Srebrenica: July-August 1995

From David Rohde, Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe's Worst Massacre Since World War II (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997).

[Emphasis added, unless otherwise noted.]

The Charge

"The international community partially disarmed thousands of men, promised them they would be safeguarded and then delivered them to their sworn enemies. Srebrenica was not simply a case of the international community standing by as a far-off atrocity was committed. The actions of the international community encouraged, aided, and emboldened the executioners. ... The fall of Srebrenica did not have to happen. There is no need for thousands of skeletons to be strewn across eastern Bosnia. There is no need for thousands of Muslim children to be raised on stories of their fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers slaughtered by Serbs. The fall of Srebrenica could have been prevented." (pp. 350, 353)

"Srebrenica accounts for an astonishing percentage of the number of missing from the brutal conflict [in the Balkans]. Of the 18,406 Muslims, Serbs and Croats reported still missing to the ICRC [Red Cross] as of January 1997, 7,079 are people [men] who disappeared after the fall of Srebrenica. In other words, approximately 38 percent of the war's missing are from Srebrenica.

"Based on the ICRC figure, nearly 3,000 men were summarily executed and over 4,000 hunted down like animals. But even if the number of victims proves to be no higher than the roughly 500 found so far at four execution sites and 150 found to date at one ambush site, what occurred in Srebrenica was unprecedented in postwar Europe." (p. 350)

"After the Dutch departed, the hunt continued in the woods around Srebrenica. Hundreds of men were still alive. Local Serb military units carried out daily patrols to find them. Fear that the Muslims would attack and kill Serb civilians was one motivation; revenge was another. Almost all Muslims captured were executed." (p. 327)

"Mevlida Hasanovic is typical of women from Lehovici and [nearby] Srebrenica. Her two sons and husband are missing. Her daughter-in-law's husband, father and brother are missing. Her grandson has no father, no uncles and no grandfathers." (p. 386)

The Dutch UN Troops

"With few weapons, blue helmets and white vehicles, the Dutch were a meager fighting force. Both confused and discouraged by their contradictory mission, ... Srebrenica's Dutch peacekeepers had spent most of the last five months hoping nothing would happen." (p. 5) "Simply put, it was more important that UN peacekeepers save their own lives than carry out their mission." (p. 28) Also true that "Many of the Dutch were already more frightened of the Muslims they were supposed to be protecting than of the Serbs who surrounded the enclave" (p. 35). Muslims repeatedly took potshots at retreating UN troops (often making it safer for the UN to evacuate its forward posts through Serb-held territory rather than retreat through Muslim lines). Immense suspicion of the UN's willingness to defend the safe area, amply justified as it turned out.

"The crucial [UN] resolution ... ]was] Resolution 836, enacted on June 4, stat[ing] that UN peacekeepers were to 'deter' attacks on the safe areas"; it was "vague on the use of airpower to defend them." (p. 48)

"The disarray in the nearly all-Dutch [UN] command chain was as tragic as it was inexcusable." (p. 68)

"While the [Serb] bombardment [of Srebrenica] was intense, only four Serb tanks and several hundred infantry led the main attack up the narrow asphalt road [to the heart of the city], something NATO jets or well-organized defenders could have likely held off for several more days [there were 450 Dutch troops in the "safe area"]. The attack on Srebrenica should have taken the same pattern as attacks on the safe areas of Gorazde in 1994, numerous attacks on Bihac in 1994 and 1995, the attack on Srebrenica in 1993 and the attack on Zepa only days later - large initial Serb gains slowed when confronted by entrenched Muslim defenders. Unwilling to engage in house-to-house fighting and suffer heavy casualties, the Serbs paused and tried to shell their opponents into submission. ... Time was the key factor in Srebrenica. Close Air Support and [the return of Muslim leader] Naser Oric would only have given the town a few more days at best, but that may have been enough." (p. 354)

