Public Lecture - 28 May 2015 - Sarajevo BiH - Gallery 11/07/95

Reconstruction: Establishing the facts about the executions

Jean-René Ruez

Chief Superintendant at the French National Police, former head of
the Hague Tribunal investigative team for Srebrenica


I arrived in Tuzla on 20th of July 1995 and started the investigation. And just to be precise about the investigation: the investigation was about the events that unfolded after the noon of the 11th of July. So it's not an investigation about why air strikes didn’t happen, it's not an investigation about the takeover of the enclave, it's an investigation about the criminal events that followed the fall of the enclave.

Establishing the facts follows a natural chronology. The first step is reconstructing the events through the interviews with the victims, the witnesses, but also at a later stage through the eyes of the perpetrators who also entered the interview process. The second phase is to find the places the people are talking about, which is not necessarily obvious and all this has to be done in a hostile environment, in work conditions which are not usual in a normal environment. After this, the aim of the additional phase is to process the crime scenes by taking pictures, videos, documenting them, but also taking samples, processing all these samples in labs, so that is what we call the technical and scientific police aspect of it. We already saw the summary of all these events and we will have to summarize them again knowing that doing this in such a short time is quite a challenge, because there are many crime scenes.

We are returning to the map that we are going to use, bottom right is the Srebrenica enclave and all this territory is in fact a crime scene. So it’s a crime scene of 70 km north-south, 40 km east-west, dotted with concentration spots of prisoners, detention sites, execution sites, primary mass graves and then later, as we will see, secondary mass graves.
So, on 11th of July, as you already know, the population took two courses of action. All those who didn’t want to leave the enclave and thought they have nothing to fear from the Bosnian Serbs, left in order to find shelter at the UN base in Potocari. Meanwhile, all the able-bodied men, the members of the 28th division, regrouped at the area of Susnjari, in order to break through the lines, through minefields in a column that left the area during the night between the 11th and 12th of July.

The night between the 11th and 12th of July in Potocari was quiet. Then, on the 12th of July, forcible transfer through this road started, first towards Konjevic Polje, then towards Vlasenica, ending up in Kladanj and reaching the Muslim held territory. Meanwhile, the spearhead of the column, which was formed mainly by armed men, could go through the lines in the area of Konjevic Polje towards Cerska, but after that the area was sealed by the Bosnian Serbian Army.

So, the first to be taken out of the enclave were the Men who were in Potocari on the 12th of July and, we learn that later on through the guilty plea of the Intelligence and Security Officer of the Bratunac Brigade, they were taken to the football field in Bratunac where all those who wanted to take revenge on them could do it. So, all these people were killed on the football field. Momir Nikolić killed a few of them according to his admittance. The others were first taken to a hangar, which is a hangar behind the school named “Vuk Karadzic”. During the night approximately 50 of them were murdered in this place.
On July 13th, the evacuation continues. As you know, during the night between the 12th and the 13th a number of murders occurred in Potocari. The Potocari area was not designed to be a murder place, but all these murders were done with the intent to scare the population and make them rush towards the buses and the trucks in order to be evacuated. On the course of this transportation there were checkpoints where the men were taken out and in case some additional men were still able to go up to the end, they were separated at the crossing towards Kladanj and taken to a little elementary school named “Luke”. This is the area where this happened.

So, I will not talk about the fate of the column, for the criminal investigation this is part of military history. We are focused on the fate of those who were under the custody of the Bosnian Serb Army. So, all those who could not cross the area towards Nezuk were trapped in the hills in the area of Nova Kasaba. During that day the Bosnian Serb Army was using stolen equipment from the Dutch battalion, wearing blue helmets and calling the people to surrender, giving fake guarantee of security.

The main surrender spot is the area in Nova Kasaba, the football field. This is a photograph dated 13th of July, 14 hours, where you can see groups of people gathered on the football field and you can also see a column of buses on the road.
Another detention and regrouping spot is the military facility of the 65th Protection Regiment of Mladic, where a few Dutch soldiers were also in custody and this is how we learned about the presence of these prisoners from Srebrenica. Another spot is the intersection of Konjevic Polje where the prisoners were taken either to this hangar that you can see on the photograph or to a military facility which is at the right of the picture.

Along the road the people who were in the woods and who decided to surrender during the day of the 13th of July were coming downhill. There were several meadows where they were regrouped. One of the main meadows was the meadow of Sandici. Here we have another photograph dated 13th of July and all the little dots that you can see here are people. There is a slope so you cannot assess the number of people here because there is a long slope. There are more people in reality on this photograph than one can see. So this is the field, and in the little corner here, this is in connection with the film that you saw. Here is the slope. And all this was covered with prisoners. This was an instant photography and this meadow was used not only once during the day. Finally, Bratunac continued to be a regrouping spot for the men taken from Potocari. This slide show all the regrouping spots of the prisoners during the day of the 13th July.

