The defense lawyer asked Dutch colonel Eelco Koster if in July 1995 he had removed the top parts of the clothes worn by the nine civilians killed near the UN base in Potocari to confirm whether they had really been shot in the back and that entry wounds were two centimeters in diameter, as Koster claimed. This led General Mladic to suggest loudly to his defense counsel to ask the witness if he had also taken off the bottom parts of their clothes to see ‘if they were circumcised’ in order to verify if they really were Muslims. The judges have already cautioned the accused several times for making loud remarks, but they obviously missed this comment

Eelco Koster, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialEelco Koster, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

The last witness before the Tribunal’s summer break has taken the stand at the trial of Ratko Mladic today. From January to July 1995, Dutch officer Eelco Koster served as a logistics officer in the UN Dutch Battalion in Srebrenica. Koster gave a statement to the OTP investigators in September 1995, two months after the UN withdrew from Srebrenica, describing how Mladic’s troops attacked the protected enclave. The statement was admitted into evidence and its summary was read out in court.

On 10 July 1995, it became clear that the Serb army would overrun the town. That day, the witness was in a group of 30 Dutch soldiers and officers who had received an order to secure the road from Srebrenica to the UN base in Potocari and thus allow the Muslim civilians to take shelter there. The witness saw thousands of civilians going to the base, most of them women, children and the elderly. Koster contends that on 12 and 13 July 1995, the men and boys were separated from their families and a number of them were taken to the White House.

The witness met with General Mladic several times in those days. As he recounted, Mladic was an arrogant officer. He treated the Dutch battalion commander, who had requested to meet Mladic, with disdain. According to Koster, Mladic said that ‘he doesn’t care about the UN’ and that he would do ‘as he pleases’: immediately evacuate civilians from Srebrenica. When Koster protested, Mladic purportedly replied with a threat: ‘anyone who opposes him will have a problem’.

The most striking event the witness saw in Potocari on 13 July 19995 was the discovery of the dead bodies of nine men near the base. The witness was with two other Dutch Battalion soldiers. Describing the incident, Koster said that the victims lay on the grass and had bullet wounds in their backs. The holes were approximately two centimeters in diameter. All the victims were face-down, the wounds were in the middle of their backs and they were lined up, all facing the same direction. This all indicated they might have been shot in the back. As Koster said, the blood was fresh and he concluded they had been killed a few hours earlier. There were no weapons near the bodies. Koster remembered they were dressed as civilians. When a Serb soldier spotted them, Koster and his colleagues from the Dutch Battalion retreated in fear. When fire was opened at them, they threw away the documents they had found near the victims. Koster and other UN troops pulled out from Srebrenica on 21 July 1995.

In the cross-examination, Mladic’s defense lawyer Petrusic tried to contest the witness’s observations about the bodies, putting to the witness that he couldn’t see the entry wounds in the victims’ backs because the victims wore clothes. The defense lawyer asked Koster if he and other members of his battalion had tried to remove the top parts of the victims’ clothes in order to have a better look at their wounds. The witness said they hadn’t, adding that the wounds ‘could be seen with clothes on’.

At that point, Ratko Mladic decided to take part in the cross-examination with a remark, as has been his habit. Presiding judge Orie has already warned Mladic several times not to do it since the beginning of the trial, including today. Louder than usual, Mladic’s comment could be heard even in the public gallery. He suggested to his defense lawyer to ask the witness if he had removed the bottom part of the victims’ clothing to see ‘if they were circumcised’, to verify if they were really Muslims. Defense counsel Petrusic ignored his client’s offensiveremark, only to revisit the issue a bit later, by asking Koster how he had been able to establish if the victims were Serbs or Muslims. The witness said he hadn’t been able to determine it for sure. In the re-examination, the witness told the prosecutor that in those days in Srebrenica, all the Serbs he saw wore uniforms. When Judge Orie asked him whether it was possible to distinguish Serbs from Muslims by their physical appearance, Koster said it wasn’t.

It was announced today that the Trial Chamber had denied the defense’s motion to postpone the trial for six months and the trial is set to continue on 21 August 2012 after the Tribunal’s summer recess. The defense had also asked for the number of working days to be reduced from five to four per week because of Mladic’s ill health. This request was also dismissed; as the judges said, it should have been supported by a detailed medical report. The Trial Chamber granted the defense’s request for the court to go in session half an hour later after the summer recess.