The Halloween Creatures Book Tag


Answer all prompts.
Answer honestly.
Tag 1-13 people.
Link back to this post. ( For me it was SnoopyDoo!)
Remember to credit the creator. (Anthony @ Keep Reading Forward)<
Have fun!



A Magical Character or Book

Terry Pratchett’s witches, particularly Granny Weatherwax. And DEATH (preferably in his Hogfather incarnation). No contest.




The Perfect Book to Read at Night

Any- and everything by Agatha Christie.


Vampire – A Book that Sucked the Life Out of You – and Frankenstein – A Book that Truly Shocked You

Joint honors in both categories to two novels chronicling civil war and genocide in two African countries, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (Nigeria / Biafra) and Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love (Sierra Leone). Both of them are, in their own way, the literary equivalent of a gut punch that leaves you gasping for air in huge, big gulps. And both are, for that and many other reasons (characters, writing, the whole package) unforgettable in all the right ways.

The Devil

A Dark, Evil Character

Umm … the original blood sucker? (I don’t much go in for the sparkly variety.) And, of course, Tom Riddle aka Voldemort … and the dementors. Those creatures are vile.



A Book that Made You “Hungry” for More

Dorothy L. Sayers’s Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane tetralogy, particularly Gaudy Night. While I can totally see that (and why) for Sayers there really was no easy follow-up to Busman’s Honeymoon, I’d still have loved to see how she herself would have framed Peter and Harriet’s married life and continuing investigations … instead of having to rely on another author’s attempts to pick the bones of Sayers’s sketchy drafts.


A Character that You Would Protect at All Cost

Hmm. This one was difficult, because one of the things that I like about my favorite characters — and pretty much any and all of them, and across all genres — is that they are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, even in the face of adversity. But I guess if you’re up against evil incarnate and you’re looking at the one group / fellowship of people who actually stand at least a minute chance of facing up to it, a little extra protection can’t go awray.

Along the same lines, Harry Potter, Dumbledore’s Army, and most of the teachers at Hogwarts.


A Book that Still Haunts You

I could easily have used Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love for this category all over again — as well as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (see below) and, to a minimally lesser extent its sequel, The Testaments. I didn’t want to do that, so I decided to go with Clea Koff’s The Bone Woman — not just for its content as such, though, but because I have seen cases related to the very ones that she describes up, close and personal … and short of actually being the victim of human rights violations yourself, there are few things as devastating and haunting as working with victims, or otherwise being involved in the aftermath.


A Book that Really Scared You

I reread Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale last year before moving on to The Testaments, and it scared the living daylights out of me; possibly even more than when I read it for the first time many years ago — not least because events in the past couple of years have shown just how realistic Atwood’s dystopia is, and how little it takes for society to slide down that particular slippery slope.


A Character You Have a Bone to Pick With

You mean other than each and every TSTL character ever created?

OK, let’s go with the two protagonists of what I’ve come to dub my fall 2017 headless chicken parade — Giordano Bruno in S.J. Parris’s Heresy (essentially for not bearing any demonstrable likeness to the historical Giordano Bruno, who would probably have sneared at his fictional alter ego in this particular book / series), and Albert Campion in Margery Allingham’s Traitor’s Purse, for losing not only his memory but also the better part of his essential character makeup as a result of being coshed over the head.


A Book You Would Preserve Throughout Time

Well, the likes of Hamlet, Pride & Prejudice and Sherlock Holmes have already made their point as far as “timeless” is concerned, so it feels kind of pointless to pick a classic here.

That being said, I hope one day the time will come for people to scratch their heads and wonder what all the fuss was about, but right now — there hasn’t been a book in a long time that challenged stereotypes (gender, race, class, writing styles, younameit) in the way that Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other has. It’s the reality check we all urgently needed, and a book that can’t ever possibly have too many readers … now and for the foreseeable future.

Creepy Doll

A Cover too Scary to Look At

That of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary — because I really do NOT want to think about the possibility of my pets ever turning into zombies, revenants or the like, or otherwise taking on similarly murderous qualities. And that is precisely what this cover makes me do.


The Monster Mash

It’s Fun to Be with Friends on Halloween!
Tag Your Friends!

Anyone and everyone who wants to do this, I hope if you are reading this and have not done it you will. It’s fun, and outside of Halloween Bingo, nothing says bookish Halloween like tying a few of your reads to a roundup of Halloween creatures! 🙂

2019: The Books I’ve Been Most Thankful For

24 Festive Tasks: Door 11 – Thanksgiving: Task 2

With another full month to go in the year, it may be a bit early to do this task, but a substantial number of the books I’m going to be reading in December will be Christmas rereads, so here we go.

The books / authors I am most thankful for having (re)discovered are, working backwards in the order in which I’ve read them (and with links to my reviews or status updates, if any, in the titles):


Margaret Atwood, The Testaments and The Handmaid’s Tale:
Atwood’s Gilead novels were my final reads of this year’s Halloween Bingo, and the game couldn’t have ended on a bigger exclamation point (though The Handmaid’s Tale was a reread).  The Testaments not only takes us back to Gilead and provides answers to some of the questions remaining open at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, more importantly it is also a timely reminder of what exactly is at stake once a democracy’s foundations are allowed to weaken — as we’re seeing in more than one country around the world at the moment.  One of the hardest reading double bills I ever imposed on myself, but I’m very glad that I did.

As a side note and for something very different, I also truly enjoyed Atwood’s Hag-Seed, a novelization of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which I read earlier this year.


Toni Morrison, Beloved:
Another soul-drenching and profoundly devastating reading experience, and yet another one that I’m truly thankful for.  Morrison deserved the Literature Nobel Prize for this book alone, and while her literary legacy has hopefully made her voice immortal, among the many great authors we have lost this year, she stands head and shoulders above all the rest.  Her contributions to the literary and social discourse will well and truly be missed.


Guards! Guards! - Terry PratchettTerry Pratchett, Guards, Guards:
One of the Discworld series’s stand-out books and in many ways a perfect companion book for those by Atwood and Morrison as it, too, deals with the undermining of democracy by the forces of evil.  Trust me, this is one dragon you don’t want to encounter … (unless, of course, you happen to be able to bring the perfect antidote).

Reminder for the Discworld group: This is our bimonthly group read for this coming December.  And it’s highly recommended!