All these sites we are now connecting them with execution spots. Everything that happened during the 13th of July, though the executions were sometimes massive, was a disorganized process. All those who were guarding prisoners had the right to kill whoever they wanted.

Going from left to right, not necessary in a chronology; those who were in the small school in Luke were taken on board of trucks and driven north of Vlasenica where they were executed. One man survived. On this spot, at least not until 2001, we could not find the mass grave (it was found at a later stage).

Executions at Nova Kasaba. Nova Kasaba was not a main execution spot. Nevertheless, one witness reported about having seen three groups of approximately 30 people being taken to a meadow. He could see that from the bottom of the pylon between two houses. These groups were shot by soldiers who were on the road on top of APCs, including one UN APC. He saw that three times, successively, and after that he left. It took us very long time to find this spot, because we had to find bullets in the soil. In reality we started the search from the intersection of Konjevic Polje, from a pylon and two houses. That was unsuccessful. Every year during five years we continued towards south in order to try to find it. We found it in 2001 close to these areas of disturbed soil and the place was exhumed. So that’s the execution site at Nova Kasaba. Here are additional areas of disturbed soil which were later confirmed as being mass graves. On the right of this picture we uncovered six bodies. Each time we hit an area of which we expected to be a mass grave we have to expose more than one body in order to put it on the exhumation plan and then it’s the exhumation team that comes to conduct the exhumation. On this spot, because these pictures were released publicly by Madeleine Albright at the UN Assembly, General Mladic said that there were indeed bodies inside but that they were soldiers who were shot during combat activities.

We are now back at this primary mass grave at Nova Kasaba. At that time, in 1996, General Mladic said about the mass grave that these were bodies of Muslim soldiers killed in a combat. The problem about it, as you can see, is that the bodies that were found had the hands tied behind the back. Here are additional sites in this area where the exhumations showed again people with their hands tied behind the back. As it was said in the previous film, some were indeed shot inside of the grave, since the bullets were found underneath the bodies that were at the bottom of the grave. Some had their hands tied behind the back with this type of ligatures (wire).

Konjevic Polje was not a massive execution site, but many executions there were witnessed by persons who could then report it to the investigators. Among those witness accounts some men were indeed forced to dig a hole, their own grave, and were shot inside. We did search a fair amount of time to check this type of information and indeed at one point we found one of these situations. The archaeologists who worked on this site found this single body and could assess that it was lying in a hole that was dug by hand.

One witness who was held captive in this warehouse at the intersection of Konjevic Polje was taken on board of a bus. The day I took this picture, strangely, there was a bus here. They were taken towards the Drinjača valley where they were shot. It was a group of twelve people and they were shot along the riverbank. There is one survivor on this spot.

Implementation of witness testimonies. In fact, a series of witnesses reported having seen three buses entering the valley escorted by APCs which were followed later by a small excavator. It took a while to find the spot. But nevertheless, we could identify the place. In fact, the crime scene is here. The people were lined up along the edge of this slope. The killers were on this part. Here we found all the shell casings. Here we are making the probe prior the exhumation process in order to identify the length of this grave. The probing was positive, the bodies were underneath. On this spot the exhumation uncovered precisely 150 persons. All of them had their hands tied in the back. Some of them had their feet tied.

Kravica is the main spot of the executions in the area that we call “Area South”. Some of the men who were kept on the meadow at Sandici, those who can be seen on the film we saw before, were first taken by bus towards the Kravica warehouse which was about 1 kilometre away in the east. The others marched towards the warehouse. First they were put in this area here. One bus blocked the entrance there. The others marched through this door. This door was closed. Once all the people were inside, fire was opened on them, through all the openings, grenades were thrown inside and all the people inside were killed. There was one survivor at the east part of the warehouse and one survivor in the west part of the warehouse and this is how we know about the details of the process which I won’t explain, because it would be too long. But during the scientific police process we found an incredible amount of evidence: traces of grenade explosions, human blood, hair, skin and other things. As you know, there were a few seconds of a video shot by Zoran Petrovic which he later hid as evidence, but which was very useful for the trial of Colonel Borovcanin, head of special police brigade, who committed this execution. There were only a few live pictures. Those were in fact the only live pictures of executions in this area.
Here you see a summary of the killing sites in the “Area south”.

