Mladic Case Witness Describes Detention Facility Near Srebrenica
A former United Nations military observer who was present when Srebrenica was captured by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 told the Hague tribunal this week that he witnessed Bosniak men and boys being separated from their families and detained.
Prosecution witness Joseph Kingori, at the time a United Nations military observer in Srebrenica and now a lieutenant colonel in the Kenyan armed forces, said he complained directly about the situation to the Bosnian Serb army’s commander, Ratko Mladic, now on trial in The Hague.
Prosecutors claim the house in the village of Potocari served as a temporary detention centre for Bosniak men and boys rounded up by Serb forces. Mladic stands accused of genocide, for the killing of over 7,000 male Bosniaks at various sites around Srebrenica in July 1995.
Srebrenica had been designated a demilitarised UN “safe area.” Kingori was deployed as a military observer in the area from March 1995.
Despite its protected status, Bosnian Serb forces began shelling the town in early July 1995, capturing it on July 11. The massacre then occurred in the space of a few days.
Kingori was present as the enclave fell, and when thousands of Bosniak civilians fled to the UN compound in the nearby village of Potocari seeking protection.
He has testified in four other cases before the tribunal, including in January in the trial of Mladic’s wartime superior, former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic. (See Witness Recalls Removal of Srebrenica Civilians.).
Kingori told the court this week that on July 12, 1995, he saw men and boys as young as 14 being separated from the women and children in Potocari and taken to a building known as the “White House.”
The prosecution says that these men and boys were held in terrible conditions, abused, and later taken to other detention sites to await execution.
Kingori told the court that when he raised the issue of the detention facility with Mladic, the general claimed that those inside the house were to be checked to see whether they were prisoners of war.
The witness said he estimated that there were up to 1,000 people crammed into the building. He said that Mladic agreed to accompany him to the house, but then would not allow him to enter.
In video footage shot on July 12 and shown to the court, Kingori can be seen talking to Mladic in Potocari and expressing concern about conditions in the house.
“Where the men are being taken – it’s too crowded. They are sitting on each other,” Kingori tells Mladic in the footage.
Prosecuting lawyer Kweku Vanderpuye asked the witness to elaborate on the context of his remarks.
“I was referring to the White House where all the men who had been removed from the displaced people – from the women and children – [and] put where it was very uncomfortable, too small, and there was no freedom. They were huddled together, sitting on each other,” Kingori said.
Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, is accused of planning and overseeing the Srebrenica massacre, as well as the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead.
His indictment – which lists 11 counts in total – alleges that he was responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.
Video footage was shown to the court this week of what appeared to be hundreds of rucksacks and other belongings in a large pile on the ground in front of the White House’s gate.
Kingori told the court that the bags belonged to the men inside, and that they were forced to leave everything there, including identification cards.
He said that while he was not allowed to enter the house, he could see inside it.
“We could see people inside because we went very close and we could see the top floor, but could not see the ground floor. There was another view from right side of gate – that is where you could see it more clearly,” Kingori said.
The court was shown video footage of men crowded onto the upstairs balcony.
“Did you ask General Mladic about the separation you saw occurring?” Vanderpuye asked.
“I asked, and was told that they were being separated to help identify those who were soldiers so they [could] take them as prisoners of war and maybe later exchange them,” Kingori replied.
Vanderpuye asked whether this could explain the presence of boys aged 14 to 16 inside the house.
“It did not relate to the kids – they were not of fighting age, they were not soldiers, so I don’t know why [the army] was taking them,” Kingori responded.
Kingori said that earlier in the day he saw Bosnian Serb soldiers handing out “food and biscuits and candies” to a crowd of Bosniak civilians in Potocari, including many children. The scene was shown to the court in another video clip.
However, Kingori said that after the cameras stopped rolling, the soldiers took the treats away.
“Why give the kids candies and later on [take] them from them?” Kingori said.
He also commented on additional video footage from that day, where Mladic was apparently trying to calm distraught civilians.
“Anyone who wishes to be deported will be deported. Don’t be afraid. Be careful not to lose any child,” Mladic says in the footage.
Members of the crowd – consisting mainly of women, children and the elderly – responded by thanking him profusely.
Kingori said that in his opinion, Mladic was attempting to “cool the tempers of the people”. He expressed doubt in the general’s sincerity and said the episode might have been “mere propaganda”.
“According to my own assessment, [Mladic] just wanted that situation to pass and that’s it…. Most likely he did not mean whatever he was saying,” the witness said.
During cross examination, Mladic’s defence lawyer Miodrag Stojanovic asked Kingori to elaborate on what he saw when the Bosniak men were being separated from the rest of the group.
“The men were being picked one by one from a group … and led towards the White House,” Kingori said, adding that they were not called out by name.
“When did this process start in terms of General Mladic’s arrival? How much earlier was that?” asked Stojanovic.
“I can’t remember,” Kingori said.
Stojanovic asked the witness how many people he estimated to be inside the White House, and Kingori said around 1,000.
The defence lawyer countered that another witness, Christina Schmitz, a nurse with the medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières, told the court earlier in the week that she had reported to her superiors that just 35 men were being detained in a house.
Kingori replied that Schmitz may have been referring to a different house.
Stojanovic then asked Kingori whether it would have been possible for Mladic to “see that so many people were inside the house” when they visited the building together. Kingori said that it would have been possible.
“Did you at any point enter the ground floor of the house?” Stojanovic asked.
“No,” Kingori answered.
The defence lawyer questioned how Kingori was able to estimate the number of people inside.
“We were able to see through the windows and other openings,” Kingori said.
When Stojanovic asked how many windows there were on the ground floor, Kingori said he could not remember.
During Schmitz’s testimony earlier in the week, she described the poor conditions in Srebrenica before it was captured, and seeing civilians “shivering with fear” after fleeing to Potocari afterwards.
She told the court that when she asked Mladic not to evacuate civilians being treated at a local hospital because her organisation would take care of them, she sensed he was not interest and that she was “disturbing him”.
The patients were later evacuated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, she said.
A protected witness known only as RM 255 also testified on July 19 about surviving a mass execution at Branjevo Military Farm on July 16, 1995, during the massacre.
RM 255 has testified in five other trials under different pseudonyms. This week, his evidence was submitted in writing and prosecutors asked only a few additional questions.
The witness was elderly and at times his train of thought appeared to stray during questioning.
RM 255 said that he was separated from his family at Potocari, briefly held at a house there, then a school in Bratunac and a building in Pilica, before being taken by bus to an execution site. He said he escaped the scene after untying his hands, then wandered about in a forest for several days before turning himself over to Bosnian Serb officials. The witness said he was then held in a camp for several months before being released.
On July 20, Eelco Koster, a former member of the UN Dutch Battalion, or Dutchbat, testified about Bosniak civilians seeking refuge at the UN compound in Potocari after Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces.
The trial will resume on August 21, after the tribunal’s summer recess.
Mladic was arrested in Serbia in May 2011 after 16 years on the run.
Rachel Irwin is IWPR Senior Reporter in The Hague.