-up operation in the late months of 1995 in which mass graves close to Srebrenica had been dug up and the bodies removed for reburial at far more distant sites along the Drina valley.

Once the cover-up theory had been widely reported, mass grave discoveries began to be announced on a regular basis. When details were given, it was evident that almost all these sites were far removed from Srebrenica – often fifty or sixty miles away. Their discovery was generally seen as confirmatory of the cover-up thesis, but no specific evidence to support the hypothesis was made public until the ICTY trials of Erdemovic and Krstic. This consisted of confessional evidence from Dragan Erdemovic, a Croatian, whose mental health had given cause for serious concern and whose motivation was open to doubt, and anecdotal evidence from other witnesses who claimed to have taken part. As with other ICTY cases, the testimony appeared to be part of a plea-bargaining process. So far as the mass grave discoveries were concerned, the fact that the work had been carried out (albeit under supervision of the ICTY) by an organisation set up by the Bosnian Muslim government would, under almost any accepted rules of evidence, be considered to have fundamentally compromised the value of the data gathered.

Some official figures now suggest that around 6,000 bodies linked to Srebrenica have been discovered in mass grave excavations. But there continues to be an absence of detailed data about individual excavations. In particular, there has been no serious explanation of how the finds have been linked to Srebrenica; how many of the bodies can be specifically linked to execution rather than other forms of death; and how many of the bodies have been individually identified. Nor has the ICTY (nor the International Commission for Missing Persons) explained how the search for Srebrenica bodies has been kept separate from the parallel search going on for the (now thought to be grossly exaggerated) estimated 250,000 people said to have died in the civil wars throughout Bosnia between 1992-95.

A seminal moment came in 1999 when the authorities in Tuzla announced that thousands of Srebrenica bodies had been gathered in the town's morgue. Once again, no detailed information was given about the provenance of the bodies, but Srebrenica relatives were requested to visit the morgue to see if they could identify their loved ones. Typical of the coverage was a report by David Sells of BBC Newsnight:

'In Tuzla there is a funeral parlour, called the Memorial Centre, a grim spot. Stored there, topsy-turvy, are 3,000 bodies. Some are kept refrigerated, most are not. They are victims of the Srebrenica massacre. Almost all are unidentified. Why, still, four years on? The process of identification is painfully slow. A foreign pathologist told the Women of Srebrenica at a special Tuzla meeting: "This work is going to go on for many years." And there are thousands more Srebrenica citizens still unaccounted for.

.. Investigators from the Hague Tribunal, seeking to document the Srebrenica massacre, have exhumed dozens of mass graves, but their interest ends there. They are not concerned to identify individual bodies they dig up."

It is very clear from this description that the bodies were stored chaotically at the Tuzla morgue and that few, if any, steps had been taken to ensure the integrity of the evidence. How David Sells could assert that they 'are victims of the Srebrenica massacre' is unclear; he certainly does not offer any explanation. If the bodies had not been identified, how could anyone be sure that they were connected with the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995? And, once again, there is no reference to evidence indicating that these bodies had shown signs of execution. In any case, as Sells noted, the ICTY 'are not concerned to identify individual bodies they dig up'. Unidentified bodies were apparently more useful for ICTY purposes.

More light was shed on the methodologies used in the search for mass graves in the broadcast report that Sells made at this time for the BBC Newsnight programme. The transcript below reveals that the quality of evidence-gathering was amateurish in the extreme. It is also noticeable – despite the rhetorical question in his commentary (“..the overall problem remains: who is buried where?") that Sells did not ask his expert interviewee how, without having made any identifications, she could be sure that the bodies were those of people from Srebrenica who had died in 1995. Given the fighting that had gone on in the area from 1992-95 (not to mention the fierce engagements there during the Second World War), this seems a startling assumption. Nor did Sells raise any question about the secondary grave theory, although he must have been well aware that such an operation would have been exceedingly difficult for the Serbs to carry out and even more difficult, in a country under intense electronic and human surveillance, to achieve without detection:

“David Sells:

This idyllic valley, despite appearances, is a graveyard. Some of the Muslims who vanished in Srebrenica were massacred and when the Hague war crimes tribunal began nosing about Bosnian Serbs quietly reburied the victims far from the scene. This was one reburial site. Woman with North American accent:

This is it right in front of us. You can see the faint outlines…

David Sells:

Under the logs?