At the end of the day on the 13th of July all of the prisoners who were still stored on this concentration spots were all shipped towards Bratunac. We know from one witness, who unfortunately never testified because he didn’t want to, that, at least on the meadow where he was, at the end of the day no more transportation was available so the people were killed on the spot.

The main facilities used in Bratunac are the three places: the “Vuk Karadzic” school– the first arrow, the hangar– the second one, and the so called “Old school” which was a technical school. Once all these buildings were full, there were three lines of buses - we could at least spot three of them. One was lined in front of the Vihor compound, one was here in the street and in front of the “Vuk Karadzic” school, and the last one was in front of the Bratunac brigade. One was also at the exit of the town. The reason was that there were no more detention facilities in town. The town was packed with prisoners in the evening of the 13th of July. That’s the back of the “Vuk Karadzic” school, that’s the hangar where people were taken to already on the 12th of July and that’s the “Old school”.

On 14th of July, that’s when the organized process started. The day before, the security officers of the Drina corps drove north to the area of Zvornik, in order to identify detention sites which in fact were schools, and nearby execution sites. The first prisoners were, indeed, taken towards Zvornik. They were put in the Grbavci School which is this little circle. The gym, which you can see on the left of the picture was full of prisoners. They were taken out through this opening, where the colleague is currently checking things, and taken by truck towards an execution place nearby which is named Orahovac. This is the place which, as I told you, without aerial imagery we never would have been able to find, because it’s behind the railroad line. Here is the picture I told you about. As you can see, on this picture dated 5th of July, this is the road that leads to the Grbavci School, you see the dirt road which goes under the rail road and here is the first execution site. Once this site was full, they moved the ammunition and said: ‘Ok, let’s continue it here’. As you can see here, it is thanks to this imagery comparison that we could find the place (Comparison of aerial imagery dated 5th July and 27 July showing disturbance of soil). Here is the first one and here is the second one. The first one, behind the railroad, and the second one. At the school, when we did the full search of it, we could find a lot of blindfolds. All these blindfolds were then sent to the Dutch Royal Laboratory and sorted out by colour, texture etc. This was later used in order to compare the primary sites with the secondary sites. For example, here is one, who has a blindfold on him. The blindfolds we found were the leftovers.
So, on the same day, another convoy brought the prisoners to the school of Petkovci. This is the school of Petkovci. I won’t talk about the details of what happened inside but they were taken to the dam of an artificial lake which is in fact the waste of the aluminium factory of Karakaj. On the dam, the executioners were waiting for them, telling them to step among the dead bodies. They were shot. Two men survived this execution.

On the same day, the evacuation of the prisoners from Bratunac continued and the prisoners were taken to the school of Rocevic.

The 15th of July, the burial of the victims from Orahovac into the two mass graves that we saw previously took place.
The process continued. The prisoners that were inside the school of Rocevic were taken next to the riverbank of the Drina valley where the executions took place, in these gravel pits and also in the area of the Vitinka factory, which is an enbottlement factory for sparkling water, was full of broken glass. We found this broken glass in the primary sites and also in the secondary sites which was one of the elements to connect the sites. Here again, this body has the hands tied behind the back. You can see here, the bodies were also found blindfolded.

The process continued and during the day of the 15th a very large column of buses took the prisoners towards the school of Luke. At the end of the evening the school was so full of prisoners that when one bus arrived the people were killed on the spot since they couldn't enter the school.

This is the Luke school. As you can see, it’s a large school, a very big gymnasium.

And the final spot where the persons were taken to, since all the schools in the area were used and full of prisoners was to the Dom kulture in Pilica and it is this building here.

The following day, on the 16th of July, the prisoners inside the Luke school were told that they would be taken for the exchange of prisoners, blindfolded, but they were brought to the nearby Branjevo farm, which is a military farm belonging to the Bosnian Serb Army where a team of killers from the 10th sabotage unit, which is a unit directly attached to the main staff of the Bosnian Serb Army, was waiting for them. They were under the command of the security officer of the Drina corps, Colonel Popovic.  And at this same moment the process of exhuming the bodies continues from south to north, Kozluk, nearby the Drina valley.

That’s a transcript of the intercepted communication where Popovic is calling the intelligence officer who is at the Drina corps, requesting 500 litres of Diesel in order to continue the work. So this is an additional element that confirms these things. Here is the log that we found during the search of the headquarters of the Zvornik brigade where we have the delivery of fuel to Colonel Popovic. This is the crime scene area. Buses were taking the prisoners through this little road and then they marched along this place. This was the rest place of the murderers. The victims were lined up in rows and the process continued on a large distance. The burial site we can see there.

