The Story of Protected Witness L who survived execution in Srebrenica Genocide
The Story of Protected Witness L who survived execution in Srebrenica Genocide
May 14, 2020
The case of Radislav Krstić was the first ICTY case in which a conviction for genocide was rendered. During the hearings a number of people who had survived execution by VRS and military police of the then self-declared „Republika Srpska“ gave their testimony. The executions were organized, planned and aided by resources and manpower, committed in several locations: Grbavci, Petkovci and other places. One of the survivors was protected witness L .
In the courtroom on the 11th and 12th of April 2000 protected witness L took the stand, a Bosniak, born in Zvornik, expelled to Srebrenica in March 1993. Before that, he worked in Belgrade for 18 years as a construction worker, specialized in concrete reinforcement. He lived with his two brothers in Srebrenica, of which one was disabled. The disabled brother headed for Potočari on the 11th of July 1995 and managed to reach Tuzla, a free territory. He and his other brother headed to Šušnjari on the same day where some 15.000 Bosniaks were gathered hoping to find their way to a free territory through the forest, fleeing from the VRS who had already gained control over Srebrenica. Answering the question in court about why they didn't also leave for Potočari he said: „Because we didn't dare go to Potocari, because we saw the situation, that they had threatened us that if Srebrenica fell, that they would settle accounts with the able-bodied men, and that is, anyway, what they did.”
They leave Šušnjari on the 12th of July and enter a forest near Buljim, where he testifies about seeing a dead body for the first time which embedded fear in him. They decide to spend the night in the forest, he slept under an oak tree and when he woke up he heard the VRS calling the Bosniaks to surrender via loudspeaker. They answered by shouting that they will only surrender if the UNPROFOR or the Red Cross is there. Hopelessness spread through the column, so some of them decided to surrender that day. Soldiers searched them looking for valuables such as money or gold, they took their hats and other accessories. They lined them up on a meadow where they saw more prisoners, 2.500 people by his estimate. One younger VRS soldier told them that the governments were negotiating an “all for all” exchange while he waited for his shift to end. After that “Arkan’s men” will arrive. As the next shift started, a personnel carrier arrived with soldiers inside. One of them shouted “Don't let me kill you all, and then I could go to The Hague.” Those “Arkan’s men” then ordered the witness and the other prisoners to get down on the floor and shout “Long live the king!”
An hour and a half later, Ratko Mladić arrives and says to the prisoners: Good evening, neighbors. The governments are negotiating, and tomorrow you will all be exchanged for all” and that they would be transferred to hangars. While they were boarding the prisoners, one soldier lets eight boys between 12 and 14 years old free. He asked whether there was anyone this old in the group after which the boys would stand up, but one boy was told to sit back down because he is “big enough to carry a machine gun”. They whole group is driven to Bratunac in different vehicles.
After being asked whether he had seen or heard anything about his brother he answered: “Since the 13th of July, 1995, I haven't heard of him... from the time when we were sitting together in the meadow. He was maybe 10 to 15 rows behind me sitting on that meadow.” He added that he attempted, together with his brother’s wife and children, finding him through the Red Cross but they couldn’t locate him.
In Bratunac the VRS took men away, selecting them by the village from which they came from, to a garage where the others heard thuds, screams and soldiers shouting at the Bosniak men. Then they would hear gunfire followed by silence. “This continued through the night”, the witness said. In the morning, they were ordered to get into vehicles again (buses, trucks etc.) when he heard a soldier saying “Now you take them to Alija and exchange them.” On the way to Tuzla they turn right near Grbavci and arrive at a schoolyard where there were some 30 VRS soldiers and members of the MUP RS (RS police). One of them orders the men to get in the school gym. The witness is ordered upon entering to take off his leather jacket and put it on a pile of clothes that was in front of the entrance. When entering the gym he notices some people brought in from Potočari, old men. There were around 2.000 prisoners in the gym. After one of the prisoners called a younger soldier “Soldier”, he replied: “We’re not soldiers, we’re Karadžić’s young chetniks”. There was no water in the gym, some men passed out from thirst and there was a bucket in the corner that served as a toilet. Another prisoner spoke to the soldiers, saying to them “These people must not be killed” to what one of them answered “Says who?” after which the soldier ordered the prisoner to get out in front of the gym. A shot was heard which was followed by a scream from the man, then another shot was fired which was followed by silence. The same thing happened to another man shortly after.
