“ … This youngest boy I had, those little hands of his, how could they be dead? Every morning I wake up I cover my eyes not to look at other children going to school. ”
Witness DD (she testified with her name and identity withheld from the public), a Bosnian Muslim woman, speaking about how she lost her husband and two sons in the July 1995 Srebrenica genocide. She testified on 26 July 2000 in the case against Radislav Krstić.
“ Witness DD remembers that, while the Serb soldier was dragging her son away, she heard the boy’s voice for the last time. ”
After spending a few days in the woods, Witness DD, along with her family, went to nearby town of Srebrenica, already overcrowded with other Bosnian Muslim displaced persons from surrounding villages. Fighting surrounded them, as the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) advanced to take the town. Shots could be heard all the time”. “The detonations were so loud, one would think that the whole earth was on fire”, Witness DD recalled.
While the shells were falling and the Serb takeover became imminent, most of the adult men decided to try to escape through the woods surrounding the town. The witness’ husband and the eldest son joined this group of men, while she stayed with their two youngest sons, aged nine and 14. “At that point I told my husband for the last time, ‘We’re not going to separate ourselves’, and he told me not to worry.” That was the last time Witness DD saw her husband or her eldest son.
Finally, the Serb forces took the town on 11 July 1995. Feeling abandoned and unprotected, the remaining residents of Srebrenica moved into the direction of Potočari, a few kilometers north of the town, to the base of the UNPROFOR Dutch Batallion soldiers. Witness DD remembers that, while she was walking with other Bosnian Muslim refugees towards Potočari, shells were still falling and she heard shots from different kinds of weapons. When they reached Potočari, the witness saw a large number of old trucks and buses. She tried to find shelter behind the trucks since the July heat was stifling, with the temperature of around 37 degrees.
Serb executioners tied the hands of their Bosnian Muslim victims before shooting them.
(Prosecution Exhibit P128/102 from the Krstić case)
Along with thousands of Bosnian Muslim refugees, mostly women, children, elderly or disabled, Witness DD and her two young sons spent two nights in Potočari. The living conditions were deplorable, food and water were in scarce supply. As the witness told the Tribunal, the situation in Potočari was growing steadily worse. On the morning of 13 July 1995, the witness decided to leave, so she walked to the trucks, which the Serbs used to transport women, children and elderly out to Muslim-held territories. The men were not allowed to go, and were separated from the rest.
While they were queuing for the trucks, her children were nervous and tired. One of her friends tried to find some water for her elder son, but came back to the line shocked and scared: “He said, “I saw everything. I saw heads and limbs all over the place where I went to fetch some water.” At that point my child started trembling, and he was about to faint...”
As they were moving forward, approaching the rope surrounding the buses witness DD felt relieved, “I thought to myself, thank God. After everything I had seen, after I had seen people being separated, I kept thanking God because we seemed to have passed through, me, my children and these friends of ours.” Witness then DD saw the Serb soldiers standing on the both sides of the line of refugees, creating a kind of corridor around them that they had to pass through. As they moved forward, she saw one of the soldiers pointing at her son. “…I heard a voice say, ‘Popović, look out for this one’, and I immediately realised that he was referring to my child.” The soldier told her 14 years old son to step out of the line, and part from the rest of the family. The boy was trying to resist, saying that he was too young to go with the adult men: “I grabbed him by his hand and I - he kept repeating, “I was born in 1981. What will you do with me? What do you want me to do?” And then I begged them, I pleaded with them. Why are you taking him? He was born in 1981. But he repeated his order”, and he threw the boy’s bag on a pile nearby. Witness DD remembers that, while the Serb soldier was dragging her son away, she heard the boy’s voice for the last time: “And he turned around, and then he told me, “Mommy, please, can you get that bag for me? Could you please get it for me?”
“ And then sometimes I also think it would be better if none of us had survived. I would prefer it. ”
While watching her young son being taken away, Witness DD and her nine-year-old son were in shock. The youngest child was shouting and screaming, asking where his brother was taken and what would happen to him. The witness felt numb: “And I just stood there for a while. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to go.” Witness DD remembers that, at this point, her sister-in-law came and took her and her child towards a large uncovered truck, which they boarded. She testified that, while they were sitting in the truck, she saw a bus crowded with men parked nearby, with more men standing around it. She knew that her son was in it, but she was still hoping that he would be safe.
Trucks and buses, overcrowded with the Muslim women and children, set off on their way to the village of Tišća. As they traveled through the Serb-held territory, villagers threw stones at their vehicles. Her son was hit on his head, and she had to shelter him with her body all the way. When they finally reached Tišća, they were urged by an armed Serb soldier to disembark swiftly: “There was a very big Četnik standing there together with another one, a very young man, young boy who was actually smaller than my son who was born in 1986, but he was holding a rifle. And he told us to move on quickly.” The refugees were forced to continue on foot along the road, to the Bosnian Muslim held territory of Kladanj. After walking for several kilometers, through the “no-man’s land” between the Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Muslim lines, Witness DD and her nine-year-old son finally reached Kladanj. The two of them were safe, facing the life of a refugee.
At the time she testified, Witness DD was living with her youngest son in a small room in a refugee center. Her daughter, with two children of her own, did not have an accommodation at all. “And then sometimes I also think it would be better if none of us had survived. I would prefer it”, she told the court.
She never saw her husband or her two sons again. When asked what she thought had happened to them, Witness DD answered: “How do I know? As a mother, I still have hope.”