"The two individuals who bear the brunt of responsibility for the lack of NATO Close Air Support are Yasushi Akashi [Special Representative of the UN Secretary General] and Bernard Janvier [French general commanding all UN forces in former Yugoslavia]. ... Except for the Close Air Support request he approved the day Srebrenica fell, [Janvier] blocked every air strike or Close Air Support request he received. Akashi and Janvier consistently upheld the view that NATO airpower was a blunt, dangerous and generally ineffective tool that enraged Bosnian Serbs and put peacekeepers at risk. ... The sixty-three-year-old Akashi dominated the relationship between the two men and strongly influenced General Janvier's view of the conflict." (pp. 364-65)

The 239

Many Muslims were "sure that once all the refugees [from Srebrenica city] got to the Dutch base [at Potocari] and the UN commander saw them, he would call for help. The Serbs would be ordered to withdraw, and it would all be over in one or two days. Two days at the most."

"Around noon [on 13 July 1995], Major Robert Franken [deputy commander of the Dutch battalion] ... called the two remaining Muslim representatives to meet him in the conference room inside the Dutch compound [at Potocari]. Nesib Mandzic and Ibro Nuhanovic were told that once the deportation of the refugees outside the base was completed, the 5,000 refugees inside the base would be next. 'But what will happen to the men inside the compound?' Mandzic asked. Franken said it was obvious that they couldn't resist the Serbs; the people had to leave the base. He asked the two representatives to make a list of all of the men between seventeen and sixty-five. Franken said he would show it to the Serb commanding officer and tell him that the list had already been faxed to Geneva and Holland. ... he said he thought the Serbs would think twice about doing anything if the UN had evidence of their identity.

"Outside the base, the deportations continued. ... Serb soldiers were already looting the town. The Dutch discovered the bodies of three dead Muslim soldiers in the marketplace and snapped photos of them. ... The brutality only worsened. ... Even though the Dutch knew the men would be separated from the women, had found nine [male] bodies and witnessed at least one execution, they still forced them to leave the UN base. As the list of Muslim men inside the base was compiled, Dutch soldiers strung yellow tape from the cavernous hall where the refugees were encamped to the front gate. The path the Muslim men were to follow as they walked into the hands of their potential executioners was clear. ... The list of Muslim men was finished: 239 in all. Twelve men refused to put their names on it. Groups of five to ten refugees began making the long walk to the front gate of the base at 4:30 p.m. Serb soldiers stood on the other side, waiting." (pp. 260-262) "After turning down all requests for one year, [Franken] gave his first interview regarding the fall of Srebrenica to Dutch television in July 1996. He maintained that the outgunned Dutch could have done nothing more to halt the Serb. attack or protect the enclave's civilians ... [He] blamed the UN and Dutch officials for failing to publicize the list of men forced to leave the UN base. All 239 men on the list are missing. ... " (p. 378)

Even after all women, children, and peacekeepers were safely evacuated from Srebrenica, while hundreds of men were still being rounded up and executed, no Dutch soldier or commander raised the alarm. Finally, on 23 July, "Dutch military officials allowed UN human rights investigators and staffers to interview seventeen peacekeepers chosen by the Dutch for only a five-hour period. A handful of peacekeepers agreed to speak with reporters about what they saw in Srebrenica and Potocari. One of them was Warrant Officer Be Oosterveen, the soldier who had taken the photos of the nine dead bodies [see below]. ...

"At a press conference, Voorhoeve announced that Dutch soldiers had seen Muslims being led away and then heard shooting. He also said Dutch soldiers had received a tip that 1,600 Muslims were reportedly killed in a local schoolyard. Rumors of rapes and other atrocities reported by survivors in Tuzla were too numerous and 'too authentic' to be untrue, Voorhoeve said, and he complained that the International Committee of the Red Cross was still not being given access to the estimated 6,000 [male] Muslim prisoners.

"The Dutch commander in Srebrenica, Colonel Karremans, then read a statement. The attack on the enclave was an 'excellently planned military operation,' he said. Bosnian Serb. military commander General Ratko Mladic was strategically very clever. 'But he was a commander, not a gentleman. There are no gentlemen in this war.' Karremans added: 'We learned that the parties in Bosnia cannot be divided into "the good guys" and "the bad guys",' apparently referring to Srebrenica's corrupt leaders.