Danger! - Arthur Conan DoyleArthur Conan Doyle: Danger:
Speaking of timely reads, this was yet another one: Much more than “merely” the author of the Sherlock Holmes books, Conan Doyle was an astute observer of the politics of his time, and he did not shy away from speaking his mind, even if that meant offending the highest in the land.  Danger is a short story that he wrote shortly before WWI to warn the leadership of the Admiralty of the dangers of a submarine war, for which he considered Britain woefully unprepared.  And if Conan Doyle’s words struck a cautionary note a century ago (turns out the Admiralty took his warning seriously, and it was a good thing for Britain that they did), they should do so even more in the context of Brexit, which carries its very own significant risks of cutting off or curtailing Britain’s trade routes.  Alas, I very much doubt that’s the case.


Thomas Cromwell: A Life - Diarmaid MacCullochDiarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cromwell
Simply put, the Cromwell biography to end all Cromwell biographies.  In his research for this book, MacCulloch took a fresh look at virtually every single document on which Cromwell’s vast legacy is based, and the resulting biography is a masterpiece of historical analysis which does away with many an often-repeated myth (beginning right at the beginning of Cromwell’s life, with the role of his father), and which shines a light on Cromwell’s many innovations and achievements and on the inner workings of his meteoric rise from humble tradesman’s son to Henry VIII’s chief minister.  In the process, MacCulloch reevaluates everything from the foreign merchant experience that Cromwell gained early in life, to his work as Cardinal Wolsey’s assistant and, finally, his growing preeminence and his seminal policy as the power behind Henry VIII’s throne.  What emerges from MacCulloch’s analysis is the picture of a highly complex and intelligent man, difficult to deal with even for friends, fierce and ruthless as an enemy — but always with England’s well-being and advancement (as well as the advancement of its institutions) at his heart; the one man who, in the space of a single short decade, emerged as the single most important politician of the entire Tudor Age (short of, just possibly, Elizabeth I), whose legacy (and the legacy of his innovations and reforms, far above and beyond the well-known Acts of Parliament which he initiated) reaches down the centuries all the way to the present date.  If you’re even the slightest bit interested in the Tudor Age or in constitutional history, run, don’t walk to acquire this book.


The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo - Tom ReissTom Reiss, The Black Count:
Another highly fascinating biography: We’ve come to think of Alexandre Dumas père and fils as the two writers, but did you know that Dumas père’s father (also called Alexandre) — the son of a black Haitian slave and a French count — was a general in the French revolutionary army and, in his own time, much more important than his son and grandson ever were in theirs?  Reiss’s book not only tells the story of his life; it also places General Dumas’s life into the wider context of his era and examines, inter alia, how equal the budding colonial power’s black sons and daughters actually were in the motherland of “Liberté – Egalité – Fraternité” (spoiler: they weren’t).  The picture emerging from Reiss’s research is that of a man of great personal courage, intelligence and ambition, as well as sheer enormous physical presence, whose life was cut tragically short as a result of the side effects of being caught up in the European and French power struggle of his time — and in case you ever had any doubts, yes, General Dumas was the model for one of his son’s greatest heroes, the Count of Monte Cristo … and D’Artagnan’s famous friendship-building duel with all three Musqueteers at the beginning of their acquaintance does have a basis in reality as well.


The Raven Tower - Ann LeckieAnn Leckie, The Raven Tower:
Truly original worldbuilding, a powerful story, evocative writing and a knockout, totally unique narrative perspective: In a literary scene that seems to be dominated more and more by sameness and formula (both in adult and YA fantasy), with barely skin-deep layers of seeming originality, this book was my reading year’s one saving grace that singlehandedly restored my faith in the idea that there are at least a few fantasy writers out there who are still capable of compelling creations that are entirely their own and unlike anything else already out there.


The Memory of Love - Aminatta FornaAminatta Forna, The Memory of Love:
Last year, it was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun that provided insight and a new perspective on the history of one particular African country (Nigeria); this year, Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love did the same and then some for Sierra Leone.  A devastating tale of love, loss, and the many ways in which a person can be broken, in a country variously slipping into and emerging out of decades of a devastating civil war.


Interventions: A Life in War and Peace - Kofi AnnanKofi Annan, Interventions: A Life in War and Peace:
Mr. Annan was far and away the most influential and important Secretary General of the United Nations in its more recent history; his memoirs set forth with great passion and understanding how the experience of a lifetime, from growing up in post-WWII Ghana all the way to serving as Under-Secretary for Peacekeeping under Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and his first-hand insight into conflicts like those in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Somalia, Israel / Palestine, Iraq, and Somalia, shaped his conviction about the necessity of an “interventionist” United Nations policy; one that does not stay on the sidelines of genocide and war crimes but takes seriously its mandate to act on behalf of the peoples of the world.  A simply riveting read.


The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo - Clea KoffClea Koff, The Bone Woman:
This one hit home, because it touched more or less directly on some of my own past work — but even if you don’t have any personal inroads into the investigation of human rights violations, it’s a great introduction to the subject and, more importantly, does great legwork in conveying both the psychological trauma and the physical wounds suffered by the victims of such abuses … as well as the toll that the field work of the subsequent investigation takes from the investigators.  A truly memorable read.


An Accidental Death: A DC Smith Investigation Series, Book 1 - Peter Grainger, Gildart JacksonPeter Grainger, An Accidental Death:
One of the year’s early and totally unexpected, great discoveries.  A great location (the Norfolk coast), pithy and insightful writing, an unusual, profoundly contemplative detective — a formerly high-ranking officer who has chosen to be knocked back to the rank of sergeant so as to be able to keep doing hands-on police work instead of being mired in administration and pushing paper … and thanks to the main character’s hobby, there is even a bluesy background note.  Who could ask for more?


Becoming - Michelle ObamaMichelle Obama, Becoming:
Mrs. Obama may have chosen to focus on her charity work and on political education instead of seeking a career in party politics now that she and her husband have left the White House (and who could possibly blame her?), but I am very glad she also decided to give us her deeply personal perspective on her own and Barack Obama’s path all the way to the end of 2016.  It’s a spirited narrative that manages to build an immediate connection with the reader, and which made me regret the end of the Obama presidency even more than I had done before.  I can only hope the Obamas are going to continue to seek and find ways to make their mark on the political discourse, in America and beyond — not only Barack but also Michelle Obama, who in her own right is clearly at least as important a voice as her husband.


The Girl with Seven Names - Hyeonseo Lee, John David MannHyeonseo Lee, The Girl with Seven Names:
A riveting read and proof positive of the old adage that truth is vastly stranger than fiction: the true story of a young woman who defected from North Korea to China “by accident” right before her 18th birthday and, after ten years of trials and tribulations, eventually ended up in South Korea and, later, in the U.S., where she testified about her experience, and more generally on the topic of dictatorial regimes and human rights abuses, before various bodies of the U.S. government and the United Nations.  At times her story is so heartstoppingly riveting that you want to doubt whether all this truly happened, but apparently it did — and the book is worth a read for her unquestionably personal and in-depth inside perspective on Norh Korea and China alone.