Yes, under the logs. It's right here. It came more or less right up to the road and you can see where it's dirt there and then the grass begins growing again. And from this site we exhumed the remains of approximately 160 individuals.

[a digger is shown shovelling out earth - but not carefully, just shovelling]

David Sells:

They were dug up here just last year but the overall problem remains: who is buried where? In one organised Srebrenica massacre four years ago Muslim men were separated from women and children. Then bussed, not to safety as General Mladic had so disarmingly promised, but out to a state farm and firing squads. The Serbs on this occasion taking revenge for butcheries they themselves had suffered at the hands of Muslims. The Hague tribunal is interested in the crime, one mass grave fully exhumed can be evidence enough to make their point.


This is what we call a secondary mass grave. That means that they were originally buried someplace else and then the perpetrators dug up their remains using heavy equipment and moved them to this location and interred them here. So it's quite obviously an effort to hide evidence of the crimes that have been committed.

David Sells: This is another mass grave. The tribunal has probed it, it knows there are more bodies beneath the weeds but it now has evidence enough. It has no need for another exhumation. We were shown eight more such graves in this silent valley, probed but not exhumed. So there's a conflict of interest. Hasan Muhanovic's family could be buried here, but without precise identification he will never know."

Within the forensic science community there is respect for the DNA work done by the ICMP. The technique it has developed is considered sound and the quality of the laboratory processes is also thought to be good. But, whilst this has been useful in identifying bodies recovered in Bosnia which might otherwise have remained unidentified, it has shed relatively little light on the events in and around Srebrenica in July 1995. This is because the conventional forensic work carried out by the ICMP is perceived to have been of poor quality. Suspected grave sites were not kept secure; excavations were carried out by personnel without adequate training, using inappropriate tools and techniques; the transportation and storage of body parts was not done according to professional forensic standards; and, throughout the process, there was a failure to keep full and detailed records. As a result, there is no coherent data on such vital questions as time, cause and circumstances of death. And it must be noted once again that even the DNA identifications have served only to match body parts to individuals listed on the ICRC missing list. They provide no proof that the individuals concerned were casualties following the fall of Srebrenica.

An assumption of guilt Although for several years after 1995 virtually no evidence was found to support the massacre allegations, politicians and the media continued to suggest that they were proven beyond doubt. This point was made as early as March 1996 by the British journalist Linda Ryan:

“Some might think that bodies would come in handy as evidence when charges of genocide are being levelled. There must be tens of thousands buried all over Bosnia. Yet not one had been uncovered at the alleged 'mass graves' near Srebrenica at the time of writing. All sorts of excuses were given for the lack of bodies‑‑they had been covered by snow, dismembered by machines, destroyed by chemicals and moved elsewhere by the Bosnian Serbs. It almost seems like nobody wants to dig around in case they discover the 'mass graves' are empty. This is what happened when British divers went into the flooded mine at Ljubija, in north‑west Bosnia, alleged to hold the bodies of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims and Croats. They found nothing."

Commentators have nevertheless characterised the body hunt as a great success and have treated the ICMP as a bona-fide, impartial organisation. Although a measure of respectability was conferred on it by the establishment of an international supervisory board, the fact that former Senator Bob Dole and former AOL Chairman James V. Kimsey are numbered among its Chairmen is not compatible with the notion that it is impartial.