"He said nothing about the treatment of the enclave's civilians and failed to mention the beatings, one execution or nine bodies his soldiers had seen in Potocari. [Lieutenant Vincent] Egbers and thirteen other Dutch peacekeepers had told their superiors of gunshots coming from the Nova Kasaba soccer field on the night of July 13, but Karremans somehow failed to mention it. ...

"The destruction of a videotape which showed the nine bodies found near a stream ... [also] went unmentioned. ... Not a word was said of the 239 Muslim men forced to leave the Dutch base or the list containing their names. Major Franken, who promised to show the list to the world, turned it over to UN officials in Zagreb that day. Assuming it was too late to do anything for the men, UN staffers made sure the ICRC had a copy and then told no journalists of its existence.

"The battalion finally returned to a heroes' welcome in Holland on July 24. The Ministry of Defense granted them a one-month vacation. The peacekeepers were instructed not to speak to the media about what they saw before a debriefing scheduled to begin in September." (p. 327)

The nine bodies the Dutch photographed early in the day on 13 July, before ordering the 239 men to their doom: "A girl fetching water for her family in Potocari was the first to find them. A young boy then approached Dutch warrant officer Be Oosterveen, drew a finger across his throat and pointed toward a stream across the street from the UN base. He led Osterveen [sic] and another Dutch soldier to nine bodies. Each man had gunshot wounds in the back, near the heart. ... [T]he Dutch quickly snapped photos of the bodies and hurried back to the base." (p. 253)

The Investigation in Holland

"In Holland, Srebrenica was quickly turning into a national scandal. The U.S. spy satellite photos [showing mass graves on 10 August] confirmed suspicions of mass executions. There were damaging interviews with Dutch peacekeepers who said they saw dozens of bodies in Nova Kasaba and witnessed executions in Potocari. Other stories reported the Dutch dislike of the enclave's Muslim soldiers.

"The Dutch Ministry of Defense then revealed that the roll of film containing photographs of the nine dead Muslim men found near the stream had been 'accidentally' destroyed in a film-processing lab. Outraged members of the Dutch parliament accused the Defense Ministry of a cover-up.

"Embarrassing information continued to leak. The statement the Dutch deputy commander, Major Robert Franken, had signed declaring that the evacuations accompanied by the Dutch were carried out according to international law was disclosed. A story then appeared that exposed the list of 239 men kicked off the Dutch base. At an initial press conference responding to the story, Defense Minister Joris Voorhoeve denied that the list existed. One day later, Voorhoeve admitted there was a list, but said senior officers in the Dutch Army had not informed him of its existence.

"The debriefing of Dutch peacekeepers finally began in September [1995]. More than six weeks had passed [since the beginning of the massacre] and the peacekeepers and their superiors in the Ministry of Defense failed to sound the alarm about the atrocities and evidence of mass executions witnessed by the Dutch. In hindsight, the Dutch failure to speak out after they left the enclave was worse than their conduct during the Serb offensive.

"On October 30, the Dutch Ministry of Defense issued its final report on the debriefing. Dated October 4, it was an exercise in obfuscation. Much of what the Dutch saw was in the report, but what occurred was vastly played down or distorted. Throughout the report, references were made to UNPROFOR [United Nations Protection Force] commanders turning down requests for Close Air Support. The reference appears at first glance to be to General Janvier - but was actually referring to UNPROFOR chief of staff Dutch general [Cees] Nicolai, who turned down the first two requests. ...

"The report exonerated the Dutch and blamed UN commanders hesitant to use NATO airpower for the fall of the enclave. ... But the controversy refused to die. A play later debuted in Holland that portrayed the Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica as cowards and racist toward Srebrenica's Muslims. Other branches of the military and units in the Dutch Army privately criticized the 13th Air Mobile Battalion, the unit that served in Srebrenica, for hurting their reputation.

"Embittered by their experience in Bosnia and their treatment after returning to Holland, some of the Dutch who served in Srebrenica left the Dutch Army. Many of the Dutch compared their experience to that of American soldiers who were sent to Vietnam. They were sent on an impossible mission, they said, and then blamed for its failure." (pp. 336-37)

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