The Good Women of China - XinranXinran, The Good Women of China:
My first read of 2019, and with it, the year started well and truly with a bang: the true stories of a number of Chinese women whom Xinran — then a radio presenter in Nanking — encountered as a journalist, but whose stories she was not able to tell while still subject to state censorship.  In equal parts eye-opening and heartbreaking; by no means easy to digest but an absolute must-read, and my reading year couldn’t have begun in a better way.


 The Murderer's Son - Richard Armitage, Joy Ellis Their Lost Daughters - Joy Ellis, Richard Armitage The Fourth Friend - Joy Ellis, Richard Armitage The Guilty Ones: A Jackman and Evans Thriller - Joy Ellis, Richard Armitage The Stolen Boys - Joy Ellis, Richard Armitage
Beware the Past - Joy Ellis, Antony Ferguson Five Bloody Hearts - Joy Ellis, Matthew Lloyd Davies

Joy Ellis, Jackman & Evans series and Beware the Past:
As a new discovery, this is actually a carry-over from 2018, when Ellis’s Their Lost Daughters completely knocked me sideways during Halloween Bingo.  I’ve since read her entire Jackman & Evans series — my favorite entries still being Their Lost Daughters as well as, coming very close, book 4 of the series, The Guilty Ones — and I have continued my adventures in Ellis’s Fenlands world of detection with an encounter with DCI Matt Ballard in Beware the Past, the conclusion of which managed to knock me sideways yet again (though warning: this is definitely not a tale for the faint of heart).  And the good news is that the second book of the Matt Ballard series (Five Bloody Hearts) is already available as well, so I’m not done with the Fenlands by a long shot …


(Task: Tell us: Of the books that you read this year, which are you most thankful for, OR was there one that turned out to be full of “stuffing”? Alternatively, which (one) book that you read anytime at all changed your life for the better?”)


Original post:

Clea Koff: The Bone Woman

War Crimes Laid Bare from Beyond the Grave

Some 15+ years ago, towards the end of the years when I was practicing law in the U.S., I was asked to represent a young woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, the former Zaire) in an immigration case.  My client was a Tutsi, in her twenties; a shy, slender young woman with delicate features — I later learned that as in her culture “big is beautiful”, as a result of her persecution- and flight-induced weight loss she considered herself extremely ugly, which substantially negatively impacted her feeling of self-worth, in addition to the trauma she had already suffered as a victim of persecution –, who had come to the U.S. literally owning only the single set of clothes that she wore; including her underwear, which she washed every night.  As she was sitting across from me at a table in the offices of the refugees’ aid society that had taken up her case (and referred the legal aspects to my firm, on a pro bono basis), she told me her story:

Until the 1997 power grab by rebel leader Laurent Kabila, her family had been prosperous; her father was well-connected politically and in the business community.  Once Kabila had seized power, he swiftly instituted an anti-Tutsi campaign similar to that which had ended up in the Rwanda genocide three years earlier; fueled by the fact that thousands of Rwandan Tutsi had actually found refuge in the DRC and were living in camps in the country’s eastern part, though Kabila’s campaign was by far not limited to the east of the DRC.  Tutsi residents of the capital, Kinshasa, like my client’s family, took to hiding in their cellars every night, and sometimes also during the day.  It was no longer safe for them to go out on the streets.  Many lost their jobs; an increasing number of Tutsi were arrested (without warrant) or simply killed.  My client’s father and husband were shot before her very eyes after Kabila’s militia had ransacked their home and found them hiding – she was made to watch them being killed out on the street before being taken to a prison and shut up there, under appalling sanitary conditions and with little food to eat, with other women – a group of 10 or 15 in each cell.  The prison guards used the women for an almost daily game of Russian roulette – the purpose not being a determination which of them were going to be killed next, but which were going to be gang-raped that particular day.

While being transported to a different prison compound some time later, my client took her entire heart into her hands and jumped off the truck.  She managed to get away and for the rest of that day, zigzagged through Kinshasa’s streets until she reached the house of a priest with connections to a refugee group that had organized a secret trail into the neighboring Republic of Congo.  My client was given a new (false) passport – since her real one, even if she’d still had it (which of course she didn’t), would now have been akin to a death warrant – and a plane ticket to the U.S. … where she found out that the very thing that had saved her life (her false passport, which, as instructed, she surrendered immediately upon entering the country) was now also the very thing that stood in the way of her asylum claim, as legally she had entered the U.S. “under false pretenses”, with an assumed identity; if only for the briefest of moments.

This client’s story – apart from its heartrending intrinsic attributes – to me also added a further element of perspective on the work I had been doing for the past several years until then on another case: one pending before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  Because it is one thing to read the witness statements and forensic reports associated with your case, and the summaries of the facts and evidence associated with the cases underlying the ICTY and ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) judgments we were citing as precedents in our briefs.  It is another thing entirely to have one of those eyewitnesses sitting across from you and describing, in a low voice and with downcast eyes, all that she has seen and suffered through herself.  At the time when I took up her case, she had already received a substantial amount of trauma-related and other psychological counseling; it was this counseling that enabled her to tell her story at all – and to do so without bursting into tears every other minute.  Yet, I can honestly say that I have never met a braver person in my entire life, and all these years later, I still feel a tremendous amount of respect for her.

Clea Koff’s The Bone Women has now provided me, some 15+ years after the fact, with yet another bit of perspective on the war crimes investigations underlying the ICTY and ICTR cases that I hadn’t had until then: Insight into just how the forensic reports making victims speak even from the grave had come into being.  I realize that given my own involvement in a case before ICTY, my views on this book probably aren’t the same as those of the vast majority of Koff’s readers, who come to this book without any prior “inside” knowledge.   And while I do think the Telegraph blurb on the cover of my edition of the book (“The ultimate memoir of the post-Cold War decade”) is as vast an overstatement as any blurb can possibly be, I do think this is an important book – as important as many another book about the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo or, for that matter, the Democratic Republic of Congo – or those in Argentina, Chile, Cambodia, (South) Sudan, or anywhere else in the world.  It is also unique, in that it is neither an eyewitness nor a journalist’s account of the atrocities but, rather, the account of a scientist sent into these countries after the fact in order to help establishing the truth which the perpetrators of the genocide had tried to hide – by propaganda just as much as by literally hiding the bodies.

