Fredy Peccerelli, forensic anthropologist from Guatemala, gave evidence at the trial of Ratko Mladic today. In the summer of 2000, Peccerelli led the exhumations of mass graves at the Lazete location, near Orahovac. As alleged in the indictment, in July 1995 Mladic’s troops executed and buried about 1,000 Muslims captured after the fall of Srebrenica at that site

Fredy Peccerelli, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialFredy Peccerelli, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

According to the indictment against Ratko Mladic, the forces under his command executed and buried about 1,000 Muslims captured after the fall of Srebrenica in a field near Orahovac on 14 July 1995. In the summer of 2000, a forensic anthropologist from Guatemala, Fredy Peccerelli, led the exhumations of the victims’ bodies. The operation was part of the OTP Srebrenica investigation.

Peccerelli’s task was to locate and exhume mass graves and to secure the remains in the mortuary in Visoko. Also, Peccerelli had to archive the items recovered in the graves. Peccerelli’s two reports pertaining to the exhumations of primary graves at Lazete 1 and 2 were admitted into evidence. Based on the aerial photos of the area, Peccerelli concluded that the graves were dug between 5 and 27 July 1995.

In the Lazete 1 mass grave, Peccerelli and his team recovered the remains of 127 persons. Two more bodies were found in a ditch nearby. Of those bodies, 89 had linen blindfolds. Only 16 bodies were found in the second mass grave, Lazete 2. A large number of bullet casings were also recovered from the grave. The witness said that both graves had been ‘robbed’ at one moment. The bodies were moved and buried in other locations in the so-called secondary graves.

Mladic’s defense counsel Miodrag Stojanovic argued in the cross-examination that the forensic team run by the Physicians for Human Rights, an NGO, started the exhumation at Lazete 2. They stopped the operation after finding some bodies. Stojanovic suggested this was ‘sloppy science’, especially because the surface hadn’t been examined first and the existence of casings hadn’t been confirmed. This, the defense counsel noted, left room for speculation that the casings found later by Peccerelli’s team could have been dumped at the site in the period from 1996 to 2000.

Peccerelli agreed that strictly speaking one could say that the 1996 exhumations and the procedure applied by the Physicians for Human Rights was not in line with the established rules. However, Peccerelli added that he was not at the site and couldn’t draw any conclusions. As he noted, the important thing was to get the ‘broader picture’ of the events that unfolded at the time.

Stojanovic put to the witness the defense case that the mass graves in Lazete did not contain the bodies of the Muslims who were executed but those who were ‘killed as they fought’ the VRS soldiers in the woods about four kilometers from the locations. The bodies of those who had ‘fallen in battle’ were allegedly collected in a terrain clean-up operation, and were then buried. Stojanovic showed the witness the photos of two BH Army soldiers with linen bands. One wore it around the head, and the other on the arm. The defense counsel asked the witness if he knew that the BH Army soldiers wore linen headbands similar to those recovered in the mass graves. The witness replied that he heard about it for the first time from Radovan Karadzic, when he testified at Karadzic’s trial. The only similarity between the headbands in the photos and those from the mass graves was that they were both made of fabric, Peccerelli said.