May 8, 2009
The U.N.-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has destroyed material recovered from mass graves of Srebrenica genocide. This was confirmed by chief prosecutor of the UN court Serge Brammertz on Thursday during a meeting with the organisation Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa. The destroyed material consisted of approximately 1000 pieces of identification, photographs and articles of clothing belonging to the victims found in the mass graves.

PHOTO: Victim’s belongings found inside of
Srebrenica genocide mass grave in Snagovo.

“This material was of enormous historical value,” says one former investigator, who asked not to be named because of his work with the tribunal. “This was the biggest act of killing in Europe since the Nazis. This was genocide. And for some of the families of the victims, this may have been all they had to mark their loss. This should be a scandal.”

According to BIRN, the Prosecution at the International War Crimes Tribunal has confirmed that it destroyed some materials discovered in the graves of murdered Srebrenica residents.

BIRN had earlier revealed that it had received some indications suggesting that the material, that may have provided evidence pertaining to their murder, was destroyed.

During a meeting Wednesday with representatives of the Association of the Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa, Serge Bremmertz, Chief Prosecutor from the Hague said that around 1000 materials found in mass graves with bodies of people killed after the fall of Srebrenica were destroyed due to a potential health hazard. Bremmertz said that the Prosecution has data about all those materials.

Muniba Subasic, president of the Association, told BIRN that Bremmertz explained that the destruction was not done during his mandate in the Hague, but that it was part of a regular procedure.

“We are strongly against that. Next month we will go to The Hague and meet with the ICTY president and some other people and tell them that we are unsatisfied because of this,” said Subasic.

She added that she was aware that Hague investigators did find some things in some of the mass graves, and that that material was taken away.

“It is usually like that, when people from the Hague are at exhumations, they take away everything they find. If an exhumation is done only by domestic people, they usually call members of families and they ask us what we want to be done with the things they find. That is how I found a cigarette box from my late husband. I took it and give to museum in Srebrenica,” added Subasic.

BIRN began to investigate the story after journalist Michael Montgomery (photo on the left) wrote about the case on his Blog, alleging that the destroyed material included a certain number of identification cards found in mass graves in which the killed Srebrenica residents were buried. Available unconfirmed data suggest that the personal identification cards were burnt at the Hague and their destruction was authorised by the Prosecutor’s Office at the Hague.

Montgomery’s sources claim that neither the Bosnian authorities nor the Srebrenica victims’ families have been informed of this.

“I have never heard of that. It is hard to believe in it,” Hajra Catic, who left Potocari after joining a convoy of other women in July 1995, told BIRN.

Catic says that most Srebrenica residents did not have their personal documents with them at the time.

“We simply did not think about that, considering all other things that were happening at the time,” Catic says.

Montgomery writes that three different sources had confirmed to him that the documents had been destroyed.

“This material was of enormous historical value,” one former investigator told Montgomery. “This was the biggest act of killing in Europe since the Nazis. This was genocide. And for some of the families of the victims, this may have been all they had to mark their loss. This should be a scandal.”

BIRN found out that the Prosecutor’s Office normally destroys some of the collected material after a certain period of time, unless the material has been admitted as evidence by the Court in the meantime.

In the course of the proceedings both the Prosecution and Defence teams propose their own evidence. The Trial Chambers then render decisions concerning the validity of the proposed evidence.

  1. Owen
    May 8, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    It’s claimed that these items were in very poor condition, understandable after being retrieved from mass graves. But they may be the last contact that some survivors have with lost ones. There’s something crass about what appears to be a complete failure to take account of the human significance.

    But on top of that, the application of technological advances to old evidence kept in safe keeping is frequently successful in retrieving formerly inaccesible information.

  2. Kirk Johnson
    May 8, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    I don’t want to overreact to this story, since I have had a little training in archives and records management. It is neither practical nor reasonable to expect a large bureaucratic organization to hold on to every piece of physical artifact in its archival holdings. In a strictly technical sense, what is important here is whether the original artifact has been properly documented.

    However, there is more than technical or records-keeping issues here. This raises a lot of ethical and moral questions, aside from a jurisdictional one–who owns these items? Considering that the Bosnian genocide occured in recent times, that many survivors and relatives of the killed are still alive, and that many remains have yet to be identified (and some no doubt remain to be discovered), this seems to be a case of undue haste, to put it EXTREMELY kindly.

  3. elvedina2006
    May 9, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Yes, this is a scandal and who ever authorized it is an idiot and should be held accountable. Heartbreaking for the families.

  4. Taras
    May 10, 2009 at 7:56 am

    What was the ICTY thinking? Is destroying evidence part of delivering justice?

  5. shaina
    May 11, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Dan, thanks for covering this story. FYI-Michael has also posted his report on justwatch-l and well as BIRN. If I find anything particularly noteworthy from the discussion group regarding the archives-I’ll post it.

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