The scene is from July 1995. Women, children and a few old men are crammed into buses in Srebrenica, the UN’s supposedly “safe haven” that has just been overrun by the Bosnian Serbs.
General Ratko Mladic climbs aboard to reassure them.
“Don’t be afraid, you’re going to be evacuated” he says.
“Thank you,” they reply.
But over the following days up to 8000 of their menfolk were exterminated. It was the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War.
Mladic was accused of genocide, and also of crimes against humanity, notably over the siege of Sarajevo.
After 15 years on the run, Mladic was captured in May 2011. He proclaimed his innocence via his son Darko.
“Whatever was done in Srebrenica, he had nothing to do with that. He saved so many women and children, and soldiers: his orders were first to evacuate the wounded, women and children, then captured soldiers. As for those who did something behind his back, that’s not his business,” said Darko Mladic before the cameras.
But the prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia intends to prove otherwise. For years, investigators from The Hague have been plunging into the horrors of Srebrenica. Piece by piece, they uncovered the scale of the massacre, mass grave after mass grave.
Thanks to evidence from witnesses and aerial images supplied by the United States, they discovered that the Bosnian Serbs tried to conceal the crime.
One of the accounts, in 1996, came from Jean René Ruez, the French policeman who led the inquiry into events at Srebrenica.
“A group of 250 people were captured. In the morning, a digger arrived on the scene and dug a hole. The prisoners were ordered to gather around the hole, soldiers surrounded them, the digger pushed people into the hole to bury them, and those who tried to escape were immediately shot by the soldiers surrounding the prisoners,” he said.
Mladic will also have to answer before the law over the siege of Sarajevo. For three years and seven months the Bosnian capital was bombarded mercilessly. The International Tribunal called it a medieval siege. In the worst attack in February 1994, a shell killed 68 people and injured more than 200 in a Sarajevo market.