Michael Dobbs

The real figures behind Srebrenica

The Srebrenica massacre may well be the best documented war crime in history. Teams of international investigators have succeeded in painfully reconstructing the murders of thousands of Muslim males, and the subsequent attempt by the Bosnian Serb authorities to cover up the evidence. Despite this unprecedented international documentation effort, underpinned by more than 6,000 positive ...

The Srebrenica massacre may well be the best documented war crime in history. Teams of international investigators have succeeded in painfully reconstructing the murders of thousands of Muslim males, and the subsequent attempt by the Bosnian Serb authorities to cover up the evidence. Despite this unprecedented international documentation effort, underpinned by more than 6,000 positive DNA matches, there are still people who deny well-established facts about what happened in and around Srebrenica in July 1995.

I ran into one such "expert" at the recent Belgrade book fair. A U.S.-trained lawyer, Stephen Karganovic heads a group called the Srebrenica Historical Project, which has received funding from the Bosnian Serb authorities. You can see sections of my interview with him above, along with my own attempts to set the record straight in captions underneath. While he assumes the persona of a sober academic, he makes a series of claims that fly in the face of multiple legal, forensic, and journalistic investigations.

Take his most startling allegation, which is that only "a couple of hundred" Muslim prisoners of war were executed at Srebrenica, in contrast to the 7,000-8,000 figure widely accepted by international investigators. Karganovic does not deny that "something terrible" happened at Srebrenica. Rather, his intent seems to be to demonstrate that the number of Muslim victims was roughly equal to the number of Serbs killed by Bosnian Muslim forces in earlier armed raids from Srebrenica. In other words, the two sides were more or less equally guilty.

In order to reach his magic number, he first claims that investigators have succeeded in tracing the remains of less than 2,000 Muslim corpses (1,920 to be precise.) He then further reduces the number of victims by excluding anybody killed in Bosnian Serb attacks on a mixed column of Muslim soldiers and civilians that attempted to break out of the United Nations safe zone following its capture by the Serbs. He ends up with a figure of 600-800 Muslims "executed" by Serb forces.

Karganovic’s figures are completely at odds with the data collected by the International Commission on Missing Persons, which has succeeded in establishing DNA matches for more than 6,000 people killed at Srebrenica.  (The process of matching bone samples to missing individuals is still underway.) The vast majority of these people were killed not in military clashes with Bosnian Serb forces, as claimed by Karganovic, but were executed in cold blood as prisoners of war.

While Karganovic’s findings have been rejected by international investigators, they offer a preview of the likely defense strategy in the Mladic case.The ICMP has offered his lawyers the opportunity to select a sample of several thousand DNA matches, and examine them in much greater detail, to determine the place and circumstances of death.  The defense, following Karganovic, has already signaled its determination to challenge every single DNA match separately.

 Twitter: @michaeldobbs

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