Srebrenica massacre survivor hits back at genocide deniers ahead of war crimes verdict

Srebrenica massacre survivor hits back at genocide deniers ahead of war crimes verdict

Srebrenica massacre survivor hits back at genocide deniers ahead of war crimes verdict

Updated 23 November 2017, 10:35 AEDT

Try telling Nedzad Avdic that what happened in Srebrenica 22 years ago was not genocide.

He is one of the few survivors of the massacre that saw around 8,000 Muslim men and boys rounded up and shot by the Bosnian Serb army, before their corpses were thrown into mass graves.

"It was a highly organised killing," says the man who witnessed the operation in all its horror up close.

What happened in July 1995 is at the centre of the verdict which will be handed down in The Hague tomorrow over the alleged war crimes of General Ratko Mladic.

The former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army is facing 11 charges, including two counts of genocide and five counts of crimes against humanity.

Bosnian Serb political leaders continue to deny that genocide took place at Srebrenica despite rulings by two international courts.

"I know it. I saw it." Mr Avdic tells me.

"There were so many resources at the disposal of Ratko Mladic and his army, and they used them against us.

"So many trucks that were organised, so many buses were ready to collect us, so may schools ready for our arrest, so many warehouses, and all the units were ready for us to be taken away and shot.

"All those places were prepared with the machinery ready to collect the dead bodies and to put them on trucks and to push them into mass graves."

He lay in the dirt waiting for his life to end

At the age of 17, Mr Avdic was forced onto a covered truck and taken to a remote dam, an hour's drive out of Srebrenica.

He took me back to the spot, where with his hands tied behind his back, he was ordered to lay down amongst rows of dead bodies, as he waited for his turn to be executed by a marauding death squad, who were trying to wipe out all the Muslims in Srebrenica.

"They opened fire and I don't remember when I was hit. I just remember I was lying, and shivering and trembling, and so many bullets hit all around me and I was just waiting for the next one to come and hit me," he said.

"I saw a man falling down on my right side, so many people around me were dying and crying and shouting, and I just could hear the death rattles all around me, and it was awful and at that moment I just wanted to die."

Mr Avdic was hit by three bullets. He lay in the dirt waiting for his life to end. After a while the Bosnian Serb soldiers left.

"There was no chance for me to survive. I was tied up. I just tried to make my head comfortable, to die easier and in that moment I noticed someone was moving in front of me and it was another survivor."

The pair helped untie each other and then scurried into the nearby woods, carefully avoiding patrolling soldiers while struggling with intense pain from their gunshot wounds.

As they made their way to safety they looked back at the horrors of what they had escaped.

"From the top of the hill, one kilometre from here, we could see a field of dead bodies. We could see the bulldozer, that machinery they used to collect bodies," he said.

It must be traumatising for Mr Avdic to keep telling his story. But he feels he has no choice, because Bosnian Serb politicians continue to deny that genocide took place here.

Genocide claims a fraud, Mayor claims

Milorad Dodik, the president of the Republika Srpska, has called Srebrenica "the greatest deception of the 20th century".

The Mayor of Srebrenica, Mladen Grujicic, tells me that Ratko Mladic, the man dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia", is in fact a hero.

He thinks the war crimes tribunal is biased against Serbs even though he admits he hasn't studied the evidence put forward at The Hague.

Despite his lack of scrutiny of the evidence, Mr Grujicic agrees with Mr Dodik that genocide did not take place in his town.

"This is an opinion of the ordinary Serb, one of, how many Serbs there are? A million. So out of one million, maybe 5 per cent do not think like I do," Mr Grujicic said.

When I ask if he has any evidence to counter the decades worth of documents, DNA evidence, eyewitness testimonies, diplomatic intelligence and audio and video tapes compiled by the investigations team at The Hague, he tells me that many of the names on the Srebrenica memorial are fraudulent.

"I can personally find five names that do not belong to the memorial centre," he said.

"So five persons that were not born here, or have changed their names or are still alive, and there are thousands of names like this that were proved so far. So it is proven, for thousands of names, that they do not belong to that time."

Bosnian Serbs such as Mr Grujicic point out that atrocities were committed against their people during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. This is true. Yet international courts have not defined these crimes as genocide, as they have in the case of the Srebrenica massacre.

For example, the International Court of Justice rejected claims that massacres of Serbs in Krajina during the Croatia War of Independence were genocide.

While the court recognised that crimes were committed against civilians, it ruled the intent "was not there to destroy Serbs as an ethnic group".

Whatever verdict is handed down in relation to Mr Mladic's alleged war crimes in The Hague, Mr Avdic insists that Bosnian Serb politicians must stop denying the genocide that he somehow survived.

"They are the main problem here," he said.

"When they stop denying the genocide we will live normally here."

Watch the report on Srebrenica tonight on Lateline at 9.30pm (AEDT) on the ABC News Channel or 10.30pm on ABC TV.