This article does not have permission of the copyright owner, but is
being offered for comment, criticism and research under the "fair use"
provisions of the Federal copyright laws.
Source: Living Marxism, Issue 88, March 1996

What's in a 'mass grave'?

by Linda Ryan

As the world's media gets hoarse speculating about what
lies hidden in alleged mass graves across Bosnia, Linda
Ryan finds some holes in the story and unearths a
hidden agenda

What's in a 'mass grave'?

Ever since the small town of Srebrenica fell to the
Bosnian Serbs last summer, the international media has
reported that 8000 missing Bosnian Muslims were
massacred there. US human rights envoy John Shattuck
stated categorically that 7000 were massacred after he
visited the alleged mass graves discovered by
journalists around Srebrenica. The genocide indictment
issued by the international war crimes tribunal in the
Hague against the Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan
Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, claims they were
involved in killing 6000 at Srebrenica.

The Srebrenica story is symptomatic of what has
happened since the start of the war in Bosnia. There
has been a degradation of investigative journalism,
with a ghoulish search for bodies substituting for
professional rigour. There has been duplicity by
journalists and officials about what has happened to
people on all sides. There has been a manipulation of
death tolls without any evidence to substantiate the
numbers. The claims of 8000 slaughtered in Srebrenica
have no more credibility than the claims of 250 000
dead in the whole of Bosnia. And there has been an
abandonment of the concept of 'innocent until proven


Many people have died on all sides in Bosnia. But there
is no way of knowing how many have been killed. Yet
instead of circumspection we have had prejudgement of
one side--the Serbs. The 'fact-finding missions' and
investigative reports look more like the work of the US
intelligence services, which have sought to orchestrate
hysteria about genocide and Holocausts as part of their
propaganda war against the Bosnian Serbs.

Where do the figures for the dead in Srebrenica come
from? They are based on misrepresentations of
information from the International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC). On 13 September 1995, the ICRC released
the following statement: 'After the fall of the
enclave, the ICRC received over 10 000 requests for
family news from civilians who were transferred to
Tuzla in central Bosnia. About 2000 of these requests
were from different family members seeking the same
individuals. An in-depth analysis has shown that the
remaining 8000 requests fall into two categories: about
5000 concern individuals who apparently fled the
enclave before it fell, while the remaining 3000 relate
to persons reportedly arrested by the Bosnian Serb
forces.' (ICRC News, No37) In other words, the maximum
number of people who could have fallen foul of the
Bosnian Serbs according to the ICRC's research was
3000. But an illiterate or innumerate media seized on
the figure of 8000 as the putative death toll.

The ICRC believes that at least 5000 of the 8000
escaped to Bosnian government territory without their
families being informed. After intensive pressure from
the ICRC, the Bosnian Muslim authorities in Sarajevo
finally admitted months later that thousands of
fighters from Srebrenica had been redeployed in central
Bosnia. The government justified its decision not to
inform the soldiers' families or the ICRC on the
grounds of operational security. This fact was hardly

So what happened to the 3000 reportedly 'arrested' by
the Bosnian Serb Army? This is where the story begins
to get murky. Only about 200 men from Srebrenica have
been found by the ICRC in Bosnian Serb prisons. There
is evidence to suggest that some Bosnian Muslim
soldiers and civilians were killed in fratricidal
fighting between those who wanted to battle on and
those who wanted to surrender or leave. In New Republic
in August 1995, Charles Lane, a committed supporter of
the Bosnian Muslim cause, reported that there were at
least two firefights between Muslims Journalists
reported that bodies of dead soldiers and civilians
were strewn in the streets when they entered the town.

However, a few fratricidal firefights cannot account
for the 3000 presumed missing by the ICRC. In February,
Bosnian Serb officials in Srebrenica told the new UN
human rights envoy, Elizabeth Rehn, that the missing
men had been killed in battle. There was intensive
shelling and fighting on the front lines and in
surrounding villages for days before the town fell.
There may also have been more fighting after the fall
of the town, as Bosnian Muslim soldiers moved to
government territory, and it is likely that some were
ambushed and killed. This scenario has been disputed by
journalists and international investigators who insist
that the missing thousands were slaughtered en masse by
the Bosnian Serbs. Let us look at the evidence they
have assembled to substantiate these claims of mass

The first evidence of large-scale killings cited by
journalists and human rights investigators came from
the refugees who arrived in Tuzla. In the many media
and official reports about the alleged massacres in
Srebrenica, however, testimonies based on hearsay and
double hearsay outnumber the scant eyewitness accounts
many times over. This has not prevented rumours being
accepted as hard evidence by international journalists
and investigators.

