Srebrenica-Related Graves Through 2002

On behalf of the Bosnian Serb defendant Ljubiša Beara in the joint-trial of seven Bosnian Serbs all who have been convicted of crimes related to the "Srebrenica massacre" (see Prosecutor v. Vujadin Popovic et al., IT-05-88-T), the Serb forensic pathologist Ljubiša Simic performed an independent analysis of 3,568 post-mortem reports produced by the Prosecution's experts at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, based on the human remains recovered in the years 1995 through 2002 from 13 different mass graves that the Prosecution identified as "Srebrenica-related."

Simic found that in 1,583 of these reports (44.367%), the human remains consisted of "only a body part, often just a bone."  As "one report does not equal one body," he argues, the "number of bodies is far less than the number of reports…" (p. 98).  

"Based on such autopsy report it is impossible to draw any forensically significant conclusions, the more so since in a high percentage of these reports no trauma is referred to.  This view is confirmed by the fact that in 92.4% of the cases in this category [1,463 reports], Tribunal forensic experts did not state any cause of death determination" (p. 100). 

Simic adds that, notwithstanding the widely promugated belief that "all or most of the exhumed remains would exhibit a pattern of injury consistent with execution, [this] was not borne out.  Instead of the expected uniformity, there is a great diversity in the patterns of injury, which is consistent with more than a single explanation of the mortal outcome" (p. 100). 

Excluding these 1,583 reports leaves us with 1,985 operative post-mortem reports (55.633%) out of the original 3,568 reports from the years 1995 – 2002.

Then in what Simic refers to as his "control analysis" (p. 100 and p. 108), carried out with the purpose of "establish[ing] as closely as possible the total number of bodies in the mass graves which were exhumed by ICTY prosecution forensic experts and for which they composed autopsy reports which were tendered into evidence" (p. 100), and keeping in mind that "one report does not equal one body," Simic attempted to count the number of craniums and femurs that belong to the total remains-set.

Due to the deteriorated state of the craniums, however, a tabulation of craniums proved impossble.  So Simic "concentrated on counting the femurs," tabulating left and right femurs, as well as femur fragments whenever possible.  After he excluded 28 femur fragments from his final total "due to their insufficient size" (p. 100), he determined that the total remains-set produced by the ICTY's exhumations consisted of 1,919 right femur bones and 1,923 left femur bones (p. 100).

So somewhere between 1,919 and 1,985 is a reasonable range of estimates for the number of individual persons recovered from the Srebrenica-related mass graves through 2002.

Simic concludes (p. 100 and p. 108): 

We stress that this total figure of victims for all Srebrenica mass graves includes both key categories, those who were executed and those who were killed during combat engagements. Thus, the thesis…that the considerable number of reports [44.4%] which consist only of fragments cannot legitimately be treated as bodies, now stands fully corroborated.  To repeat, the number of those reports which only refer to fragments is 1,583.  When we deduct that number [1,583] from the total number of "cases" for which Tribunal forensic experts have opened autopsy reports [3,568], we are left with about 1,985 bodies in various states of completeness.  Within acceptable parameters, that coincides with the results of our control analysis which relies on femur bones and which gives us a range of between 1,919 and 1,923 casualties from all causes in Srebrenica-related mass graves.

Adopting the 1,985 post-mortem reports that represented more than bodily fragments, we can summarize Simic's presentation of his findings as follows:

I. In 1,066 of these 1,985 accepted post-moretm reports (or 53.70%), Simic believes that it is unreasonable-to-impossible to determine the cause of death (i.e., death due to execution [homocide] versus combat versus natural causes versus suicide).

A) Can't tell: "There are 655 case[s] [32.99%] which are treated in the autopsy reports as bullet-inflicted.  Based on that circumstance alone it is impossible to conclude whether they might have been executed or were killed during combat, or whether death was the consequence of another cause, e.g. suicide. However, based on close pattern of injury analysis (based on Tribunal autopsy reports) of about 150 of these victims it may be said with a high degree of certainty that their death was not caused by a gunshot bullet. The reason for that conclusion is the peculiar characteristics of the reported pattern of injury in these cases. The dimensions of bone damage and the pronounced bone fragmentation are more consistent with the impact of a projectile launched from the 'Praga' or a similar weapon than with the impact of an ordinary bullet." (p. 99)

B) Can't tell: "For 411 bodies [20.71%] it was impossible to determine whether or not death was caused by execution, because those bodies were incomplete. In this group are also bodies which did not exhibit traces of projectiles of any kind, and for that reason as well the cause of death could not be determined." (p. 99)

II. In 919 of the 1,985 accepted post-moretm reports (or 46.36%), Simic believes that it is reasonable to infer the cause of death (i.e., death due to execution [homocide] versus combat versus natural causes versus suicide).

A) Might be able to tell: "With respect to 477 of the victims [24.03%], it would be reasonable to conclude that they were not executed, because of the presence of shrapnel and other metal fragments which are not bullet-related or whose origin was not reliably established. Such a pattern of injury is more consistent with combat activity, e.g. during the breakout of the 28th Division column from Srebrenica to Tuzla, rather than with execution, as the probable cause of death." (p. 99)

B) Might be able to tell: "[In] 442 bodies [22.27%] on or about which blindfolds and/or ligatures were found, [this] indicates that those persons may have been executed." (p. 99) 


As Simic observes in his companion analysis to the one from which I've been quoting:    

Always skillful at formulating rhetorical deniability strategies to give cover to its blanket generalisations, the Hague Tribunal admits in the Krstic judgment [para. 77] that it "cannot rule out the possibility that a percentage of the bodies in the gravesites examined could have been of men killed in combat."   That one sentence encapsulates their comments on the complex subject of combat deaths.  While this statement is in principle correct, it would have been equally correct to say that based on the same evidence the chamber "cannot rule out the possibility that some of the men were executed," since both of those statements are true. (p. 83)


(See Ljubiša Simic, "Presentation and Interpretation of Forensic Data (Pattern of Injury Breakdown)," in Stephen Karganovic, Ed., Deconstruction of a Virtual Genocide: An Intelligent Person's Guide To Srebrenica (Belgrade: Srebrenica Historical Project, 2011), pp. 93-108; esp. pp. 94-104.  Also see Simic, "Analysis of Srebrenica Forensic Reports Prepared by ICTY Prosecution Experts," Ibid,  pp. 73-91.)

Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "We're not genocide deniers," The Guardian, July 19-20, 2011 
Edward S. Herman, "Reply to George Monbiot on 'Genocide Belittling'," unpublished manuscript submitted to The Guardian, June 17, 2011 
David Peterson, "George Monbiot and the anti-'Genocide Deniers' Brigade," unpublished manuscript submitted to The Guardian, June 17, 2011
David Peterson, "Boy, Do We Need A Hippocratic Oath For Journalists," ZNet, July 21, 2011
David Peterson, "Srebrenica-Related Graves Through 2002," ZNet Blogs, July 22, 2011



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