Srebrenica – The guide for the perplexed


By Ari Rusila

Over a decade and a half after the event Srebrenica continues to be engulfed in heavy fog. Messages about Srebrenica can be divided in two categories. The first a myth about three days on July 1995, a simplistic story line for the broad masses, not overly concerned with facts and arguments, and certainly not encouraging critical analysis. It is based on the repetition of emotional platitudes such as “genocide” and “eight thousand executed men and boys”. The second category projects a propaganda line geared to a more select and influential public. It is based on the pseudo-history of the Yugoslav conflict promoted by the Hague Tribunal and the political apparatus which sustains it. To point out the many questionable aspects of the official narrative about what happened there, The Srebrenica Historical Project has created a presentation Srebrenica The guide for the perplexed a concise exposition of basic facts.

To give a bit more comprehensive picture about Srebrenica case I would like to highlight – with help of presentation mentioned above – few key questions which are challenging the official (ICTY, Western mainstream media) picture as follows:

8000 executed men and boys

How could an allegation of the execution of 8,000 individuals be made and then widely accepted if the only hard evidence in The Hague Tribunal’s possession that points to summary execution involves the remains of 442 persons that were found with blindfolds and ligatures? Indeed, where are the bodies to support the claim of 8,000 execution victims?

In ICTY procedure in Hague the number of Srebrenica victims has varieted from trial to trial. First the standard estimate of executed victims in Srebrenica was 7,000 to 8,000. In the recent Tolimir trial judgment, however, that figure was put at 4,970. Similarly, in all previous Srebrenica trials dealing with Branjevo farm executions, victim estimates were based on the claims of ”Starwittness Erdemovic, one of the perpetrators who made a plea bargain with the Prosecution. The accepted figure was 1,200 victims, notwithstanding the fact that the number of bodies exhumed at the crime scene was 115.

Where are the famous satellite photos that US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright advertised as the definitive proof that a crime of huge dimensions did occur around Srebrenica? Why are they under seal for fifty years if they are of such enormous probative value? If they were made available to the public and to neutral experts for critical analysis now, would that not benefit everybody because many persistent doubts about Srebrenica would quickly be resolved?

Map of military operations during the Srebrenica massacre, July 1995

Map of military operations during the Srebrenica massacre, July 1995

The laughable reason given for insisting on the photos’ confidentiality is that showing publicly them might compromise intelligence gathering methods. That rationale is an insult to the intelligence of the public because the methods used in 1995 are long obsolete.

As the supply of legitimate Srebrenica execution mass graves began to dry up, and bodies needed to back up the 8,000 genocide victims claim were in short supply, the Muslim-controlled Missing Persons Commission focused, for instance, on a locale called Kamenica. They played down the fact that Kamenica was on the path of withdrawal of the Muslim army 28th Division in July of 1995 and that a major clash with Bosnian Serb forces took place there, with numerous Muslim casualties.


The forensic evidence (DNA) is more unhelpful than helpful to the Prosecution’s claim that there were about 8,000 execution victims in Srebrenica. Ten years later, there was no trace of even the 4,805 bodies that in its trial judgment the Krstic court gullibly stated had been “detected” in unexhumed Srebrenica mass graves.Body counting and forensic analysis in the classical sense had reached an embarrassing dead end. The standard forensic approach which is based on autopsies may not have generated the hoped for 8,000 victims, but in a situation of this nature it generates at least some legally useful evidence. The standard approach did yield 947 potential execution victims (442 with blindfolds and ligatures, plus 505 with bullet injuries).

How can it be asserted that the human remains exhumed so far prove summary executions on a large scale when in their autopsy reports ICTY Prosecution forensic experts conceded that out of 3,568 exhumed “cases” 1,583 or 44.4 %, consisted only of body parts, and that in 1,462 or 92.4 % of them no conclusion could be drawn regarding the cause of death?

DNA is currently presented as undeniable proof of “genocide”. However, DNA findings cannot establish key elements of a murder case, the cause and time of death, which is important given the possibility of many combat deaths as well as natural deaths and burials in the Srebrenica area prior to July 1995.