Contradictory stories

The international war crimes tribunal in the Hague is
also counting on small numbers of witness testimonies
to carry the indictments against Bosnian Serb leaders
accused of genocide in Srebrenica. One survivor, Hakija
Husejnovic, told investigators that on 13 July 1995,
2000 men trying to escape from Srebrenica were caught
by the Bosnian Serbs, crammed into a warehouse in the
village of Kravica and killed with grenades and machine
guns fired through doors and windows. Husejnovic said
he survived by playing dead and covering himself with
bodies. His story contradicts that of another witness
who claimed that 2000 men surrendered in the village of
Kravica and were taken by truck at night to an outdoor
location, thought to be near Zvornik (quite a distance
from Kravica), lined up and shot by Bosnian Serb
soldiers. The witness said he pretended to be dead and
then escaped. It is impossible for both of these
stories to be true.

The second source of evidence cited in support of the
claims of mass killings is the US intelligence
services, which provided satellite photographs,
purporting to identify a mass grave near Srebrenica,
which were printed around the world (see below). They
are supposed to show a football field at Nova Kasaba
which was used as a collection point for Bosnian Muslim
prisoners of war. But they could have been taken over
any field, anywhere, any time. There is not a single
satellite photograph showing hard evidence of a
massacre near Srebrenica. Claims by the US intelligence
services to be in possession of damning tapes of
intercepted telephone calls about Srebrenica between
Serbian officials are unfounded. John Shattuck admitted
in an interview in the German magazine Der Spiegel that
there is no evidence that tapes exist.
These spy stories are the stuff of Cold War propaganda
once scorned by journalists. But today they seem to be
accepted on the nod. Few journalists even thought to
question the timing of the release of the pictures--in
August, a month after the fall of Srebrenica, but
within days of the expulsion by the Croats of 200 000
Serbs from Krajina. It looked like a classic
diversionary tactic by the US authorities, which had
given full backing to a mass 'ethnic cleansing'
operation by the Croats. In all the excitement about
the alleged mass graves in Srebrenica everybody forgot
about what had just happened in Krajina.

The eager media consumption of the CIA photographs
turned the search for 'mass graves' into a
self-fulfilling prophecy. Journalists scurried to
eastern Bosnia in search of bodies. In August 1995,
teams from CNN, CBS, BBC, France 2, TG 1 (Italy), TV
Netherland and others streamed in. They found little.
Many crews did not even bother to search out the site
shown on the CIA satellite photograph, because it had
generally been agreed in media circles that it was not
a mass grave. This revelation did not grab the
headlines like the original story. Indeed, it was not
deemed worthy of mention. A bandwagon effect had been
created. More journalists set off in search of 'the

Find the corpse

By mid-February this year, journalists led by David
Rohde of the American Christian Science Monitor and
Julian Borger of the Guardian claimed to have
discovered five mass graves linked to the Srebrenica
killings. The only physical evidence they had come up
with was some bones and clothing. For Borger, that was
enough; reporting that he had found some rotting body
parts, he endorsed claims by US war crimes
investigators that Kravica 'is the site of one of the
worst atrocities in Europe since the Holocaust'
(Guardian, 22 January 1996). It seems that any patch of
ground in Bosnia where earth has been moved can qualify
as a mass grave, and any evidence of death in the
war-zone can be put alongside the Holocaust.

Some might think that bodies would come in handy as
evidence when charges of genocide are being levelled.
There must be tens of thousands buried all over Bosnia.
Yet not one had been uncovered at the alleged 'mass
graves' near Srebrenica at the time of writing. All
sorts of excuses were given for the lack of
bodies--they had been covered by snow, dismembered by
machines, destroyed by chemicals and moved elsewhere by
the Bosnian Serbs. It almost seems like nobody wants to
dig around in case they discover the 'mass graves' are
empty. This is what happened when British divers went
into the flooded mine at Ljubija, in north-west Bosnia,
alleged to hold the bodies of 8000 Bosnian Muslims and
Croats. They found nothing.