Make no mistake, this is a memoir, not a text on forensic anthropology; so there is a limited amount of scientific detail.  However, I believe Koff was right in drawing the line where she did – anything more would only have invited prurient sensationalism.  And ultimately, I also think to most readers it matters not only to learn about the nature of the forensic anthologists’ work and their findings – e.g., how the graves holding the victims of genocide were identified, how the graves’ parameters were established, how the victims were exhumed, in what general conditions / state of decomposition they were, what kinds of wounds they had sustained (in lay terms) and what conclusions these wounds permitted, what kind of lab work was performed in the morgue, etc.; all of which Koff does cover at considerable length – but also to learn about the background, setup and conditions in which Koff’s missions took place, her and her team’s interactions with the local population and the victims’ relatives and friends, their attitude towards their work (how do you stay sane, confronting the moldering remains of the victims of several of the worst genocides of the recent past every day and learning from their bodies all that you do learn about their final moments, their suffering and their cruel death?), the physical and, particularly, psychological and emotional stress involved in this kind of work, and ultimately Koff’s general take-away from the six missions in which she participated.

One of the things that I most appreciate about Koff’s approach was that however many victims’ bodies she exhumed and examined, she always respected the fact that the individual body she was concerned with at any given time had been a living and breathing person once, and she not only respected their individuality but went to great lengths to highlight how it showed even after death, and how it illustrated the life from which they had prematurely been snatched:

“I kept working, following Bill’s instructions, and exposed the scarf and cranium of a woman on my edge of the grave.  She was lying on her left side, her back to the wall of the grave, and the radiating fractures from a hole on the left side of her head reached around her cranium like fault lines.  […]

I was finding it hard to work in a crouched position because of the heat and the stench: normally I would be alternately standing and crouching, picking and troweling.  But I forgot my discomfort when I found pink necklaces around the skeleton’s neck vertebrae and some hair.  Now I was totally focused.  This woman had been alive once, not so long ago, and had fastened the necklaces herself.  Ralph wondered later if the smaller of the two necklaces would turn out to be a rosary like a plastic one I had found on a surface skeleton.  But as I crouched over this body, I couldn’t know what the pink necklaces had meant to her.”

The Bone Woman, 2005 Random House trade paperback edition, p. 45 (Kibuye)

 * * * * * * * * * *

“After lunch, I started working on my next grave and things became interesting.  Again, there was neither drraza [note: an angular wooden lean-to above the body, keeping the soil away; commonly placed above coffins inside Kosovo graves] nor coffin, neither sheet nor blanket wrapping, just soil on top of a body lying on its back.  The body was clothed in two hooded sweatshirts, a jacket, and tracksuit pants.  The many layers of clothes reminded me first of the Kibuye bodies and then of the Vukovar hospital bodies.” [Note: The many-layered clothing indicated the victims had been on the move when killed and uncertain if and when they would return home or find lasting shelter.]

“[…] A cloudy turquoise marble had turned up in the soil above the body.  I laid it aside in an evidence bag.

[…] The skeleton was that of a young person.  But I wasn’t thinking about children.

[…] Quickly, I leaned over to examine the skull, which I had exposed but not yet detail-cleaned.  I carefully cleaned the soil away from the teeth.  Yes: mandibular canine and second mandibular molar erupting, second maxillary molar still in the crypt.  This person was probably between twelve and fifteen years old when his life ended.

With renewed vigor despite the afternoon heat, I cleared all the dirt until I had just the body lying on the floor of the grave.  I could tell that items were lodged in the dirt-caked right hip pocket of the tracksuit pants.  I didn’t have to expose much more to see that they were marbles.  Lots of them.  A good handful.  Suddenly I was thinking about children.  About how I’d noticed young kids playing what I thought of as the ‘old-fashioned’ game of marbles while the forensic teams had played soccer with the older children from our neighborhood a few weeks earlier.  I had watched these little kids when I left the soccer field for a break (we’d been run ragged).  Two little boys flicked their marbles in grass so long they could barely track the progress.  It was great to see children playing a game outdoors, a game that didn’t involve a television and that was perhaps passed on from parent to kid, from kid to kid.  I was thinking about children, boys especially.  About how they can be so different from young girls, who sometimes stalk their adulthood, wanting to wear training bras even when they have only the hint of breasts, or wanting to wear makeup before their parents will allow it.  Boys can be slower in this race, perhaps surreptitiously checking their reflections in mirrors, looking for the first signs of mustache hair but otherwise trying to get away with juvenile behavior for as long as possible.  The boy in my grave had a pocket full of marbles, and that told me more about his life than almost anything else could.

The marbles didn’t necessarily have evidentiary value for the Tribunal, given that the skeleton with its trauma would tell the story that he was both a child and a noncombatant.  But in the grave with him, I saw beyond the forensic facts to the boy he might have been.  Derek had given me time to clean this boy’s body and clothing […].  I spent the rest of the afternoon with the boy and his marbles.

[…] When we finally carried the boy’s body on the stretcher to the freezer truck, I was reminded of how much I value this part of the process. […] [P]utting a body bag into the reefer for transport to the Tribunal morgue feels like the only quasi-ceremonial step that marks an Unidentified’s formal entry onto the path of becoming an Identified.”

The Bone Woman, 2005 Random House trade paperback edition, pp. 226-229 (Kosovo)

Exhuming the boy with the marbles
(The Bone Woman, 2005 Random House trade paperback edition, unpaginated photo insert p. 14; photo by Ms. Koff’s team mate Justine Michael)

More generally, I also appreciate the fact that Koff’s narrative perspective, in each section of the book, closely mirrors that of her perspective during that particular mission as such.  There is a limited amount of foreshadowing, but by and large, it is easy to see how her own perspective and insight evolved over time (and how she was increasingly able to put into context her very first experience during her mission to Kibuye, Rwanda).  To me, this again makes her book relatable on a personal level (I guess the path she travelled is similar for many people).  But I do also think it may provide an additional, albeit perhaps unspoken, layer of understanding to readers coming to her narrative without any kind of prior knowledge.

In the grand scheme of things, my quibbles with Koff’s book are relatively minor, but not so negligible as to not mention them at all:

As already mentioned in my status update regarding the “Kosovo” section of the book, in the two parts of the narrative dealing with missions where a significant part of Koff’s work took place in a morgue (Kigali and Kosovo), I had less of an immediate feeling of being “right there” with her as in the sections dealing primarily with work assignments at the exhumation sites (Kibuye, Bosnia and Croatia).  Both the Kigali and Kosovo sections made up for this to some extent by the fact that they, too, included at least some amount of “exhumation” narrative, as well as very empathetic descriptions of Koff’s interactions with surviving victims and the relatives of the murdered.  Still – and possibly this may be because a substantial part of morgue work is pathologist, not anthropologist work – the overall sense I have gained of the work processes inside the morgue, and the way in which the anthropologists’ and the pathologists’ work fused into one whole piece is less precise and acute than my sense of the anthropologists’ work involving the graves as such.  (The Kigali section of the book feels a bit chopped apart anyway; it’s as if it originally had been longer, but had been curtailed as a result of an editor’s intervention.)