Again, a body with the hands tied behind the back.

Once this process was over, Popovic came back, requested from the team to go and to conduct the killing at the “Dom culture” in Pilica, saying that there were 500 people inside.

This is the area, this is the building and the entrance of it, they started on this door, going upstairs, and this is where the shooting of people inside started. Grenades were thrown under this place where people were hiding. And again, the place was fully processed by the scientific police. There is no survivor on this spot. Without the testimony of Drazen Erdemovic we never would have known anything about this crime scene. The bodies from this killing site were transported towards the Branjevo farm to be buried together with the bodies from the Branjevo farm. We know from Drazen Erdemovic’s assessment that about 1.200 people killed. The killings started around 10 and finished at 3 pm, as shown in the previous film.

On the 17th of July was the finalization of the burial process. Here we have a picture, the only aerial imagery on which we can see bodies. The burial process is ongoing at this moment. The bodies are taken here, behind the access ramp there is also a mound of bodies. Here we can see bodies that are already picked up by an excavator who will bury them here.
These are all the crime scenes in the “Area north”. As one can see, 200 meters above the last killing spot is the border line of the Drina corps. All of the crime scenes are on the area of responsibility of the Drina corps. These are all detention sites, killing sites and mass graves. That’s the mass grave area for all the Srebrenica crime scenes on the 17th of July.

Nevertheless, at the end of September and the beginning of October, a massive process, as massive as the killing process itself, started in order to take out most of the bodies from the mass graves with the intent to hide them in valleys that were stuffed with landmines, leaving inside the primary graves just a few bodies, in order to, in case we would find them, make us believe that, if witnesses said the truth, they were tremendously exaggerating the numbers.

This is the exhumation at Branjevo farm, where all the bodies from the killings at Branjevo, together with the bodies from the Pilica Dom culture, were dumped into. Only 110 bodies were found but the archaeologists continued the work. This is the size of the mass grave. It’s even a bit bigger because the photograph is taken from where I stand. The place where the bodies were found was limited to this small mound here. But this is the full size of the grave.

The bodies of the Branjevo farm were taken to the Cancari valley. It’s a long valley, roughly 8 km long, between Zvornik and Konjevic Polje. Nine secondary graves were dug on this site. This is aerial imagery showing the entire valley. The first three are from the Kozluk sites.

That’s the exhumation of Cancari. It’s a very complex work for those who are doing the exhumation, but we cannot go into details. These are the bodies from Kozluk and they were taken at the Cancari valley. The process most probably went from south to north, but that’s another detail. Those from the dam of Petkovci were taken to the area named Liplje. We can see here four graves on the aerial imagery. Those from the Grbavci school, the two graves, were taken to the road called Hodzici. This is the aerial imagery for the secondary sites. This is the map of the main mass grave areas and the result in terms of spreading of the bodies.

For the “Area south” the situation is a bit different. Most of graves were not disturbed. Those of Nova Kasaba were not disturbed because there was already public information about them so there was no possibility and no need to do it. Those of the Cerska valley – there were “only” 150 bodies, one would say, “only”, so there was no need to disturb the site. All of the bodies of the killings of Bratunac, all the bodies from the killings that happened along the road and the killings at the Kravica warehouse were taken to a big site at Glogova which is the main area of the “Area south”. That mass grave was also fully disturbed. We have imagery even of the disturbance. The bodies were taken to the opposite of the Srebrenica enclave in the south, behind Zeleni Jadar, nearby a minefield. This shows the spreading of these bodies.

Finally, here we have the map with all the crime scenes, with the execution sites. The only thing missing in this picture are the detention sites but they are connected with the execution sites, with the primary and the secondary mass graves. So this is the process.

We found all the primary sites during 1996 and all the secondary sites were found during 1997. All the secondary sites had been handed over to the Bosnian authorities, when I left in April 2001, for the continuation of the exhumation. The work of the ICTY in these sites was over in terms of needs for criminal evidence and the trials of all the individuals who were charged for these events, so, in terms of the ICTY, the main responsible individuals. This is it.

Jean-René Ruez
Jean-René Ruez, Chief Super intendant at the French National Police who studied law, Mr. Ruez was the central figure in establishing the facts about the Srebrenica massacre. He led the ICTY Srebrenica investigation team from July 1995 until mid-2001 and testified in all trials related to Srebrenica held before the ICTY (including Radislav Krstic, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic). Earlier, Mr Ruez led the crime squad in Nice, in the south of France. After leaving The Hague, he reintegrated the French police.