There is no hard evidence that 3000, let alone 8000,
Bosnian Muslims were massacred in Srebrenica. The Dutch
troops who were based in the area at the time testified
to the war crimes tribunal that they saw no evidence of
mass killings. The first official report into the
Srebrenica events, the last written by the UN human
rights envoy, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, before he resigned,
provided no conclusive evidence. The latest
investigation by his successor, Elizabeth Rehn, turned
up no new evidence. The troupe of foreign journalists
have discovered nothing more. Officials examining the
'mass graves' have yet to find one body. Not a single
photograph of a 'mass grave' taken with a terrestrial
camera has been forthcoming.

Reasonable doubt

The war in eastern Bosnia was brutal. In 1992-93, more
than 1000 Serbs from the villages around Srebrenica
were killed by Bosnian Muslim fighters. These events
were the subject of an award-winning film, The
Unforgiving, by Clive Gordon. They have been
well-documented and the graves are there for all to see
in Bratunac. So there is good reason to think that
local Serbs may have sought vengeance after the fall of
Srebrenica. But this is still surmise and conjecture.
As long as there is no hard evidence, there must be
doubt about whether or not Bosnian Muslim soldiers were

Yet on 7 February 1996, a senior ICRC official, Jean de
Courten, stated that, after five months of silence from
the Bosnian Serb authorities in face of repeated
requests for information, he believed the 3000 had been
killed. Coming from the one international organisation
which has remained neutral throughout the war in
Bosnia, this statement carries more weight than the
media's loose talk. What made the ICRC take the
unprecedented step of accusing one side of conducting a

Was it because the ICRC had obtained conclusive
evidence of a massacre? Or was it because the ICRC had
its arm twisted at a time when the USA is turning the
hunt for war criminals into a crusade? A climate of
hysteria has been created around the mass grave stories
that recently resulted in the ICRC offices in Tuzla
being wrecked by refugees from Srebrenica. This climate
has been created by the USA with the help of the media.
Allegations of mass killings in Srebrenica are big news
because the USA has an axe to grind on the subject of
war crimes.

American interests

Since the start of the year Washington has been making
all the running on the war crimes issue--sending troops
to escort war crimes investigators, pushing Nato forces
to play a role hunting down alleged war criminals. And
it has piled pressure on Serbia to cooperate with the
war crimes tribunal or face perpetual ostracism. The US
secretary of state, Warren Christopher, told Serbian
president Slobodan Milosevic in February that Belgrade
would get no ambassador, no financial aid, no
recognition and no permanent lifting of sanctions
unless it handed over suspected war criminals. This is
not a noble crusade by Washington, but a self-serving
attempt to occupy the moral high ground in
international affairs. Before they take it at face
value, journalists would do well to consider the

They might learn the lessons of Pakracka Poljana, an
alleged mass grave in Western Slavonia which was said
to contain the bodies of 1700 Serbs. The figure of 1700
came from a UN officer who guessed that there were 17
graves in the area, each with approximately 100 people.
He did not see the graves, but observed evidence of
digging. The official investigation found 19 bodies in
nine small graves. The 'mass graves' were just military
trenches. The report by the UN war crimes tribunal
Commission of Experts concluded that on-site
investigations are absolutely necessary to confirm the
validity of allegations. 'Some groups have expressed
their displeasure at the investigation establishing
that people in those numbers are not buried there.
Presumably for propaganda purposes 1700 is a more
useful number than 19.'

Why have war crimes investigators not shown the same
circumspection before jumping to conclusions about
'mass graves' in eastern Bosnia? Surely not because the
bodies in question are said to be those of Muslims
rather than Serbs; or because the USA finds 8000 a more
useful number for propaganda purposes than 800.