Dole is an anti-Serb of long standing. He set out to undermine the economy of Federal Yugoslavia through provisions he added to US legislation passed on 5 November 1990 which made further US aid payments to Yugoslavia conditional on the holding of “democratic" elections in each of the Yugoslav republics. These elections were bound to give a boost to nationalists and encourage secessionist aspirations; they also brought effective end to aid, which immediately threw the Yugoslav Federal government into crisis because it was unable to pay the enormous interest on its foreign debt or to continue the purchase of raw materials for industry. Credit collapsed, recriminations broke out on all sides and the pathway to conflict was set. Subsequently Dole allowed his Washington office to be used by Kosovo Albanian lobbyists and, as a member of a group of US senators visiting Sarajevo in 1992, he was heard in a US TV News report telling a group of Bosnian Muslims 'We're on your side'.

Kimsey is distinct from Dole in that he had not expressed strong sympathies with particular groups in the Balkans. He does, however, have pronounced views about the United States' role in the world. In an article entitled “Former AOL Chief Seeks to Fix Washington, World", John Shaw quoted James V. Kimsey as follows:

“We should be much more chess player-like in our view of the world. We should stop thinking tactically and reactively and develop broad, strategic plans. Americans think very near term. We don't have long-range goals," he said. “George Marshall had a strategy after World War II. It was well thought out. We're in a war now, and we really haven't thought our way through it—and we need to."

Other factors

There were other fallacies in the massacre scenario. One was the notion that the inhabitants of the safe area were at the mercy of the BSA. This is unsustainable. By all accounts there were at least 5,000 armed ABiH (Muslim army) troops in Srebrenica – and probably many more. According to the UN contingent based in the safe area, the ABiH in Srebrenica was well armed – indeed, members of Dutchbat had noted that state-of-the-art armaments and communications equipment had been flowing into Srebrenica during 1995. The town's defenders were also dug into excellent defensive positions. In the light of all this it was a great surprise that what appears to have been a very small BSA force took the town virtually without resistance and was then alleged to have overpowered and executed a vastly superior force of well-armed men over the ensuing days. The London Times' long-standing and well- respected Defence Correspondent, Michael Evans, wrote on 14 July 1995:

“There were reports that up to 1,500 Serbs were involved in the assault on Srebrenica, but intelligence sources estimated the main attack was carried out by a force of about 200, with five tanks. "It was a pretty low-level operation, but for some reason which we can't understand the BiH (government) soldiers didn't put up much of a fight," one source said."

Some confirmation of this estimate can be taken from the fact that the Serbs were very concerned that the fleeing ABiH troops might be able to capture the town of Zvornik as they travelled towards Muslim lines.

Writing in 1997, Carlos Martins Branco, who was one of the UNMO Deputy Chief Operations Officers of UNPF (at theatre level) at Srebrenica in July 1995, had this to say, based on information he had acquired from debriefing UNMOs who where posted to Srebrenica during those days and from 'some UN reports not disclosed to public opinion'.

“If there had been a premeditated plan of genocide, instead of attacking in only one direction, from the south to the north - which left the hypothesis to escape to the north and west, the Serbs would have established a siege in order to ensure that no one escaped. The UN observation posts to the north of the enclave were never disturbed and remained in activity after the end of the military operations. There are obviously mass graves in the outskirts of Srebrenica as in the rest of ex-Yugoslavia where combat has occurred, but there are no grounds for the campaign which was mounted, nor the numbers advanced by CNN.

The mass graves are filled by a limited number of corpses from both sides, the consequence of heated battle and combat and not the result of a premeditated plan of genocide, as occurred against the Serbian populations in Krajina, in the Summer of 1995, when the Croatian army implemented the mass murder of all Serbians found there. In this instance, the media maintained an absolute silence, despite the fact that the genocide occurred over a three month period. The objective of Srebrenica was ethnic cleansing and not genocide, unlike what happened in Krajina, in which although there was no military action, the Croatian army decimated villages. “

Tthere are also detailed reports suggesting that the BSA, far from having genocidal intentions, immediately wanted to pass responsibility for the displaced Srebrenica population to the UN peacekeepers and the aid agencies. It makes sense: the BSA force was small in number and short of supplies. Records show that there was detailed discussion between Serbs and Muslims about the treatment of the Srebrenica population.

