TESTIMONY OF CHRISTINA SCHMITZ & DANIEL O’BRIEN (DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS)
PHOTO (click photo for higher resolution): Forensic anthropologists Ewa Klonowski (right) and Piotr Drukier examine the partially preserved hands of a teenage boy, found in a mass grave of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. Photo by Sara Terry – a former staff correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. “I hate exhumations. I hate the smell, the muck of the pit, the horror of decomposing bodies, the thoughts that stream through my mind about what it must have been like for these people in the final frightening moments of their life. Most of all, I hate the hatred that put them there,” she said.
Approximately 40,000 people, of whom most were displaced, lived in the enclave since March 1993 when General Morillon declared Srebrenica a security zone and promised the population protection under the United Nations. Living conditions were oppressive; it felt like being in an open-air prison or a ghetto, with people completely depending on humanitarian aid which often did not arrive sufficiently. Only the bare minimum of food, drugs and relief items was allowed in by Bosnian Serbian authorities. Living under the constant threat of an attack, deprived of their freedom and with an uncertain future, it was a pure matter of survival over many years.
Daniel and I met on June 28 with Commander Tom Karremans [Thomas Karremans] of UNPROFOR, who specifically assured us that the enclave would never fall.
In the afternoon [Thursday, July 6 1995] the sound of a truck horn blaring down the hill announced the arrival of the first casualties at the hospital. They were children, hit while playing in the park in the town center. One boy was already dead – decapitated – and the other children had horrific shrapnel wounds. We went to work with the local hospital staff to treat the wounded. By the end of the day, we had received 13 wounded and 4 dead at the hospital, all civilians from town.
By telex we requested assistance from UNPROFOR for one severely injured young girl, which was declined due to a stated “lack of intensive care capacity and material.” Also some promised blood transfusions for a patient were refused.
During the day [Friday, July 7 2995], seven injured civilians arrived at the hospital. [Of them], five required major interventions and three died within 12 hours [of their arrival].
Dr. Elias Pilav, the Srebrenica hospital surgeon, was tired and at the edge of a breakdown [Saturday, July 8 1995]… Not only was the work overwhelming, but the hospital was exposed to the shelling. In addition, those who were being maimed and killed before them were their
own family and friends.
Heavy shelling continued throughout the day [Sunday, July 9 1995], and the hospital remained busy. At one stage, casualties arrived after a shell fell into a room full of people in the town… After four days of heavy shelling, the Bosnian Serbian forces were on the verge of entering Srebrenica without a clear opposition from UNPROFOR troops.
The hospital became very crowded with new wounded [Monday, July 10 1995], and many people screaming and crying. According to UNPROFOR, despite of some shelling, the situation in the enclave was stable. Around 10:30 a.m., a shell exploded close to the hospital, shattering the windows of the operating theater and the pharmacy. Now the town’s hospital had became a target as well…. Dr. Elias Pilav, the hospital surgeon, requested assistance from the UNPROFOR medical teams. The understaffed Bosnian surgical team was operating around the clock in the Srebrenica hospital and needed help. I sent a telex at the UNPROFOR base in Potocari. The refusal came back by telex a few minutes later, declining assistance with the argument, that “medical care has to be secured for my soldiers…”
In the evening rumors spread that the Bosnian Serb army had entered the southern end of town… People intensely believed that if they fell into the hands of the Bosnian Serbian soldiers they would be killed. The fear was palpable… They begged us to get on our radio and tell the world what was happening… “The UN promised to protect us,” they said, “please get them to do
something before it is too late.”
It seemed now people had lost faith in the UNPROFOR protection… At noon [Tuesday, July 11 1995] the quiet was broken by the resumption of shelling. People started to panic and run north towards Potocari. The UNPROFOR told us that they had requested airstrikes and to be ready.
The mayor of Srebrenica entered our bunker and informed us that the Bosnian Serb army had entered the town. However only at around 3 p.m. did we see planes carrying out airstrikes. By then, the town was already empty of people and the Bosnian Serb army was well advanced into the town… The scene on the road to Potocari was complete chaos; people running in panic, carrying screaming children and their bags; blue helmets walking with the fleeing population; shelling continuing from the mountains… However UNPROFOR refused MSF any of their medicines because it had to be kept for their own soldiers. I had only the supplies of the two emergency cases from our cars: two bags of intravenous fluid and a few vials of painkiller.
Outside the compound, approximately 20,000 people were seeking shelter around some destroyed buildings trying to escape the continuing shelling. UNPROFOR accepted an estimated 5,000 people inside their base at Potocari, where they were protected from the shells and out of view of Bosnian Serb soldiers.