This article does not have permission of the copyright owner, but is
being offered for comment, criticism and research under the "fair use"
provisions of the Federal copyright laws.
Source: Nova, Frankfurt o/M, March - April, 1996


by Linda Ryan

There is no end to the stories about the existence of mass graves in Bosnia.
Hundreds of journalists are after them. However, convincing evidence is

Since the army of Bosnian Serbs took the Bosnian townlet of Srebrenica, the
Western media have continually reported of the disappearance of 8 000 Muslim
inhabitants. When US envoy John Shattuck visited the fields discovered by
journalists where mass graves are allegedly located, he categorically stated
that at least 7 000 people had been massacred and buried there. Because of
the events in Srebrenica, the Hague War Crimes Tribunal indicted Bosnian
Serbs' leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic for genocide.

The Srebrenica story is symptomatic of the behaviour of the media. Since the
beginning of the war in Yugoslavia, investigative journalism has
metamorphosed into a hunt for body heaps in which professional journalistic
principles have been thrown by the wayside. Journalists and authorities kept
exaggerating the scope of the crime and thought up the number of the victims
which could not be proved. The assumption that 8 000 people were killed in
Srebrenica is as incredible as the contention that 250 000 people have lost
their lives throughout Bosnia so far. Besides, the journalists have cast
away the principle that only he or she whose crime has been proved can be
declared guilty.


There were many casualties in this war on all sides. However, it is not
possible to establish the exact figures at this moment. Instead of detailed
investigations, politicians and the media have systematically condemned the
Serbs. Reports of expert and investigation commissions resemble secret
service reports, the only aim of which is to flare up anti-Serbian hysteria
in the West.

Whence the data on the alleged massacres at Srebenica? They are primarily
based on a wrong interpretation of an information of the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). On 13 September 1995 it distributed a
press release. It said that the ICRC had received about 10 000 reports of
the refugees in Tuzla who lost contact with family members after their
flight from Srebrenica. About 2 000 of these reports were filed by various
members of one family searching the same relative. It was then communicated
that a careful investigation of the remaining 8 000 cases had shown that
they were divided in two categories: 5 000 of those disappeared were the
persons that had left the enclave even before its fall. The remaining 3 000
persons were captured by Bosnian Serbs. (ICRC News, No. 37). Accordingly, by
the ICRC statement, at most 3 000 Muslims were killed. Despite this fact,
the media toyed with the figure of 8 000.

The International Committee of the Red Cross came out with the assumption
that between 5 000 to 8 000 refugees from Srebrenica had arrived to the
Bosnian territory, but that their families had not been advised thereof. It
was only when the ICRC began to make determined inquiries in Sarajevo that
few months later the Bosnian Government conceded that thousands of soldiers
that had fled Srebrenica were re-assigned to other units of its armed
forces. The fact that family members were not informed of it was justified
by the obligation to keep it a military secret. However, the media did not
attach much attention to this information.

The fate of 3 000 disappeared persons continues to be an open question. The
ICRC found only about 200 persons in the Prisoners of War camps of Bosnian
Serbs. There are indications that sporadic clashes broke out between the
Muslim soldiers and civilians who wanted to flee and those who wanted to
fight on. Carl Lane, a prominent supporter of Bosnian Muslims, said in "The
New Republic" in August 1995 that there were at least two such clashes.
Other journalists reported to have seen bodies of soldiers and civilians
lying in the streets as they entered Stebrenica.

However, these internal conflicts on the Bosnian Muslim side cannot be the
reason for the death of 3 000 people. When United Nations Human Rights
Special Rapporteur Elizabeth Rehn visited Srebrenica last February, Bosnian
military officials told her that the disappeared persons were in fact killed
in action. A few days before the Bosnian Serbs took the town, fierce
fighting took place at the frontline and in the surrounding villages.
Besides, one can assume that there was fighting also after the capture of
the town as part of the Bosnian army tried to break out to its territory.
Probably some of the troops of these units were ambushed and killed.

However, these possible scenarios did not seem to have interested Western
journalists or human rights champions. They have continued to insist that 3
000 disappeared persons perished in mass killings until the present day. On
which facts is this contention of theirs based?

The first indications of the existence of mass graves came from refugees
from Srebrenica accommodated in reception centres in Tuzla. However, it is
readily observable that the first reports were based on rumours. There were
few real eyewitnesses. However, this did not stop journalists to present
rumours as truth.