“The Srebrenica Committee for Civil Affairs made public the record of a meeting held with Muslim representatives on July 12 in the "Fontana" hotel (in Bratunac) which shows that the Serb side conducted properly, and as was agreed, the evacuation of Srebrenica residents. "During the evacuation there were no incidents from either side, with the Serb side respecting all the terms of the Geneva Convention and International War Law", says the joint communique signed by the former executive official of Srebrenica, Nesib Mandzic, for the Muslim side. According to the minutes, the meeting was held at the request of Muslim delegation, made by Camila Purkovic, Ibro Nuhanovic and Nesib Mandzic. Representing the Serb side were the chief‑of‑staff of the Republic of Srpska Army, General Ratko Mladic, the head of Srebrenica Civil Affairs, Miroslav Deronic, the mayor of Bratunac Municipality, Ljubislav Simic, and the president of the Bratunac Municipality Executive Council, Srbislav Davidovic. It was agreed at the meeting, also attended by the commander of UNPROFOR Dutch battalion, that civilians may stay within enclave or be evacuated, depending on the wishes of each resident. "In the event that we decide to be evacuated, we will be allowed to decide where to go. We decided to transfer the entire Srebrenica population to Kladanj Municipality", says the agreement signed by Mandzic, which specifies that the RS Army and Police will conduct the evacuation under UNPROFOR supervision." - SRNA 18 July 1995.

And over the years there has also been evident a conspicuous lack of interest on the part of the international community in following up indications that the 'missing' from Srebrenica might not be dead. In 1997 the Bosnian Serbs claimed that more than 3,000 of the people on the electoral roll for the 1996 elections in Srebrenica were also on the list of 7,300 missing from Srebrenica drawn up by the ICRC. A BBC journalist contacted the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which had overseen the elections, to ask if they could investigate. He pointed out that either some 3,000 people on the missing list were either still alive, or there had been massive election fraud. The OSCE were not very interested, but – after some perseverance – the BBC journalist spoke to an official called David Foley. He promised to look into the matter and duly sent this e-mail to his colleagues:

Subject: FW: ICRC Missing List cross‑ref Date: 23/07/97 Time: 5:44p resend with correct address. DF

From: David Foley Sent: Wednesday, July 23, 1997 5:41 PM To: Linda Edgeworth; Deborah Alexander; Michael Yard; Christian Christensen; Nicole Szulc

Subject: ICRC Missing List cross‑reference with PVL

A BBC journalist working on the issue of the missing in BiH has asked an interesting question. He is checking a claim made by Mr. Kalinic, the President of the National Assembly of RS that 3,000 people who are on the ICRC list of missing from Srebrenica voted in last year's elections.

I have no memory of any attempt by OSCE to check the refugee registration database against the ICRC computerized list, and I doubt whether there are records avialable of who actually voted in the elections last year. Does anyone know if this is the case?

Would it be possible to check the ICRC list against the 1996 PVL? This would potentially unite people long separated, and would, at a stroke, potentially do more to cut down the ICRC list of misery than any effort so far. We should do this if it is at all possible. Thoughts?

David Foley Spokesman and Senior Advisor for Public Policy Phone: 444‑444 x222, e‑mail:

After several months with no further response, the BBC journalist made repeated attempts to contact Mr Foley. Eventually he spoke to him. Foley explained that the electoral records from 1996 had been locked away in warehouses around Bosnia and that the OSCE did not have the resources to recover them and cross reference the names that appeared on both the electoral roll and the ICRC missing list. The BBC journalist expressed surprise, noting how important it was to get further information on the Srebrenica missing. Mr Foley said the OSCE would be sure to keep this in mind during the 1997 elections which were soon due, but he could nothing more on 1996.