Combat casualties instead of genocide

“If you want to use a word “genocide” (for Srebrenica) – then OK, but we need a new word to replace the old “genocide” word…” (Noam Chomsky)

The status of the 12,000 to 15,000 strong military/civilian, mostly male column which left Srebrenica enclave on foot late on July 11, 1995, headed for Muslim-controlled territory in Tuzla, is a key factor in the controversy over what happened. ICTY Prosecution military expert Richard Butler conceded the mixed character of the column, which under international law makes it a legitimate military target.Testifying in the Popovic case, Butler reiterated that position. The legal character of the column and the extent of its casualties are of the utmost importance because in an effort to reach the magic figure of 8,000, combat losses inflicted on the column are conflated with execution victims.These casualties were estimated by prosecution military expert Richard Butler, when testifying in the Popovic trial, to have been 1,000 to 2,000 for the period of July 12 to 18, 1995, and raised to between 2,000 and 4,000 at a subsequent trial. Given the severe dearth of incontestable execution victims, the presence of thousands of these legitimate Srebrenica casualties is at worst an embarrassment, but at best an opportunity. The opportunity is to blend them in with execution victims, thus eliminating the problem and at the same time helpfully raising the victims’ total, even if it still remains short of the target figure of 8,000.

In his latest book titled “Srebrenica — The History of Salon Racism” (Srebrenica — die Geschichte eines salonfahigen Rassismus) published 2010 in Berlin, Alexander Dorin focuses on manipulations with the number of Muslims who lost their lives in Srebrenica. “It is perfectly clear that Muslim organizations listed as Srebrenica victims all the Muslim fighters who were killed in the fights after the fall of Srebrenica,” the Swiss researcher said. Dorin explained that director of the Belgrade Center for Investigation of War Crimes Milivoje Ivanišević analyzed the lists of alleged Srebrenica victims. Ivanišević discovered that, a year after the fall of Srebrenica, some 3,000 Muslim men who were supposedly killed in 1995, were voting in the Bosnian Muslim elections. It asserted that no more than 2,000 Bosnian Muslims had died at Srebrenica – all armed soldiers, not civilians – and that 1,600 of them had died in combat or while trying to escape the enclave. In addition, at least 1,000 of the alleged 1995 “Srebrenica massacre victims” have been dead long before or after Bosnian Serb Army took the town over.

Planning the narrative – two years before

The “Srebrenica massacre” is the greatest triumph of propaganda to emerge from the Balkan wars.(Edward Herman)

There is also many arguments about political PR game behind exaggerated death numbers, misrepresentation of early reports and manipulated pictures. Indeed President Izetbegovic according mentioned UNSG Report told in 1993 that he had learned that a NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina was possible, but could only occur if the Serbs were to break into Srebrenica, killing at least 5,000 of its people.” So from here are the numbers originating – two years before events in Srebrenica. (Source: UN report Memorandum on war crimes and crimes and genocide in eastern Bosnia )

The authenticity and the implications of this shocking scheme are extensively explored by Ola Flyum in his documentary film Srebrenica: A town betrayed.

Bosnian Muslim violence against Bosnian Serbs from UN protected safe zone

If Srebrenica was indeed a UN protected demilitarized safe zone, how was it possible for it to be used as a training ground and launching pad by Muslim army forces inside it against Serbian civilian villages and military positions outside?

There was also a long history of atrocious Bosnian Muslim violence and treachery perpetrated against Bosnian Serbs leading up to the events of 1995.The most cruel crimes were committed by the 3rd Corps 7th Muslim Mountain Brigade, to which were subordinated foreign Muslim fighters, also known as mujahedeen, who came from Islamic countries through Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network. “Demilitarized safe area of Srebrenica” served as the safe haven to this brigade lead by Bosnian Muslim leader of Srebrenica forces Naser Oric. From there the brigade went to implement series of atrocious attacks on the near-by Serbian areas.