Two VRS soldiers and a woman arrive at the gym exit with a sack full of rags which will be used as blindfold for the prisoners. One man was chosen from the group who would blindfold the others while the woman would give them water. The witness was again boarded onto a truck with around 30 other men, and his visibility was around 50% because “they weren't so strict about us moving the blindfold off our eyes for a while.” After a short drive, he exits the truck and sees a dead body beneath him. He is put in a row with the other men, shots start firing from his right side and people begin falling to the ground. The execution had begun. “Men brought me down so that a man covered this part of my face [indicates], and he fell before me and my arm was over his chest. That was probably the last shot fired in a standing position” he stated. He had a bloodstain on his back from blood dripping off the man above him, but the witness wasn’t hit. He heard another prisoner shout “Finish me off!” to which a VRS soldier answered, “Slowly, slowly.” When all the prisoners had fallen, one of the soldiers fired a shot into anyone who was still moving. After a while, the witness hears another truck arriving: “...and again you only heard shots, and people were probably falling but there weren't many cries or screams” he stated in the courtroom. This repeated late into the night.
The witness didn’t move. After everyone was killed, he heard a group calling out to each other by the names Gojko, Vojo and Risto. He recognized Gojko’s voice - it was Gojko Simić, his former colleague from work who he recognized by his distinctive way of speaking because he had a certain “lisp” in his voice, he emphasized in the court. After being asked about his relationship with Gojko , the witness says that they had good relations, they never argued and that Gojko was fair. Still not moving and covered by dead bodies, the witness hears Gojko say that he would “kiss every single of those who can speak”, alluding to the murdered prisoners. The sound of a dredger is then heard arriving to the place of the execution of Bosniaks and it began digging a hole for the dead bodies. The VRS soldiers gather around the dredger, the witness says they “wanted to go to the meadow to kill people” because they were left behind by the others who had left to go killing. The driver of the dredger said "If you turn off the machine, I will go with you. I don't want to go on working” to which Gojko answered "Collect your ammunition and let's go to the meadow to kill the men", the witness stated.
According to the register of the Zvornik Brigade, Gojko Simić was a Commander of the supporting platoon of the 4th infantry battalion who died in combat two days later on the 16th of July near Baljkovice. His death certificate showed that he worked in the same company as witness L.
After the three soldiers had left a loader arrived alongside the dredger and the drivers got out of the vehicles to talk. According to the testimony, another survivor of the execution got up and started to run into the forest. He was noticed by the drivers who began shooting at him. The loader driver pointed his lights towards the forest. This was the moment where the witness saw his opportunity to escape, so he began moving. One of the drivers shouted “"Here's another man who's escaping!". The witness looked around and realized that he wasn’t shouting about him, and continued crawling towards the railroad tracks nearby – nobody was following him so far. He got up to his feet and started running. “I know that they fired some shots, but I didn't feel any bullets close to me, nor was I hit, luckily” he stated in the courtroom. He continued his escape through a cornfield where he heard shooting again so he crawled once more, and when it stopped he was on his feet again.
During his escape, he encountered another location where executions had taken place. “It seemed to me that one of them showed signs of life, but there was no hope”, he said. After that he headed for the woods again. He walked for around 10 days before reaching a free territory, completely alone.
 Iskaz o vojnim događanjima u Srebrenici (revizija) – Operacija “Krivaja 95” 03072366. Srebrenica Sense Centar. 1. novembar 2002. https://srebrenica.sense-agency.com/assets/Uploads/sg-1-03-srebrenica-mil-iskaz-bcs.pdf
 Krstić (IT-98-33). Transcripts, Tuesday 11th April 2000. United Nations, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 11th of April 2000. https://www.icty.org/x/cases/krstic/trans/en/000411ed.htm