The International Tribunal in The Hague contacted only a small number of
eyewitnesses who could make substantiated statements at the trial of the
leaders of Bosnian Serbs for genocide. Hakija Huseinovic, one of the
survivors told United Nations investigators that on 13 July 1995 the Bosnian
Serbs had captured 2 000 Bosnian refugees from Srebrenica whom they then led
to a warehouse in the village of Kravica where they killed them.

The Serbs threw in hand grenades and shot from authomatic rifles through
doors and windows into the crowd. Huseinovic said that he had survived only
because he feigned that he was dead and hid himself among the bodies.
However, his statement contradicts the statement of another witness who
alleges to have seen that about 2 000 Muslims surrendered to Serbian forces
at Kravica who took them the following night in trucks to a field outside
the village, lined them up and executed. The field is allegedly not far away
from Zvornik (which is not so near to Kravica). The witness said that he had
survived because he feigned death and then he managed to run away. It is not
possible that both stories are true. Other obvious contradictions in
eyewitness accounts of Srebrenica were pointed out by Thomas Deimann in his
articles in the "Novo" magazine, entitled "Office Warriors in the Balkans"
(No. 18, September/October 1995) and "Gutman's Controversy" (No. 19,
November/December 1995).

In addition to rare testimonies of witnesses, CIA reports are being used as
evidence for the existence of mass graves. Photographs of an alleged mass
grave near Srebrenica taken by a CIA satellite toured the world. It was an
alleged photo of the soccer field near Nova Kasaba where Muslim PoWs had
been detained. However, this could have been a photo of any field at any
moment. CIA published no photograph which could be taken as evidence of the
existence of mass graves around Srebrenica. Press reports to the effect that
the CIA is in possession of the tapes with the conversation of the
authorities in Belgrade related to the plans for the capture of Srebrenica
cannot be proved, either. John Shattuck recently told "Der Spiegel" that
there is no evidence of the existence of these tapes.

These intelligence stories recall the Cold War era when secret service
members tried to hoodwink Western journalists. However, almost nobody
disproves the official CIA reports today. Only rare journalists have become
suspicious since the time of the publication of the photographs allegedly
taken by the CIA coincides with the action of the Croatian army which
expelled 200 000 Serbs from Krajina. It appears that the U.S. government
undertook a classic maneouvre of diverting attention to cover up US support
to the "ethnic cleansing" of Krajina.

As the media diverted themselves with satellite photos, the fate of the
Serbs from Krajina was being forgotten. The search for mass graves was
stepped up last autumn. Journalists from all over the world came to Bosnia
to look for bodies. Crews from CNN, CBS, BBC, France II, TG1 (Italy), Dutch
Television and from elsewhere arrived in August 1995. But they found very
little. Some crews did not bother at all to find the soccer field from the
satellite photo, because the journalists had already come to believe that
there was no mass grave there anyway. However, it was not reported.
Moreover, the said photo is being used as alleged evidence of the existence
of a mass grave in many articles even today. Yet, the CIA report achieved
the desired effect. Scores of journalists hit the road to collect

In search of body heaps

At the beginning of this year an ostensibly important aspect came to the
fore. David Road of "Christian Science Monitor" and Julian Borger of "The
Guardian" reported that they had discovered a number of mass graves related
to the capture of Srebrenica. However, the only thing they could show was a
few bones and pieces of ripped clothes. It sufficed for Borger to report
that he had found mass graves and to confirm at another place the opinion of
a member of United Nations Investigation Commission. Kravica was the place
where one of the worst massacres in Europe after the Holocaust was committed
("The Guardian", 21 January 1996, see "Die Zeit" of 26 January 1996). It
seems today as though each and every hillock in Bosnia could be presented as
a mass grave, and each and every indication of death in a war- affected area
as an indication of the Holocaust.