The political background is also murky. There are confirmed witness reports that Alijah Izetbegovic, the Bosnian President, was pursuing a parallel strategy of exchanging Srebrenica for a strategic Serb-held part of Sarajevo, while seeking to engineer circumstances in which he could provide the Clinton administration with a pretext to renounce international impartiality and take sides with the Bosnian Muslims. The Dutch commentators, René Grémaux and Abe de Vries, reported this as follows:

“Eventually, while the "Dayton" agreement was in preparation, the Bosnian government [Izetbegovic] accepted the concept of exchanging territory: Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde for the Serb Sarajevo. Bosnian Minister of foreign affairs Muhammad Sacirbey had already informed Secretary of State Voorhoeve about this option during talks held in May (see De Volkskrant of 1 November 1995). The deal came as a blessing for the Americans, so close to the start of an election campaign. The fiercely criticized UN peace force very much wanted to abandon the "safe havens" as well. Srebrenica became the turning point from a military, political and publicity perspective. Only the retreat of the peacekeepers made it possible for NATO to start with the air strikes in September. The wave of horror stories about mass executions overshadowed the Croatian terror in the Krajina and no word got out about the Muslim-Croatian crimes in cities like Glamoc, Grahovo and Sanski Most... "

Other reports claimed that Izetbegovic had told Muslim leaders from Srebrenica that Clinton had said to him that a 'massacre of 5,000' would give the US government an excuse to abandon neutrality. And of course, as noted above, Madeleine Albright's production of US surveillance pictures of Srebrenica coincided with the US-backed Croatian invasion of Krijina and was soon followed by the three-day NATO bombing of BSA positions around Sarajevo.

In addition to all this there are two fundamental points that should not be forgotten: (i) that the finding of a "mass grave" is not necessarily proof of a mass execution. In wartime the battlefield victims of the opposing side may be disposed of in this way, until a transfer of the remains can be negotiated with the other side, to avoid the health problems that their decomposition on the surface could cause, particularly in summer; and (ii) that 'comingling' of corpses and bones is not necessarily an indication of a cover-up operation to hide evidence of a massacre. As some of the accounts quoted above make clear, the excavation of suspected mass graves in Bosnia appears in many instances to have involved mechanical diggers going to considerable depths – one report referred to bodies recovered from 9 metres below ground level. Such techniques in themselves would cause commingling.

Reports and 'confessions'

During the past few years the international community has appeared anxious to underpin the regnant version of events at Srebrenica. Successive UN High Representatives in Bosnia, equipped with draconian powers, required the government of Republika Srpska to produce a report admitting that massacres had been carried out by the BSA. The original report, produced in September 2002, was a detailed and thorough account. It concluded that there had been no massacres, but that some 2,500 Bosnian Muslims and 500 Serbs had been killed in fighting in the forests as the column of men from Srebrenica had made their way towards Muslim lines. Lord Paddy Ashdown, who had just taken over as UN High Commissioner, was infuriated and ordered Republika Srpska to produce a new report to his own prescription on pain of drastic penalties if they did not co-operate. When the RS government sought to approach the task with a degree of independence, he sacked several members of the committee producing the report, replacing them with his own placemen, including one Muslim. This individual is believed to have largely drafted the report which Ashdown published with a flourish in 2004. To cement the massacre theory more firmly still, Ashdown had commissioned an extremely expensive memorial at Srebrenica, complete with 10,000 token gravestones, which was very publicly opened – with a speech by former US President Bill Clinton – on the 8th anniversary of events in July 2003.

The Skorpion Tape

As the 10th anniversary of Srebrenica approaches, attempts to embed the massacre story have intensified. In both the USA and the UK, newspapers began to carry lengthy features a full two months before the anniversary date. On the legal side, ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte redoubled her media campaign for the arrest of Karadzic and Mladic, timing a visit to Belgrade to coincide with the screening during the ICTY Milosevic trial of a video purporting to show the execution of young Muslim men from Srebrenica by a special Serbian unit called the Skorpions.