I also think in her final remarks and her general take-away from her missions, Koff underestimates the role that racism played in the genocides she investigated.  She is right, of course, in pointing out that there are almost always other motives at play as well, and indeed may be the true reason why the racism card is played: The Nazi “Lebensraum im Osten” (“settlement” or “living space in the East”) campaign, which to Germans justified the slaughter of millions of Poles, Ukrainians and of course Jews even above and beyond the lie that it had been the Poles who had started WWII was, in fact, nothing but a naked territorial and economic power grab, justified by the alleged inferiority of “the Slavic races”.  In more recent times, politicians from Trump to Orbán to the Brexiters and the Austrian and German right-wing extremists haven been – and are – stoking the flames of racism to achieve everything from their own, personal financial gain to unbridled political power (and more often than not, a combination of the two).  So yes, those who incite xenophobia and racial hatred will often, and almost invariably, be motivated by something entirely different – there is a reason, after all, why corruption and autocrat regimes go hand in hand.

But the fear of, and the need to defeat “the other” is a powerful motivator in anybody who feels threatened or belittled (however unjustifiedly); and demagogues have known since time immemorial that nothing ensures their success as quickly, easily and decidedly as tapping into and activating that fear.  The Balkans in particular have been a powder keg of racial, ethnic and religious hatred at least since the 1389 battle of Kosovo Polje (probably even longer, but for our purposes let’s just go along with the moment in history that one of the key parties, the Serbs, themselves pin down as the origin of it all).  Serbian leaders and activists have, ever since then, again and again pointedly chosen the anniversary of that battle for any purpose in the book, unleashing Serbian racial and religious resentment against the enemy of the moment (Ottomans / Turks, the Austrian empire, Bosnians, Albanians and Croats, you name it) to achieve their aims.  The Croats, to give them their “due”, haven’t been any better – in WWII, the Croat Ustaša movement was a staunch ally of Hitler and the Nazis.  Tito managed to keep the powder in the keg in post-WWII Yugoslavia by centralizing government, and by essentially replacing ethnic allegiance and identification with an enforced allegiance to a seemingly unified Yugoslavian state, combined with economic incentives.  But inside the keg, resentment had been brewing all the time, and the lid flew off with a bang after Tito had died and the Warsaw Pact had collapsed, along with the Soviet Union as the world had known it (even though Yugoslavia hadn’t even been a member of the Warsaw Pact).  Not having been able to prevent the break-off of economically prosperous Slovenia, the Yugoslav leaders resorted to the Balkans’ time-honored tradition in their reaction to the “defection” of Croatia (almost equally prosperous as Slovenia) and Bosnia: “Serbs, go get ‘em, those traitorous Ustaša and Muslim bastards who are destroying our sacred and beloved Yugoslavia (and, um, cough, Serbia).”  The next thing the world knew, former neighbors were at each others’ throats with a vengeance, tens and hundreds of thousands of people were driven out of their homes and murdered, solely on the basis of their ethnicity and religion – and everybody else, from the rest of Europe to the U.N., NATO and the entire world was staring at the Balkans in absolute horror.  The Dayton Peace Accord, which eventually brought the violence in Croatia and Bosnia to an end, placed ethnic and religious reconciliation at a premium for a reason – and so do peacekeeping missions to any other part of the world where racism is one of the driving forces of the conflict.

Still and all: This is an important book – and now more than ever, timely and highly recommended reading.

Final note: I already finished this book a week ago, but I needed some time to organize my thoughts — and this is one book for which I did want to write a review by all means; not only because it was a buddy read with Elentarri and Ani.


Comments on the Book’s Individual Sections:



Original post:

Clea Koff: The Bone Woman — Part 5: Kosovo

Reading progress update: 256 of 277 pages.

The airport of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, is called Kosovo Polje — roughly translated, “blackbird field” (“kos” is blackbird in Serbo-Croat).  Kosovo Polje is also the name of the battle (and battlefield) which, in 1389, opened the door for the Ottoman conquest of large chunks of the southern Balkans.  Although the Serbian Empire had already crumbled of its own accord almost 20 years earlier, in 1371 (and although both armies were decimated in the 1389 battle; the difference being that the Serb forces didn’t have any reinforcements, whereas the Ottomans did), it is this battle which, to the present day, forms the cornerstone of Serbian nationalism.  Serbian leaders and activists, even centuries later, again and again timed important events to take place on the anniversary of the battle (declarations of war, crucial battles and conquests within a war, important speeches, etc.) — not least among these, the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian nationalist; the event that kicked off World War I.

When Koff went to Kosovo in 2000, they couldn’t fly into Kosovo Polje airport — it was war-damaged and closed.  Although the Dayton Peace Process had, by that time, returned Bosnia and Croatia to the path towards peace, stability, justice and reconciliation, Slobodan Milošević and his cronies still weren’t done.  Having lost their grip on Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, they turned their attention with ever greater force to Kosovo; after WWII an autonomous region within Serbia, but largely inhabited by Albanians (who for the most part, like the majority of Bosnians, are Muslims — whereas the majority of Serbs are Orthodox Christians).  Tensions rose as Kosovo was stripped off its autonomous status, there was retaliatory violence by the radical Albanian “Kosovo Liberation Army” (KLA) — which, make no mistake, wasn’t any better than any of the other armed players of the 1990s’ Balkan wars –, and the Serbs rejected a peace plan that would have restored Kosovo’s autonomous status.  Eventually, it took NATO bombardment for the Yugoslav and Serb forces to withdraw; however, even that didn’t put an immediate end to the violence and ethnic cleansing on the ground (again, both by and against Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, though again, too, the Serbs took the cake).  In June 1999, Kosovo was at last placed under temporary international administration, and Milošević was indicted by the ICTY Office of the Prosecutor; originally for the events in Kosovo, with indictments for Croatia and Bosnia following later.

A few takeaways from the “Kosovo” section of Koff’s book, before I move on to the ICTY side of things:

* By this time, Koff had come a long way from the grad student who, four years earlier, had just been happy to be doing what she’d always dreamed of and what she believed was right.  Like most everybody else involved in international humanitarian missions, Koff in 2000 had realized that there’s no quick fix for bringing a country from war back to lasting peace and reconciliation.  Collecting the evidence of war crimes and prosecuting the perpetrators is an important, but only one building block within that process.

