“ We saw our sons and our husbands off to those woods and never found out anything about them again. ”
Mirsada Malagić, a Bosnian Muslim woman, speaking about the women whose husbands were killed in the Srebrenica massacres in 1995. She testified on 3 and 4 April 2000 in the case against Radislav Krstić and on 16 February 2011 in the case against Zdravko Tolimir.
“ I realised then that nothing good was in store for us in Potočari, that those soldiers could not protect us, that perhaps they were quite powerless, in view of all that was happening. ”
In the summer of 1995, Mirsada Malagić was a 36 year-old wife and mother of three sons. In May, the family was forced to leave their home in Voljavica in the municipality of Bratunac. They fled to the nearby town of Srebrenica, the UN safe area located in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Mrs. Malagić told the court that the situation was getting worse in town. Chaos set in and the people sensed that something was about to happen and they would have to leave Srebrenica. “The only thing we didn't know and we didn't believe that this would happen in the way that it happened in the end, that so many people would be killed. We thought that there would be a civilised fashion…”
On 11 July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica. Mrs. Malagić, her 11 year-old son, Adnan, and her 70 year-old father-in-law Omer Malagić fled with the women, children and elderly towards the UN compound at Potočari, located to the north of Srebrenica. The other men in her family—her husband Salko, her 12 year-old son Elvir, 16 year-old son Admir and her brother Sadik Salihović—fled towards the woods.
As they left Srebrenica, not far from the first UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) base, a shell fell among a group of people and shrapnel hit Mirsada Malagić in her right collarbone. Mrs. Malagić related how chaos ensued and the mass of people she was with forced their way into the base. Her son Adnan was terrified of the shells and of the fact that she had been wounded. It was an unnaturally hot day, and many people who were sick or frail fainted. After several hours in the compound, UNPROFOR soldiers told them that they had to head towards their main base in Potočari. As they walked the four kilometres to the base, shells were falling on both sides of the road the entire way.
When they reached the zinc plating factory just before the UN compound at Potočari, UNPROFOR soldiers told them they could not enter because too many people were already there. Mrs. Malagić knew the factories in the area because she used to work there before the war so she found shelter inside. Throughout that afternoon, Serb soldiers continued shelling the area around Potočari where the demarcation line was for the Srebrenica safe area. That night was rather quiet, but Mirsada Malagić could not sleep.
Mrs. Malagić described 12 July 1995 as the one of the worst nights of her life. That day, 15 to 20 Serb soldiers came down from the surrounding hills where Mrs. Malagić could see buildings and haystacks on fire. They mingled with the refugees in the compound, verbally abusing them and asking about their men and their troops.
Some of the soldiers gave sweets or chewing gum to the children, who were eager to have them after years of deprivation in Srebrenica. The Serb soldiers took men away one by one to question them. They returned frightened and upset.
“ We could turn to our empty forests. We saw our sons and our husbands off to those woods and never found out anything about them again, whether they are alive or dead, where are their bones lying. ”
That afternoon, at approximately 2:00pm or 3:00pm, Mirsada Malagić went to look for some water. On the road in front of a house nearby, Mrs. Malagić saw an UNPROFOR soldier tied to a vehicle. “And that scene caused me to panic,” said Mrs. Malagić. “I realised then that nothing good was in store for us in Potocari, that those soldiers could not protect us, that perhaps they were quite powerless in view of all that was happening.”
Mrs. Malagić went on to tell the judges about her days in the camp. She spoke of the haunting screams at night and the uncertainty of surviving from one hour to the next. Mrs. Malagić spoke of murders; nobody could feel safe. She told the court how six children, some younger than 10 or 12 years of age, were killed and left in a nearby field.
On the evening of the 12th, two or three Serb soldiers, some of them dressed in UNPROFOR uniforms, started taking groups of eight to ten men to a house just beyond the zinc factory compound. Every time they took a man away, Mrs. Malagić heard women scream. She heard screams that sounded like “something from a horror movie” coming from the direction of the house where the Serb soldiers took them. Mrs. Malagić said that “because of the screams and moans, we were terrified, we couldn’t sleep. Nobody knew what to do.”
Mrs. Malagić saw her neighbour, Ahmo Salihović, in one group. The son of a woman who Mrs. Malagić used to work with, Rijad Fejzić, who was 16 or 17 years old, was also taken away. They have not been seen since. When the women asked the Serb soldiers about a particular person who had been taken away, they said they did not know. They also told them not to be afraid and that it was nothing to worry about. Women who went to search for their children returned with stories of beheaded men in nearby fields. The atmosphere of the camp filled with fear and uncertainty. Sometime past midnight, they found a man who had committed suicide hanging in the zinc factory’s central hall. “That is how that night arrived, perhaps the worst, hardest night in my life.”
The morning of 13 July 1995, the women and children in the compound were completely confused. Everybody wanted to leave the area as soon as possible to go to the UN compound in Potočari where they thought they would be safe and from where they hoped to be evacuated. Due to the panic, a number of people fainted, but they did not have enough room to fall down since the area where they had gathered was so narrow.
Serb soldiers began to mingle in the crowd again. From a truck they threw some bread into the mass of hungry people. The children ran for the loaves while the soldiers simply stood and watched.
