As the former head of the Srebrenica investigation team Jean-Rene Ruez remarked in his cross-examination, he was all too aware of the fact that Ratko Mladic’s defense’s ‘last resort was to claim that the victims buried in the Srebrenica mass graves were actually soldiers’. He dismissed the claim, urging the defense and the judges to look at the findings of his investigators. They concluded that in July 1995 the captured men and youths were temporarily detained on several locations and were then taken to the execution sites

Jean-Rene Ruez, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialJean-Rene Ruez, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

In the cross-examination of the French inspector Jean-Rene Ruez, Ratko Mladic’s defense counsel tried to show that all or at least some of the men exhumed from the mass graves were BH Army soldiers who were killed in combat. The defense counsel corroborated his allegation with the details pertaining to isolated evidence. The witness, who headed the OTP Srebrenica investigation team from 1995 to 2001, time and again insisted on the chronology of the events established by his investigators.

Defense counsel Lukic confronted Ruez with the claim that in July 1995, as the BH Army soldiers from the 28th Division tried to break through from Srebrenica towards Tuzla, many of them were killed as they fought with the Bosnian Serb forces and each other. The witness replied he knew about it. However, his team did not investigate the soldiers killed in action, Ruez explained. The investigation focused on what happened to the 8,000 persons who went missing after the fall of Srebrenica. Lukic put it to the witness that the soldiers who died fighting were buried in mass graves discovered by Ruez’s team. The witness said that the fighters’ bodies remained in the forest and they were not put on the list of victims of mass executions. Ruez added that he found it ‘hard to imagine’ that someone would die in combat ‘blindfolded, with his hands tied up with wire’.

‘I know that claiming that soldiers were buried in the mass graves is your last resort, but that is just not correct’, Ruez said. The witness insisted that the timeline established by his team was very clear: the Muslim men and boys were first captured or they surrendered to the Bosnian Serb army and the police. They were then detained at several locations in Eastern Bosnia. There they were killed or, more often, they were taken from those detention facilities to mass executions sites. The victims were then buried at the execution sites. Later, the bodies were dug up and moved to hidden secondary graves, in order to cover up the crimes.

The defense counsel asked how it was possible to claim with any certainty that the bodies of soldiers killed in combat were not also buried in the secondary graves. Ruez replied there was clear forensic evidence that showed the link between the bodies in primary and secondary graves. Bullet casings recovered together with the bodies of the victims also showed there was a link.

The defense counsel asked if the investigation established how many people were ‘executed for sure’. As the witness said, more than 6,000 bodies have been identified so far: it has been possible to establish the connection between their deaths and the execution sites. He recalled that the exhumations were still ongoing and the number of victims was not final.

Ratko Mladic behaved well for the most part today. He was cautioned a few times for attempting to communicate loudly with his defense counsels. At times he nodded his head in approval when Ruez said that during the investigation he tried to gather information ‘that could either charge someone or prove them innocent’. In other words, the goal of the investigation was to determine what really happened.

The French inspector’s evidence was interrupted today; he will resume his testimony after the former soldiers from UNPROFOR’s Dutch Battalion complete their evidence.