Describing the consequences of ethnic cleansing, British journalist Jeremy Bowen said at the trial of Ratko Mladic that that process was particularly traumatic in BH. Entire families were left ‘without their homes and money’ in mere minutes, women and children were ‘completely lost’ without their husbands and fathers. Their husbands and fathers were either killed before their eyes or taken to prison camps

Jeremy Bowen, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialJeremy Bowen, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

The prosecution continued the examination-in-chief of BBC war correspondent at the trial of Ratko Mladic. Bowen said that the first wave of ethnic cleansing of non-Serb villages in BH took place in 1992. In the following period, the expulsions continued, but in a more sophisticated manner, not at gunpoint. Bowen used the example of Bijeljina where a local leader, Vojkan Djurkovic, put in place ‘a bureaucratic procedure’ for the expulsion of remaining Muslims. Djurkovic set up a Committee for the Freedom of Movement that ‘allowed those who wanted’ to leave the town to do it. At the same time, non-Serb civilians were intimidated and for all intents and purposes forced to apply to leave.

The ethnic cleansing culminated in July 1995 when thousands of women and children were expelled from the Srebrenica enclave before the execution of the captured men. The witness followed the process from Sarajevo. In his report for the BBC, Bowen used footage produced by the Serb TV network from Pale showing the evacuation of women and children. The men of military age were notably absent in the footage.

Describing the effects of the ethnic cleansing on the population, Bowen said that in his career he had covered about 17 or 18 wars, but the ethnic cleansing in the war in BH was ‘particularly traumatic’. Civilians were often expelled from their homes in just a few minutes, and were able to take with them just a few personal belongings that were not taken from them. Able-bodied men and sometimes even boys aged 13 or 14 were separated from other civilians and executed, often in front of their relatives, or were taken to prison camps. The communities where it happened were patriarchal: men made decisions. Without them, the women and children were ‘completely lost, cast into an ocean of trauma, solitude, desperation and fear’.

The same stories occurred in various places in BH; BBC broadcast them less frequently because of the ‘fatigue’ among the editors and the public. In Bowen’s opinion, the stories should have been broadcast regularly because they showed there was a pattern of ethnic cleansing.

In the cross-examination, defense counsel Ivetic mostly focused on the Sarajevo part of the witness’s testimony. Ivetic put it to Bowen that the ‘conspiracy theory’ about the BH Army shelling Sarajevo to obtain international support did make sense. According to the defense counsel, there were some facts that corroborated the theory. Ivetic showed several UNPROFOR documents in which suspicion was expressed that the government troops may have been behind the attacks on civilians. The witness replied that a whole theory couldn’t be based on ‘a single case’. Bowen explained that he heard the allegations about the BH Army shelling targets on their side for the first time from the deputy to UNPROFOR commander MacKenzie whose name he didn’t want to disclose. When Bowen asked the deputy if there was any proof to support the allegations, the unnamed officer replied ‘We don’t have any proof, but that’s what we think’.

The defense counsel also put it to Bowen there was an ‘internal siege’ of Sarajevo by the units under the command of criminals such as Caco, Celo and Juka Prazina. There were also bureaucratic obstacles for those who wanted to leave the city. The witness replied that there were some restrictions, but ‘the only siege’ was that mounted by the Bosnian Serb army whose units held artillery positions around the city. Bowen completed his evidence. The prosecution case continues on Monday.