This development, eagerly seized on by the world's media as 'final proof' of the Srebrenica massacres, was no more than a bizarre stunt. Geoffrey Nice, the ICTY prosecutor in the Milosevic case, was clearly under instruction to use the video in his cross-examination of a Serbian military commander, but had not been able to work out any coherent legal basis for doing so. Nor had he even been able to disclose the evidence to the defence. The witness was asked to comment on video extracts which appeared to have been of extremely poor quality in their original form (consumer-quality video, badly shot), further degraded by compression to small-window streaming video format. The Court was given nothing more than Mr Nice's assurance that the video related to Srebrenica – and even Mr Nice admitted that it had been shot at a place near Sarajevo, almost 200 km from Srebrenica.

The ostensible justification for the use of this material was that it established a link between Milosevic and the events in Srebrenica because, Mr Nice claimed, the Skorpions were a special unit of the Serbian police. Within a week of the screening of the video in Court, it had emerged that the Skorpions were a group of mercenaries who had, briefly it appeared, had some relationship with the forces of Republika Srpska Krijina, but no relationship with the Serbian police.

Examination of the video demonstrated that both the pictures and sound had been doctored. There were indications that it had been edited together from tapes shot at different times and in different places. And the weight of clothing worn by both soldiers and prisoners did not appear consistent with weather conditions around Srebrenica in July 1995, which were extremely hot.

The provenance of the video was also highly suspect. According to official statements, it had been provided to the ICTY by Nastasa Kandic, usually described as a Serbian civil rights activist. Ms Kandic, who is reported to receive funding from a number of national governments and such sources as the George Soros foundation, had several times previously been instrumental in providing timely support for the official line when it was coming under question – for example, she was the source of the 'freezer truck' theory that the Serbs had disposed of thousands of massacred Kosovo Albanians by removing them to gravesites in Serbia in refrigerated trucks.

Some conclusions

So what has really happened in the ten years since July 1995? It might be summarised in this way:

In the late summer of 1995 the US produced satellite photographs at the UN which, the US claimed, suggested that a number of mass graves had been dug in the close neighbourhood of Srebrenica town. Madeleine Albright warned that the US would monitor these sites closely to ensure that they were not disturbed. No more was heard from her about these sites, nor of the close monitoring which she had promised. Subsequently a number of journalists, notably the cub reporter David Rohde, wrote reports in which they claimed to have found evidence corroborating Mrs Albright's allegations. In strict terms this evidence amounted to nothing.

In mid-summer of 1996 excavation work began on some of these sites, under the control of an international organisation with at least some pretence of impartiality. From 1997 onwards one of the warring factions was allowed to act as independent investigator of deeds alleged to have been carried out against it by another warring faction. The products of this investigation became the core evidence of the International Criminal Tribunal set up to prosecute war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. This Tribunal fulfilled its remit by indicting and prosecuting Serbs to the almost total exclusion of everyone else – of the very few Muslims, Croats and Kosovo Albanians indicted, even fewer were actually brought to trial. Compounding this in the case of Srebrenica, the post-war administration of Bosnia put in place by the international powers was, from the outset, plainly and overtly biased against the Bosnian Serbs and used every means of economic and political pressure to compel the Republika Srpska leadership to confirm the received version of what had happened at Srebrenica. And throughout everything, western politicians and media lost no opportunity to invoke the massacre story as justification of international intervention and of the continued oppression of Serbia.

What seems far more likely than the accepted version of events is that Srebrenica was a crucial part in preparing the ground for the end-game for Bosnia which was concluded at Dayton just a few months later. Alijah Izetbegovic was fully prepared to sacrifice Srebrenica in exchange for total US support; he gained the additional benefit that he could redeploy several thousand troops from Srebrenica to other fronts such as the Bihac pocket. By the same token, the Clinton government was delighted to be furnished with a propaganda coup that enabled them to give the green light to Croatia's Operation Storm in Krijina and to pressgang Yugoslavia to the Dayton negotiations.

Those who look without prejudice at the available data on Srebrenica invariably conclude that the orthodox version of what happened is extremely hard to reconcile with the known facts. By contrast, there are many clear indications that complex political strategies were being followed by Alijah Izetbegovic, the USA, the UK, and other powers, and that Srebrenica played a crucial part in the development of these strategies.

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