Among the soldiers, Mrs. Malagić saw a couple of men who she knew, including one who she had believed to be a good friend. He was a traffic policeman who used to patrol the area where Mrs. Malagić lived before the war and often visited her house for a drink or a cup of coffee. His wife used to work with Mrs. Malagić in the lead and zinc mine. He saw her, but did not speak to her, and she did not speak to him either. Mrs. Malagić said that it was as if they did not know each other.
Mrs. Malagić testified that she saw Ratko Mladić, the chief commander of the Bosnian Serb Army. She reiterated how Mladić interacted with the local population, telling them that they were safe and should not worry. He told them not to panic; everyone would be evacuated before nightfall and that there was no reason to be afraid. The crowd of mostly women, children and elderly applauded him.
Mrs. Malagić saw a long column of buses from companies in Serbia (Strela, Raketa, and Lasta). She testified that the buses came from Serbia for the sole purpose of taking them away. She knew this because since the war began, apart from UNPROFOR vehicles, not a single bus or other vehicle appeared in Srebrenica. As the people began boarding, the Serb soldiers separated all the men, including Mrs. Malagić's father-in-law Omer, her brother-in-law Ramiz Čakar, and a number of her neighbours. They took the men to a nearby power substation where Mrs. Malagić could see a pile of backpacks and bags outside the door.
As Mrs. Malagić was about to board the bus, she saw a neighbour of hers, Salih Rizanović, standing by the door holding a baby in his arms. A Serb soldier told a young woman related to Mrs. Malagić to take the baby to the city of Kladanj, in Bosnian Muslim held territory. Mr. Rizanović was crying and he asked the woman not to abandon the baby, but to take it to any of his relatives that she could find. Later when she reached Kladanj, she found Mr. Rizanović’s family and gave them the baby. Salih Rizanović was separated with the other men, and never seen again.
Mrs. Malagić boarded the bus, which was filled to capacity, with her youngest son. As they passed through Bratunac, some people showed them the three-fingered Serbian salute, while some threw stones. While passing through Kravica, located to the west of Bratunac, three Serb soldiers wearing black bandanas with bloodshot eyes looking drunk or drugged came on the bus. They asked for foreign currency, took out their knives and threatened to slit all of their throats. Some women had jewellery, but the soldiers refused to accept it. They threatened to search everyone and if they found any foreign currency on them, they would slit their throats and their children would be forced to watch. Then they would kill the children too. A few women gave them something to them and the soldiers got off the bus. By the third time Serb soldiers boarded the bus with the same purpose, the driver told them to get off because the women did not have anything more to give since they were not the first to ask.
Somewhere along the way near Sandići, on the road between Bratunac and Konjević Polje located to the west and north, Mrs. Malagić saw a long column of men with their hands tied behind their necks. She recognized several of her neighbours and relatives among the group. “They all looked exhausted, powerless,” she said.
A little further on, Mrs. Malagić saw a large group of men sitting in a meadow. By the side of the road, there was another heap of backpacks and bags. She realized they were all men from Srebrenica because many of them were wearing the white T-shirts they received in Srebrenica from the humanitarian relief organisations.
When the buses arrived at Tisća, the driver told them to get off and proceed on foot. They walked in a line to the demarcation line where they were first met by UNPROFOR soldiers. Other buses arrived and took them to Dubrava where Mrs. Malagić was met by her husband's sister.
The moment Mrs. Malagić parted from her husband, her two sons and her brother on the road from Srebrenica to Potočari was the last time she was with them. She later got word that they were last seen on the road at Konjević Polje, where Serb soldiers had captured them. Not far from Potočari, Mrs. Malagić got one last glimpse of her son Elvir, who waved to her as he passed by in an UNPROFOR truck.
Mrs. Malagić told the court that when Serb soldiers took Srebrenica, they wiped from the face of the earth three generations of men. She listed those killed from her husband’s side of the family: her father-in-law, Omer Malagić, born in 1926; his three sons, Salko Malagić, born in 1948, who was Mrs. Malagić’s husband, Osman Malagić, born in 1953, and Dzafer Malagić born in 1957; his three grandsons, Elvir Malagić born in 1973 and Admir Malagić born in 1979, who were her sons, and Samir Malagić, born in 1975, who was her nephew.
When Judge Almiro Rodrigues asked if she had anything else to add, Mrs. Malagić said: “Yesterday afternoon… I went to walk around your city. [W]hat caught my eye … was a monument to women… awaiting sailors who never come back. And the monument to those wives touched my profoundly. I should like to find this statue and take it to Bosnia with me. Perhaps it could be likened to mothers and wives of Srebrenica who have been waiting and hoping for all those years… We could turn to our empty forests. We saw our sons and our husbands off to those woods and never found out anything about them again, whether they are alive or dead, where their bones are lying. Many mothers have died hoping against hope, and it is quite possible that all the other mothers would end up like that because their numbers are dwindling every day.”
Mrs. Malagić’s told the court that she now lives in the Sarajevo municipality of Vogošća. When asked why she no longer lives near Bratunac she explained that “anyone who survives Srebrenica, who survived the war, who went through everything I went through, believe me, cannot live there…there is no life there.”