Only later in the morning [Wednesday, July 12 1995], UNPROFOR soldiers received the order to switch to a non combat situation as they were no longer under threat of attack. Therefore they offered us access to all their medical facilities and drugs.
The condition of the displaced people outside and inside was appalling – [they lacked] food, water, shelter, and sewage [was on the ground]. We were informed that Mladic would start the deportation of the population to Tuzla, and the evacuation of wounded people to Bratunac football stadium [where they were later tied, blindfolded, and then massacred]. I personally talked to him and tried to protest against this plan, but he just told me to do my job and walked away… It was so quick and well organized that it looked as if it was planed in advance. Outside the UN compound, men had to register in a house where 35 were kept. I expressed my concern to Deputy Commander Franken and he assured me that they were being well treated. I also discussed this issue with Commander Karremans who was very sure that none of the men were killed. However, later, around this house, I could hear a lot of small arm fire.
Around 7 p.m., the evacuation of the hospital patients who had been waiting in the UNPROFOR base for two days started in vehicles driven by UNPROFOR soldiers. It was very chaotic; everybody wanted to get on the convoy because they saw it as a chance for salvation. It is hard to convey their desperation, but people just jumped into the trucks, others carried their relatives forward via any available means and demanded they be placed on the convoy. It was accompanied by nine Bosnian nurses and one medical technician.
At 7 a.m. [Thursday, July 13] the deportation of the civilians resumed from the camp outside… Everybody who could have stopped this mass exodus, should have been forced to feel the panic and desperation of the people. Everybody should have seen the violence in the faces of Bosnian Serb soldiers, directing the people like animals to the buses, with children screaming in the arms of their mothers, everybody running for their lives.
A father with his one year-old baby came to me, crying, accompanied by an armed Bosnian serb soldier. It was clear to me that he was supposed to be separated and so he handed his child to me. It was a horrible scene. I had to write down the name of the child and felt that the father would never see his daughter again.
Later on, I was informed by a UNPROFOR soldier that there were dead bodies in the back of the factory… In the afternoon I saw a hysterical Bosnian man being beaten up… Since their arrival in Potocari, seven women gave birth in the corridor that was our hospital, with no privacy, among the dirt and desperation.
By 4 p.m., the outside camp was empty and the deportation of the displaced people from inside the UNPROFOR compound commenced… We were told that outside the compound, they were taken by Bosnian Serb soldiers who separated the men from the women, children, and elderly and were put on separate buses and trucks. In two days, the deportation of the 25,000 people was completed… I found three patients in the social center and three patients in the hospital. We heard lots of small arms fire in the late evening in one certain place in the forest nearby.
A UNPROFOR convoy arrived in the evening [Friday, July 14 1995] with new drugs, food and 35,000 liters of diesel… The Bosnian Serbian army confiscated 30.000 liters and kept the material!
I inquired with deputy commander Franken [Saturday, July 15 1995] about the whereabouts of the men and he informed me that some young men had arrived in Kladanj and apparently, there was a group of 700 to 1,000 men kept in Bratunac [football stadium].
Commandant [Momir] Nikolic, the local Bosnian Serb commander from Bratunac insisted on inspecting [interrogating] each of the 55 patients [Monday, July 17 1995] before they could be evacuated with ICRC to Tuzla. He went from bed to bed in the hospital talking to almost every patient. Leaving the hospital, Nikolic had written seven names on a piece of paper and informed everybody that these seven men had to stay in Bratunac in the local clinic…
Editorial Note: Momir Nikolic, mentioned in the testimony above, was sentenced to 27 years’ imprisonment on December 2, 2003 for his involvement in the crimes against humanity during Srebrenica genocide. To avoid Srebrenica genocide conviction, Nikolić admitted in a plea bargain that he was involved in coordinating and organizing the Bosnian Serb army operation aimed to forcibly expell thousands of civilians from the U.N. “Safe Haven” enclave during the Srebrenica genocide. The sentence was reduced from 27 years imprisonment to 20 years by the ICTY Appeals Chamber on March 8, 2006. Nikolic was transferred to Finland to serve his sentence on 11 April 2007.
“Dutchbat soldiers told the MSF team about corpses lying near their compound. In the Ministry of Defence debriefing report, various Dutch soldiers say that bodies had been seen or that they had witnessed events that made them fear the worst. Some Dutchbat soldiers also provided horrifying eyewitness accounts when they arrived in Zagreb at the end of July… With so much intelligence pointing to an orchestrated deportation and massacre, it is incomprehensible that Dutchbat had no knowledge of the events unfolding around them.” (Srebrenica: Questions for the Future, Médecins Sans Frontières Holland, 4 April 2002).