* She’d also learned that law enforcement works in circles (or rather, spirals): Once dedicated criminals have learned where they are vulnerable, they’re not just going to stop their criminal activity — rather, they’ll just up the ante (and force law enforcement agencies to follow suit in turn in order to be able to stay on their tracks).  This is true for hackers, troll farms and other cybercriminals just as much as it is for war criminals, who — once they had clued into the fact that buried bodies may be unburied and used as evidence — in the final years of the 1990s simply started burning them, or disinterred them and reburied them hundreds of kilometers / miles from the combat zone, in territory under their own control.  (Which in turn, however, of course, still doesn’t do away with the eye witness accounts of the murders.  And in a genocide, there will always be bodies that are left behind to be found by investigators, just because of the sheer magnitude of this “crime of crimes” (not my term but that used by an ICTY judge in one judgment, IIRC in connection with Srebrenica)).

* The U.N., in turn, had also learned a few lessons from operations on the ground in Rwanda, Bosnia and Croatia, and was now finally giving their people some training at the start of the mission; most importantly, in connection with antipersonnel mines, as well as interactions with the local population and the — albeit as it turned out, for Koff only theoretical — prospect of a (much-needed) psychological debriefing.  (If they were also trained in hostage situation behaviour, she doesn’t say as much — maybe it took yet another few years for that to become the standard it now is, too.)  (On a personal note, the walkie-talkie goof exchanges — “hey, what are you guys having for dinner?” — sound familiar, too.)  More importantly, the psychological training Koff now finally received enabled her to put her own experience, which probably included at least one or even two severe burn-outs, into perspective and understand what exactly had been happening to her.

* In terms of gaining a larger perspective on her current mission, she had also come full circle from Rwanda: Whereas there, that wider perspective had resulted from the small size of her team (thus making for a greater scope of responsibility for every team member) and from the limited resources (requiring a high degree of cooperation and discipline), in Kosovo her ability to see beyond the day-to-day realities of her own role was fostered by having assumed managerial duties and thus, having gained more of a bird’s eye view — of an operation much larger and, despite some bureaucratic snafus, much more professionally organized than those in Rwanda.

* Yet, although this final section is almost as long as the first one (Kibuye), I’m getting much less of a precise sense of what her job consisted (other than snippets here and there, like preparing orthodontical charts and helping with the exhumations in the graveyeards in the first two weeks).  I don’t know to what extent this is due to the work routine in a morgue and the numerous procedures coming together there — or due to the fact that a substantial amount of the work in the morgue(s) was done by pathologists, not forensic anthropologists –; in any event, I had the same feeling after the section about Kigali (where part of her job was likewise morgue-related).  In the other sections, I learned a lot about the way bodies are located and positioned in a grave, how they are exhumed, and where the challenges of this work are.  I also learned (in all parts of the book, including Kosovo) about her teams’ interactions with the victims’ families and friends, those families’ and friends’ responses to their loss and to the work done by the forensic experts, and the challenges in identifying the victims (as well as the way in which these challenges could be overcome — and the limitations that circumstances imposed on all that).  In the Kibuye, Bosnia and Croatia sections in particular, I was right there with Koff on the ground, in the graves, establishing the graves’ parameters, clearing away back dirt, exhuming bodies (though I will say my mind refrained from going down the “partly decomposed / maggot-riddled” road), and examining bullet wounds and the effect of blunt force trauma and machete cuts on the bodies / skeletons found.  In the majority of both the Kigali and Kosovo sections, however, I felt at a much greater distance from the actual work processes — there, I was closest to her narrative when she was talking about her encounters with the victims’ families and other survivors of the massacres. By and large this didn’t get too substantially in the way of my overall assessment of the book, but if there’s one thing that niggles, it is this (and Koff’s concluding remarks on the origins of the conflicts — I have actually finished the book in the interim, but I’ve decided to reserve my comments on this part for my final review).

Now, on to the ICTY side:

Those indicted for war crimes in Kosovo were on the Serbian side:

* Slobodan Milošević,
* Vlastimir Đorđević, as well as
* Nebojša Pavković, Milan Milutinović, Nikola Šainović, Dragoljub Ojdanić, Nebojša Pavković, Vladimir Lazarević and Sreten Lukić

— and on the Kosovo Albanian side:

* Fatmir Limaj, Isak Musliu and Haradin Bala.


Slobodan Milošević
According to the case information sheet, his indictment included, with regard to Kosovo:

• The forced deportation of approximately 800,000 Kosovo Albanian civilians; to facilitate these expulsions and displacements, forces of the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and Serbia deliberately created an atmosphere of fear and oppression through the use of force, threats of force, and acts of violence.

• The murder of hundreds of Kosovo Albanian civilians – men, women and children, which occurred in a widespread or systematic manner throughout the province of Kosovo.

• Sexual assaults carried out by forces of the FRY and Serbia against Kosovo Albanians, in particular women.

• A systematic campaign of destruction of property owned by Kosovo Albanian civilians accomplished by the widespread shelling of towns and villages; the burning and destruction of property, including homes, farms, businesses, cultural monuments and religious sites; as a result of these orchestrated actions, villages, towns, and entire regions were rendered uninhabitable for Kosovo Albanians

And as we’ve seen with regard to Bosnia and Croatia, that was just for starters.


Vlastimir Đorđević
Assistant Minister of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs (Ministarstvo unutrašnjih poslova or MUP) and Chief of the Public Security Department (RJB) of the MUP responsible for all unitsand personnel of the RJB in Serbia, including Kosovo.  For orchestrating the ethnical cleansing and genocide of Kosovo Albanians, as well as the mass rape of Kosovo Albanian women, sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment in the appeals judgment of January 27, 2014 (down from 27 years as ordered in the February 23, 2011 trial judgment; the appeals chamber found fault with some of the trial chamber’s determinations particularly in regard to ethnical cleansing / forced deportations).