 An important issue pertaining to Srebrenica that is almost never talked about are the Serbian victims. The trick of excluding them is performed by simply narrowing down the relevant Srebrenica chronology to three days in July of 1995, while completely ignoring events during the preceding three years. In the three-year period before the massacre of Muslims in 1995, According to the Dutch Institute for War Documentation (NIOD), these attacks “…followed a certain pattern. Initially, Serbs were driven out of ethnically mixed towns. Then Serbian hamlets surrounded by Muslim towns were attacked and finally the remaining Serbian settlements were overrun. The residents were murdered, their homes were plundered and burnt down or blown up.” As a consequence, “it is estimated that between 1,000 and 1,200 Serbs died in these attacks, while about 3,000 of them were wounded. Ultimately, of the 9,390 Serbian inhabitants of the Srebrenica district, only 860 remained…”

Why are these substantial figures (Serb victims)rarely reported or given even fleeting attention in discussions about Srebrenica, although they are undoubtedly an integral part of the overall picture and their relevance to the events of July of 1995 is indisputable?

First of all, because this is precisely what generated the “accumulated hatred” that was clearly sensed by the UNPROFOR commander in Bosnia, General Philippe Morillon, which he referred to as the consequence of these “terrible massacres.”Second, perhaps because these pogroms created a motive for taking revenge on the perceived malefactors when that became possible in July of 1995. The latter point clearly upsets the genocide applecart because it posits a compelling alternative explanation of the motive.

R2P based on Srebrenica

One aspect which keeps the official narrative about Srebrenica alive is that the case is the fundamental element of R2P (Responsibility to Protect) concept. The Srebrenica narrative serves as the cornerstone of this important new doctrine in international relations and since Bosnia been used with many conflicts around the globe as tool of western interventions.

First, as former US ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith recently revealed, in terms of the Bosnian conflict “endgame” Croatia’s Operation Storm in 1995 against Serb-held areas in the Krajina would not have been feasible had not “Srebrenica” prepared the ground for it, morally and psychologically. The Srebrenica narrative and the outrage it produced served as a convenient veil to shield atrocities committed during the Croatian offensive in August of 1995 from substantial public examination or criticism.

As Bill Clinton, the U.S. President who had stood by in Bosnia, wavered again, Mr Blair warned that Kosovo was a test of whether civilised nations acted before it was too late. “This is not a battle for territory; this is a battle for humanity. It is a just cause, it is a rightful cause,” he argued.

A couple of more examples: “We prevented a new Srebrenica in Libya” (Hilary Clinton) Recently U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on world powers to urgently unite to end the bloodshed in Syria, recalling the inertia of the United Nations in 1995 as genocide occurred in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

My view

Was Srebrenica – a hoax or massacre? I would say both; a hoax due the well planned and implemented PR campaign, a massacre when the Serbs went to trap and used brutal force also against civilians.(Ari Rusila)
From my point of view the myth of 8,000 executed men and boys is busted. It was planed well before to get U.S.involvement with war against Serbs. An essential part of narrative was the death toll of 8,000 and that the victims were civilians. However the figures after decade and half intensive bodycount don’t match. Besides numbers it has came clear that most of the military-age men from Srebrenica assembled in the village of Susnjari and from there under-took a 60 kilometer trek through minefields and Serbian ambushes to Tuzla as they were affraid Serb revenge due their atrocities against Serbs during preceding two years. As for the women, children, and elderly, they were left behind and deposited at the UN compound in Potocari. Quite possibly that was done as a convenient bait to the Serbs to perpetrate the anticipated massacre, but whatever the ultimate motive behind it may have been, on the whole nothing sinister occurred. The 20,000 or so enclave residents dumped in Potocari were put by the Serbs on buses and evacuated safely to Muslim territory.

One can claim that Srebrenica was not a genocide and definition ethnic cleansing is weak too, instead it was a partly war crime provoked by crimes on the other side. Partly as mostly the deads in Srebrenica on July 1995 happened when 28. Muslim Division tried to escape from town to Muslim held territory knowing the amount of hatred among local Serbs and lost their life during this operation. Saying this I’d like to point out that sure there was civilian casualties, innocent victims as well executions which can be seen as war crimes and crimes against humanity etc.

Despite unprecedented efforts over the past ten years to recover bodies from the area around Srebrenica, less than 3,000 have been exhumed, and these include soldiers and others – Serb as well as Muslim – who died in the vicious combats that took place during three years of war. Only a fraction have been identified. Probably a massacre happened but maybe not like that picture which main stream media has offered.

Ari Rusila is a development project management expert and freelancer from Finland with a special interest in the Balkan region. His blog is at