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Witness O

Witness O (he testified with name and identity withheld from the public), a 17-year old survivor of the Srebrenica executions speaking about their perpetrators. He testified on 13 April 2000 in the case against Radislav Krstić.

“ … It was systematic killing … the organisers of that do not deserve to be at liberty.”

Witness O had just turned 17 when on 11 July 1995 the Bosnian Serb army, the Vojska Republika Srpska (VRS), overran Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. On that day, he and his father decided to join thousands of able-bodied men from Srebrenica in an attempt to escape to Bosnian Muslim-held territory because they feared for their lives.
On 13 July 1995, while hiding in the forest, Witness O heard Bosnian Serb soldiers calling on them to surrender through a loudspeaker, and promising that they would be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. That afternoon, Witness O joined a group of several thousand men who descended from the forest. He said that he did not know that they were surrendering.

“There were soldiers walking past us, asking for money, and when everyone handed everything over, they cursed our balija [derogatory term for Muslims] mothers,” said Witness O. VRS soldiers ordered him and the other Bosnian Muslim prisoners to run along the road north from Srebrenica toward the town of Bratunac with their hands up. They took turns carrying the wounded as they ran. Bosnian Serb forces also forced them to show the Serbian three-fingered sign as they passed by buses of women and children who were being deported to Bosnian Muslim-held territory.
After being held in a meadow for some time, Bosnian Serb forces put Witness O and the other prisoners in trucks, in which they spent the night. Witness O stated that the trucks were overcrowded and so stifling that some people fainted. “We were very thirsty,” said Witness O, “People even drank their own urine.”
In the afternoon of 14 July, Bosnian Serb forces took Witness O and the other prisoners into a number of classrooms in a school. One of the Bosnian Serb soldiers asked, “Whose land is this?”, and then himself answered, “This is Serb land. It always was and will be.” Serb soldiers also asked “Who does Srebrenica belong to?” They themselves answered, “Srebrenica was always Serb. It always was, and always will be Serb.”

Witness O said that at first the air in the classroom was fresh compared to the air in the truck, and that compared to that horror, he felt as if he were free. But soon they ran out of air in the classroom. Witness O said that when someone tried to open the window a Bosnian Serb soldier started shooting and wounded the man next to him. A part from one jerry can of water, enough for one drop each, the prisoners were not given any water.
When darkness fell, Witness O heard men from the other classrooms being called out in small groups. When they got down in front of the school, he heard bursts of gunfire. This went on until about midnight.
Then one of the soldiers came and said that it was their turn, and that they should come out two by two. Witness O asked his uncle whether he should go out with him. His uncle said, “No, we won’t go out together.” Witness O went out before him, with one of the other men, and after that he never saw his uncle again.

"After the shooting stopped and the soldiers left, Witness O saw some movement in front of him, and whispered, “Are you alive?” He heard a man say, “I’m alive.” "

In the corridor, a soldier told them to take everything off up to their waist, and to take off their shoes. Witness O did not have any shoes, as he had lost them somewhere in the woods, but he took off his socks. The soldiers tied Witness O’s hands behind his back with a kind of very hard string, and then put him in another classroom where he could feel clothes under his feet. When all the men’s hands were tied, the soldiers took them out of the building and put them on a truck. Then Witness O heard a shot and somebody on the truck screamed. They drove them for about ten minutes. Bosnian Serb soldiers ordered five men to get out of the truck at a time, and then they heard gun fire.

A man who was behind him and who had managed to free his hands, asked Witness O whether he wanted him to untie him. Witness O said, “No. No, I don’t want that, because I’m going to be killed.” He heard some people shouting, “Give us some water first and then kill us.” Witness O said in his testimony that in that moment, he thought to himself that he was really sorry that he would die thirsty.

In the early morning hours of 15 July 1995, the soldiers took Witness O off the truck to a spot where he saw rows of people who had been killed. As he was getting out of the truck, Witness O thought that he would die very quickly and not suffer. “And I just thought that my mother would never know where I ended up.”

When the shooting started, Witness O fell down and stated that he felt pain on the right side of his chest and in his right arm. He heard a man moaning to his right, but he did not shout or cry out. Witness O said he was waiting for another bullet to come and hit him. While he was waiting to die, he heard bursts of gunfire continuing and people falling down. When the soldiers were finished shooting, he heard them say, “Well, your government will be exchanging you even if you’re dead.” Witness O said they would take a look at someone and make jokes, “Look at this guy, he looks like a cabbage.”

After the shooting stopped and the soldiers left, Witness O saw some movement in front of him, and whispered, “Are you alive?” He heard a man say, “I’m alive.”
Witness O rolled over the dead bodies and tried to bite through the string with which the other man’s hands were tied. As he was doing so, Witness O saw a truck approaching. The other man kept insisting that Witness O untie him because he was afraid that Witness O would leave him, and he wanted to escape. Though he was still tied up, the man started walking across the bodies, and Witness O crawled after him on his hands and knees because he could not stand up, and his leg was hurting him very badly.

"From all of whatever I have said and what I saw, I could come to the conclusion that this was extremely well organised."

“And as we went over the bodies, I couldn’t see who it was, but it was a terrible sight. Somebody had been hit in the head, and the inside had spilled over. I didn’t see anyone alive,” said Witness O.

After several days of wandering through the forest, Witness O and the other survivor made it to Bosnian-held territory.

As was his practice, Presiding Judge Almiro Rodrigues asked Witness O whether he had any additional words. Witness O stated the following:

“From all of whatever I have said and what I saw, I could come to the conclusion that this was extremely well organised. It was systematic killing. And that the organisers of that do not deserve to be at liberty. And if I had the right and the courage, in the name of all those innocents and all those victims, I would forgive the actual perpetrators of the executions, because they were misled. That’s all.”

Witness O testified on 13 April 2000 in the case against Bosnian Serb Army commander Radislav Krstić. The Tribunal convicted Radislav Krstić and sentenced him to 35 years’ imprisonment for his role in the crimes Witness O suffered, among others.

> Read Witness O’s full testimony

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