No less than 55 pages of the judgment against Đorđević — which (not counting a “confidential annex”) is a total of 970 pages long — cover the evaluation of the forensic evidence regarding the bodies discovered in the various grave sites, not a small part of which bodies had been disinterred and moved all the way to Serbia in an effort of concealment.  Of these 55 pages, the initial 3, as well as several pages in the individual sections, are concerned with establishing the credibility of the report(s) prepared by Eric Baccard, the chief pathologist of the Office for Missing Persons and Forensics (OMPF) team to which Koff belonged. In addition to OMPF, there were also various other national and international teams conducting the same sort of work — British, French, American, Danish, etc. (one of the British teams was headed by Val McDermid’s friend Dr. Sue Black, whom we “met” in Forensics, and whose ICTY-related experience reportedly forms the basis of McDermid’s Skeleton Road) — and as Baccard had been retained to also conduct an examination of the various national teams’ approaches, so as to ensure the reliability and comparability of their findings, his report covered more than the work of the OMPF team.  This, and the fact that Koff isn’t specific as to which grave sites she worked on — or respectively, from which grave sites originated the bodies which they examined in the Orahovac morgue — makes it a bit difficult to pin down which of the evidentiary findings in the judgment may be related to her work specifically.  Based on the dates of her missions (April / May and July 2000), I can’t find anything in the judgment’s section on the Baccard report that would match — even though Koff’s particular friend, the team’s chief anthropologist José Pablo Baraybar, also testified; yet, the OMPF-related section of the judgment refers exclusively to mass graves discovered and exhumed only in 2001.


Nebojša Pavković, Milan Milutinović, Nikola Šainović, Dragoljub Ojdanić, Nebojša Pavković, Vladimir Lazarević and Sreten Lukić
* Nebojša Pavković (Commander of the Third Army of the Yugoslav Army (Vojska Jugoslavije or VJ)), sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment in the appeals judgment of January 23, 2014.

* Sreten Lukić (Head of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs — Ministarstvo unutrašnjih poslova or MUP — staff for Kosovo & Metohija), sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in the appeals judgment of January 23, 2014.

* Nikola Šainović (Deputy Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)), sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment in the appeals judgment of January 23, 2014.
* Dragoljub Ojdanić (Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army (VJ)), sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in the trial judgment of February 26, 2009 (sentence was not appealed).
* Vladimir Lazarević (Commander of the Priština Corps of the VJ), sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment in the appeals judgment of January 23, 2014.

* Milan Milutinović (President of the Republic of Serbia), acquitted.

The charges against these men were essentially the same as against Đorđević (see above).  Though the February 26, 2009 trial judgment comprises three volumes and a total of almost 1,500 pages and, again, goes into great detail as to the nature of the forensic evidence (including the expert reports and testimony of Eric Baccard and José Pablo Baraybar), again I can’t find any gave / exhumation sites that specifically seem to match up with any exhumations that Koff might have been involved with — I really wish she had been more specific where the bodies she worked on had been found.


Fatmir Limaj, Isak Musliu and Haradin Bala
* Haradin Bala (Guard at the KLA Lapušnik / Llapushnik prison camp; participated in the torture of at least 4 and the murder of 9 prisoners), sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment by the appeals judgment of September 27, 2007.
* Fatmir Limaj and
* Isak Musliu
(both allegedly KLA commanders in the Lapušnik / Llapushnik area and responsible for the prison camp there) were acquitted, after their participation in any crimes could not be proven with the requisite amount of certainty.  Probably successful campaigns of witness intimidation were at least partically responsible for this outcome.

I can’t find any indications that Clea Koff was part of the forensic team that provided evidence for this prosecution, though José Pablo Baraybar testified as to the cause of death of the murdered prisoners.  The trial chamber did not dispute his findings; rather, again, the difficulties were in tying the deaths to the accused.

If I’m not missing anything, every other Kosovo Albanian politician and KLA officer / member indicted by ICTY was also acquitted, for one reason or another.  The ICTY trial and appeals chambers obviously had their reasons for these dispositions, and by and large, it is probably true that the Serbs committed the largest amount of war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.  Still, I remember that a lot of Serbs considered ICTY biased against them, and statistics such as the above would doubtlessly have fueled those flames.


Overall Review and Comments on the Book’s Other Sections:

Overall Review:


Original post:

Clea Koff: The Bone Woman — Part 4: Croatia

Reading progress update: 194 of 277 pages.

Vukovar and Eastern Slavonia: a notorious bone of contention between Croats and Serbs, and a necessary reminder that:

1)  The Serbs weren’t the only ones to commit war crimes, drive out their neighbours or profit from ethnic cleansing.  All sides to the conflict had blood on their hands.  All sides profited from the misfortune of their former neighbours.  And it wasn’t only the militia, the para(militarie)s and other forms of organized thugs.  Almost everybody did, to one extent or another — and those who didn’t, more often than not fell into the “there but for the grace of God” category. — Several centuries went by until the inhabitants of Rome started using bricks and stones from the ruins left behind by the Ancient Romans to build new houses (some of them, right inside the Colisseum).  But only days, weeks, at most months went by until one Croat lady concluded her ethnically cleansed Serb neighbours weren’t going to come back, and decided to start dismantling their home and use it as a brickyard supplying the necessary building material to repair her own war-damaged house.  Nothing says “these people are over and done with” quite like dismantling their buildings and using the bricks to build something else.

2)  Opposition to fact-finding such as done by forensic anthropologists and (ultimately) court proceedings is not only fueled by loyalty to the perpetrators and their elevation to “national hero” status.  Removing doubt as to a missing person’s fate also removes the hope that his loved ones have been clinging to with all their might, that he might still be alive — the very hope that had allowed them to go on living; living, that is, for the day when the missing will at last be returned to them alive.  This is made even worse in the face of propaganda and lies denying that the massacre after which they had disappeared never took place at all, and claiming that stories about that massacre were all just lies by “the other side”, whoever that may be at any given time.  (If you thought “fake news” claims were a recent thing, think again.)  To the friends and relatives of a missing person, nothing can possibly be crueler than proof that their missing loved one is, in fact, dead — and died a barbaric death, to boot.  And yet, it is important for that proof to come out: not only because it pulls out the rug from under the propaganda denying the massacre in the first place, but also because it allows those left behind to begin the process of grieving and, eventually, healing (after a fashion) — and possibly also demanding justice, though many will simply want to walk away from it all.  Which is totally fine and must be respected in all events.

As an aside, I’m happy to find that Koff and I share a personal heroine, though unlike me, Koff has actually been fortunate enough to meet her in person: Louise Arbour, from 1996 to 1999 ICTY’s Chief Prosecutor (succeeding Richard Goldstone, who right now, incidentally, is on the Board of Directors of Physicians for Human Rights), and later, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Notwithstanding my first cautionary note above, though, it was again Serbs who were behind the massacre at Ovčara, where the patients from Vukovar hospital had been taken and killed.

The accused who stood trial for these events were:

* Slobodan Milošević,
* Mile Mrkšić, Veselin Šljivančanin and Miroslav Radić, and
* Slavko Dokmanović.


