Srebrenica Video Vindicates Long Pursuit by Serb Activist

Natasa Kandic discovered a 1995 video of six Bosnian Muslim prisoners being executed near the city of Srebrenica.
Natasa Kandic discovered a 1995 video of six Bosnian Muslim prisoners being executed near the city of Srebrenica. (Darko Vojinovic - AP)
By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 25, 2005

BELGRADE -- Human rights sleuth Natasa Kandic, a wisp of a woman with a boyish haircut, spent hours in the cafes of Sid, a town in northern Serbia, listening to whispered tales of Balkan war killings. Then one day, she heard about the videotape.

It showed the summary executions in 1995 of six Muslim men and boys from the Bosnian city of Srebrenica. It had been passed around as a war souvenir among members of a shadowy Serb military unit called the Scorpions. Its commander had ordered copies destroyed, but one, she was told, still existed, held by a dissident member of the unit.

Since that day in 2003, she searched until she found the video. She gave it to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic is on trial, and to television stations in Serbia, where it triggered a sudden self-examination in a society that viewed itself as the prime victim of the Balkan war atrocities of the 1990s.

On the tape, burly Serbs dressed in camouflage, with cigarettes dangling from their lips, order bound prisoners into a small meadow, then shoot four of them in the back, at a time. The remaining two are ordered to carry the corpses into a wrecked white house. "You're the winners," one Scorpion barks at the body bearers, who are then also gunned down.

The broadcasts on June 2 ripped away the veil of secrecy and denial of Serbian military operations in Bosnia during the 1992-95 war, particularly the massacre of as many as 8,000 Muslim men and boys in and around Srebrenica. No longer was it possible to label atrocity tales as Bosnian Muslim propaganda amplified by inventive foreign correspondents, as many Serbs had done for a decade. The cold, relaxed pace of the executions undermined the common opinion that whatever happened in the Balkans was done in the chaos of war.

For Kandic, the video was a vindication. For almost 15 years, she labored to uncover atrocities committed by all sides in the Balkan wars, but most notably, crimes committed by her own people. During the 1990s, when Serbs fought wars in Croatia, Bosnia and the Serbian province of Kosovo, newspapers and officials variously labeled her as a prostitute, spy, traitor and lunatic.

These days, she gets phone calls from strangers praising her work. Police rounded up eight Scorpion suspects a day after the video was broadcast. A ninth was later detained in Croatia. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica called the executions a "brutal, callous and disgraceful crime against civilians."

Speaking last week in Washington, the chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor for the Balkans, Carla del Ponte, said that during her recent visit to Serbia, she "could feel the impact of this video on all elements of Serbian society."

Kandic exudes little joy. A debate in parliament over a war crimes resolution last week degenerated into a dispute over whether Serbs were the main victims of atrocities, she noted. Moreover, the broadcast of the video has yet to result in the arrest of Ratko Mladic, the Serb general directly in charge of the Srebrenica operation. U.N. officials have repeatedly charged that he is hiding in Serbia.

"This government refuses to break with Milosevic's criminal state," Kandic said.

Kandic spoke on the balcony of a small Belgrade restaurant, chain-smoking and answering frequent calls on her cell phone. She travels around the city without bodyguards, though she acknowledges that someone might want to take revenge for the Scorpion arrests. Her activism is nothing new.

Before the wars, she was a sociologist. After hostilities began in 1991, she decided to research human rights abuses connected with the fighting. She founded the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, organized candlelight antiwar vigils and mounted petition drives to protest the use of Serbian troops in the conflict with Croatia. "I documented abuses against Croats and was called a traitor," she said. "Then against Muslims. The same reaction. When I documented abuses against Serbs, there was silence."

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