As reports of genocide in Bosnia keep coming, it could be supposed that new
heaps of bodies are being found out every day. Well, all those thousands of
killed must have been buried somewhere. As a matter of fact, however, no
mass grave has in fact been found near Srebrenica until the present day.
Journalists and investigators come out with all sorts of reasons: heaps of
bodies were buried under snow, they have been destroyed with heavy machinery
and chemicals to the point of being unrecognizable or transferred to other
areas under the control of Bosnian Serbs. It seems that in fact journalists
and United Nations investigators have no real interest to dig the alleged
mass graves for fear that they might be empty. This unpleasant experience
has already befallen British divers who searched the flooded pit of the
Ljubija mine in northwestern Bosnia, expecting to find 8 000 bodies. They
found nothing. There is no irrefutable evidence to substantiate the
contention that 3 000 or even 8 000 Muslims were bestially murdered at
Srebrenica. Dutch members of UNPROFOR, stationed there at the time of the
capture of the enclave, testified before the Hague War Crimes Tribunal that
they had seen no mass killings. The first official reports of Human Rights
Special Rapporteur Mazowiecki, who resigned his office in the meantime,
provided no irrefutable evidence of the events at Srebrenica, either. The
recent investigation of his successor Elizabeth Rehn provided no new
information as well. Numerous journalists escorting her found no new things.
No picture of a mass grave has been shown yet.

Substantiated Doubts

The war in eastern Bosnia was brutal. In 1992 and 1993, Muslim fighters
killed more than 1 000 Serbs in the villages around Srebrenica. These events
were described in Clive Gordon's award-winning film "The Unforgiven". The
attacks have been carefully documented and the marked graves of the killed
are to be found near Bratunac today. It is therefore possible that Serbian
soldiers wanted to avenge these deaths during the capture of Srebrenica.
However, as long as there is no evidence to that effect, this contention
remains a mere assumption.

An ICRC representative voiced his opinion on 7 February 1996 that 3 000
disappeared persons from Srebrenica had probably been killed. He pointed out
that the Bosnian Serb authorities had ignored ICRC requests for five months.
As the ICRC stood out during the entire war as a neutral institution, the
statement of its representative was accorded great attention. Which new
information could the ICRC representative invoke? Did the representatives of
this organization collect evidence of the massacre? Or perhaps the change of
the opinion came about because this organization was put a gun in the head
at the time when the United States printed wanted circulars for war
criminals from among the Bosnian Serbs?

By their stories about alleged mass graves, U.S. strategists and journalists
created a climate of hysteria which recently even provoked Srebrenica
refugees to attack the ICRC bureau in Tuzla.

U.S. Interests

Since the beginning of the year the United States has stepped up the hunt
for alleged war criminals and pushed this topic into the centre of
discussions of Bosnia. U.S. soldiers have been sent to escort United Nations
investigators in the field, NATO soldiers have been invited to arrest
suspects for which wanted circulars have been issued, while pressure was put
to bear on Belgrade to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal. US State Secretary
Warren Christopher visited President Milo{evi} last February in Belgrade. He
threatened that no Ambassador would be sent and that the country would not
be given financial assistance for reconstruction, that it would not be
recognized and that sanctions would remain if Belgrade resisted the
extradition of alleged war criminals. Christopher's visit was not a noble
guesture by the US government in the interest of human rights, but an
attempt to strengthen US moral authority in international affairs.
Journalists should think about the consequences of this policy before they
accept reports from Washington for granted.

Journalists should draw a lesson from the debate on Pakracka poljana, a
village in Western Slavonia where it was assumed that a mass grave with 1
700 Serb bodies existed. The number of 1 700 people came from a United
Nations officer. He assessed that there were about 17 mass graves in this
region with 100 bodies each. Admittedly, he discovered no bodies, but he
found out the traces of earthworks. However, only 19 bodies were found
during an official investigation at 9 different places. The alleged mass
graves were in fact old trenches.

The expert commission, submitting evidence to the United Nations Tribunal in
The Hague, said that a careful field investigation was necessary in order to
confirm the opinion of the United Nations officer. It is deplored in the
investigation report that some authorities were not satisfied with the
results. Speaking of the Serbs, it was said that the number of 1 700 was
probably better for propaganda purposes than 19.

But why have the United Nations investigators not shown the same attention
to detail in the case of the alleged mass graves in eastern Bosnia? Probably
not because it is assumed that there are Muslim victim in Bosnia or because
the number of 8 000 is much better for U.S. propaganda purposes than 800?