At the trial of Radovan Karadzic, prosecution military expert Richard Butler described the VRS Srebrenica operation as ‘an operation to kill’ thousands of Bosnian Muslims who had surrendered or been captured after the fall of Srebrenica. As Butler said, the chain of command in Srebrenica ‘functioned exactly as planned’

Richard Butler, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trialRichard Butler, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trial

The examination-in chief of military expert Richard Butler continued at the trial of Radovan Karadzic. Using documents and other evidence, Butler was able to reconstruct Operation Krivaja 95, carried out in July 1995. Karadzic, former Republika Srpska president, is charged with crimes committed during the operation. Butler described the operation as ‘an operation to kill’ thousands of Bosnian Muslims, who had surrendered or were captured by the Bosnian Serb military and police after the fall of Srebrenica.

A RS MUP report of 13 July 1995 first mentions ‘hundreds’ and later that day ‘thousands’ of Muslims captured in the area of Nova Kasaba, Konjevic Polje and Sandici. Another police report states that the people at the head of the column pushing towards Tuzla implored the 2nd Corps command over the radio to tell them how to get through to the liberated territory. An intercepted conversation recorded by the BH Army surveillance service showed that the Bosnian Serb army and police held at least about 6,000 prisoners in the afternoon of 13 July 1995.

Documents and other evidence Butler examined show that in the afternoon of 13 July 1995, about 1,000 prisoners were taken to a warehouse in Kravica. The first mass execution took place there. That same evening, at about 8 p.m, immediately after the massacre in Kravica, Karadzic’s civilian commissioner for Srebrenica, Miroslav Deronjic, informed the RS president in a telephone conversation through an intermediary that approximately 2,000 prisoners had been brought to Bratunac by 8 p.m. As Butler said, the figure grew during the night; many prisoners spent the night in buses and trucks. That evening, the first prisoners were taken to Orahovac, Petkovci, Pilica and other locations where they were held provisionally. In the days that followed, the prisoners were taken from the temporary detention facilities to execution sites.

Documents also show that the subordinated military and police commanders kept Karadzic well-informed. An urgent report of the VRS Main Staff sent to Karadzic on 14 July 1995 states that a ‘large number’ of Muslims surrendered in Milici, Bratunac and in the Skelani area. Documents further show that the RS president didn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call the Main Staff to check what was going on in any matters that may have affected the state.

Prosecutor Nicholls brought up some intercepted conversations between Colonel Ljubisa Beara, General Krstic and other VRS officers. They discussed the efforts to provide enough soldiers to execute the prisoners. In one of the conversations, Beara complains that he still has ‘3,500 parcels to distribute’. ‘Parcels’ were in fact prisoners; ‘distribution’ was a code word for their execution, Butler explained. Prosecutor Nicholls also pointed to Vujadin Popovic’s efforts to obtain the fuel needed to transfer the prisoners to the execution sites and Krstic’s attempt to bring back the Muslims who had fled from Zepa into Serbia by crossing the Drina river.

At the end of the examination-in chief, Butler was asked some questions by Judge Kwon. He confirmed that the ‘order to kill’ prisoners had been issued through the VRS chain of command. It was apparent that these were orders that ‘had’ to be carried out, although they were clearly illegal, Butler said. The fact that nobody really resisted and disobeyed such orders showed that the chain of command ‘functioned exactly as it was planned’, Butler said.

At the end of the hearing today, Karadzic started his cross-examination of the prosecution’s military expert. The cross-examination continues tomorrow.