Michael Dobbs

Tracking genocide one body at a time

When General Ratko Mladic finally goes on trial later this year, his defense team will mount an all-out effort to challenge the data presented in the chart above. It shows the nub of the prosecution case against the "butcher of Srebrenica": roughly ninety percent of the people who went missing in July 1995 did not ...

When General Ratko Mladic finally goes on trial later this year, his defense team will mount an all-out effort to challenge the data presented in the chart above. It shows the nub of the prosecution case against the "butcher of Srebrenica": roughly ninety percent of the people who went missing in July 1995 did not die "in combat," as claimed by Mladic supporters. They were the victims of mass executions.

If you click on different segments of the chart, you can see the numbers of individual Srebrenica victims categorized by place of death. The brown slice represents people whose deaths can reasonably be attributed to fighting, ambushes, and suicides in the mixed column of Muslim soldiers and civilian refugees who fled northwards from Srebrenica following the fall of the United Nations "safe area." All the other slices on the chart represent prisoners captured, and later executed, by Bosnian Serb forces.

The four slices on the right hand side of the chart (blue, purple, green, and yellow) show Muslim men and boys killed in a series of mass executions that took place in the Zvornik area of eastern Bosnia between July 14 and 16, three days after the fall of Srebrenica. I have described, in a previous post, how Mladic’s men attempted to cover up their crimes by using mechanical excavators to dig up these mass graves in September 1995, and scattering the remains in a series of secondary graves in remote valleys, 10, 20, or 30 miles away. 

The map below shows the link between the primary graves (identified with the letter A) and the secondary graves (identified by number). Take the northernmost mass grave at Branjevo military farm, which also contained the bodies of several hundred men executed at nearby Pilica Culture House (marked with an E). As I have previously explained, the Branjevo mass grave was excavated on September 28, and the jumbled remains moved to Cancari road (see the blue markers 8 through 12) lower down the map. Similar exhumation operations took place at Kozluk, Petkovci, and Orahovac.

Zoom to explore and click on icons for details. View larger map.

As you can see from the chart at the top of the page, the largest single group of victims (marked in red) was from the Kravica warehouse massacre on July 13, described here. Their remains were taken from Kravica (identified with a red E), buried in Glogova (red A), and then reburied at Zeleni Jadar (red, 1 through 6.)  Icons marked with a B denote an undisturbed primary grave, as opposed to disturbed primary graves (marked with an A).

It is worth emphasizing that the chart at the top only includes 6,000 or so individuals identified through DNA samples through March 2009. Since that date, the remains of a further 600 or so "missing persons" have been found and identified. Another 1,000-1,500 Srebrenica victims remain to be identified. Extrapolating from current data, it seems reasonable to conclude that roughly 7,000 of the 8,000 people who went missing following the fall of Srebrenica were executed as unarmed prisoners, while the remainder died as the result of what can loosely be described as "combat operations."

Mladic and his defenders are intent on proving that the proportions are the other way round. When we met last year in Belgrade, the head of a Bosnian Serb funded NGO, Stephen Karganovic, insisted that only "a couple of hundred" Muslim prisoners had been executed.

To make their case, the genocide deniers have to rely on some far-fetched arguments. In the Srebrenica segment of his trial, former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic has been attempting to show that the mass graves at Branjevo and elsewhere contain the remains of Muslim fighters killed "in combat", rather than victims of executions. He has claimed that pieces of cloth used to blindfold the prisoners were in fact Muslim "warrior ribbons."

The prosecution case, by contrast, rests on a combination of scientific and eyewitness evidence, including soil samples, analysis of ammunition used in the executions, and satellite photographs. To challenge the veracity of this evidence, you have to believe that hundreds of international investigators from more than a dozen different countries have been engaged in a multi-year "anti-Serb" conspiracy.

Finally, a mea culpa. Along with other journalists and commentators, I have occasionally conflated the two categories of Srebrenica victims. I have written, for example, that Mladic’s forces were responsible for "executing around 8,000 Muslim males" from Srebrenica. Now that I have examined this question in greater depth, I believe that the number of executions, as opposed to "combat-related" deaths, was closer to 7,000.

That still leaves Srebrenica as easily the worst massacre to occur in Europe since World War II.

Thanks to Sarah Collman for organizing all the map icons. Click here for Yugoslav war crimes tribunal source material showing distribution of bodies from the Branjevo, Kozluk, Petkovci, Orahovac, and Kravica warehouse massacres, as well as remains recovered from surface graves.


I have changed the figures in the chart at the top of this post to reflect a correction made by one of the investigators, Dusan Janc, filed with the tribunal on April 9, 2009.  Janc reported that some of the remains found in the mass grave used for the victims of the Kravica warehouse massacre belonged to individuals murdered elsewhere, e.g. the Vuk Karadzic school in Bratunac and Konjevic Polje. I have therefore deducted 150 bodies from the Kravica count and added it to the "other" count.  Janc also noted that it is impossible to be precise about the number of Kravica victims because of some mixing of bodies in the Glogova grave.  Based on all the evidence, the tribunal concluded that more than 1000 prisoners were murdered at Kravica.

I should add that the chart reflects information from 2009.  The numbers of confirmed Srebrenica victims keeps growing as more remains are identified through DNA.  It should also be noted that the "shallow graves" figure includes some individuals who were murdered in addition to what can be loosely defined as "combat-related" deaths.  

 Twitter: @michaeldobbs

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