Slobodan Milošević
According to the ICTY case information sheet, with regard to the war in Croatia Milošević stood accused of:

• The extermination or murder of hundreds of Croat and other non-Serb civilians, including women and elderly persons, in Dalj, Erdut, Klisa, Lovas, Vukovar, Voćin, Baćin, Saborsko and neighbouring villages, Škabrnja, Nadin, Bruska, and Dubrovnik and its environs.

• The prolonged and routine imprisonment and confinement of thousands of Croat and other non-Serb civilians in detention facilities within and outside of Croatia, including prison camps located in Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

• The establishment and perpetuation of inhumane living conditions for Croat and other non-Serb civilian detainees within the above-mentioned detention facilities.

• The deportation or forcible transfer of at least 170,000 Croat and other non-Serb civilians from the territories specified above, including the deportation to Serbia of at least 5,000 inhabitants from Ilok and 20,000 inhabitants from Vukovar; and the forcible transfer to locations within Croatia of at least 2,500 inhabitants from Erdut.

• The deliberate destruction of homes, other public and private property, cultural institutions, historic monuments and sacred sites of the Croat and other non-Serb population in Dubrovnik and its environs, Vukovar, Erdut, Lovas, Šarengrad, Bapska, Tovarnik, Voćin, Saborsko, Škabrnja, Nadin, and Bruška.

• The repeated torture, beatings and killings of Croat and other non-Serb civilian detainees in the above-mentioned detention facilities.

• Unlawful attacks on Dubrovnik and undefended Croat villages throughout the territories specified above.

There may not have been an official final determination as to whether or not he committed suicide, but personally I am convinced that yes, he did.  Rather than face the prospect of spending the rest of his life in solitary confinement in a high security prison cell (saddled with a heart condition), which — short solitary walks in the prison yard excepted — he knew he would only ever leave again feet first, I believe that when he started to realize there was no chance that he would not end up being convicted, he decided to take the coward’s way out and short-cut to “feet first” immediately.  Either way, however, the world is well rid of him.


Mile Mrkšić, Veselin Šljivančanin and Miroslav Radić
The men chiefly held responsible for the events at Vukovar Hospital and the Ovčara massacre:

* Mile Mrkšić (Colonel in the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and commander of the 1st Guards Motorised Brigade and Operational Group South, the JNA unit operative in the Vukovar area), sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in the September 27, 2007 trial judgment, confirmed by the appeals judgment of May 5, 2009.

* Veselin Šljivančanin (Major in the JNA; security officer of the 1st Guards Motorised Brigade and Operational Group South in charge of a military police battalion subordinated to the 1st Guards Motorised Brigade), sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in the sentencing appeals judgment of December 8, 2010 (his sentence in the trial judgment had been 5 years; on the prosecution’s appeal, the Appeals Chamber had initially bumped it up to 17 years but then reduced it again on the basis of new evidence that had come to light before the appeals judgment had become final).

* Miroslav Radić (Captain in the JNA; commanded an infantry company in the 1st Battalion of the 1st Guards Motorised Brigade), acquitted in the trial judgment of September 27, 2007.

This trial highlighted, once more, one of the key problems that ICTY faced:  Unlike in Rwanda, where virtually all the accused and all the crimes committed could be tied to the Hutu Power movement and its orchestrated “final solution” to exterminate the Tutsi, in the former Yugoslavia you had a plethora of major players, who very often didn’t even agree with each other (let alone act in concert) when they were “nominally” on the same side.  This is particularly true for the role played by the regular military (Yugoslav People’s Army, Croatian Army, etc.) vis-à-vis that of the militia, paramilitary units and other “irregular” (and highly extremist) forces.  Which obviously isn’t to say that any of these people, including the regular military, were anything even remotely approaching angels or saints, but even when it was clear that a war crime had been committed, in the ICTY proceedings it was vastly more difficult than in Rwanda to pin down who exactly was responsible for the crime and in what way; especially if there were no surviving direct eye witnesses, or the witnesses were confused about the uniforms they had seen (those of the paras were very similar to “real” army uniforms, which easily led to misidentifications, especially at night), or the indictment attached greater “command responsibility” to an officer than he actually had had.  And unlike in Srebrenica, where there were so many massacres that, if you were an officer of the Drina Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army (which operated in the area at the time), some of your actions would almost be guaranteed to constitue the commission of a war crime, with regard to Vukovar Hospital, there was “only” the massacre at Ovčara: You were either going to get nailed for that, or not at all.

Here, the prosecution’s case against Mrkšić (the area’s commanding regular JNA army officer, who had ordered the removal of the Vukovar Hospital patients: originally they were intended to be sent to a location under JNA control, but ultimately they ended up in Ovčara) had rested substantially on the contention that he had “command responsibility” for (i.e., was in a position of command over, and therefore criminally liable for the actions of) the Serbian paramilitaries which actually carried out the massacre at Ovčara; and that he had in fact handed over the patients to the paramilitary units, intending for the subsequent massacre to happen.  However, the Trial Chamber found that while he was to be faulted for having withdrawn the protection of the regular army (JNA) from the prisoners taken at the hospital by ordering his JNA troops to withdraw from Ovčara, he neither intended nor ordered the massacre as such.  (The Trial Chamber also seems to have doubted whether the paras would ever have listened to any orders he’d have tried to give them, i.e. whether he had factual command responsibility over the paras; even though it found that de jure — legally / in theory — command responsibility over them was vested in him.)  As a result, he was convicted of aiding and abetting the massacre — but not of participating in it or ordering it.  This still resulted in a 20-year prison term, but not in the much longer (up to lifetime, or de facto lifetime) sentence that would have resulted from a conviction for directly participating in or ordering the massacre.

The same, on a somewhat reduced level, was true for Mrkšić’s co-defendant Šljivančanin, the former security officer of his brigade: He was instrumental in the removal of the patients from the hospital and, later, in the withdrawal of the regular JNA forces from Ovčara, which earned him — after some back and forth — a 10-year prison sentence, but not the sentence he might have received if he had been found guilty of a more direct involvement

The third defendant, Radić, finally, was acquitted entirely: He had been present at the hospital, but there was no evidence that he was also present at Ovčara; let alone, that he participated in the removal of the patients with any foreknowledge of what was going to happen later (or that he had any reason to believe any of his JNA subordinates were going to participate in the massacare) — recall, the patients were initially supposed to be taken to an entirely different location, where (unlike at Ovčara) they would have remained under the control of the JNA.  This was all he was shown to have known.

(You might wonder, incidentally, why the prosecution did not, after the outcome of the Mrkšić trial, proceed to indicting the commanders of the paramilitary units who had actually ordered the massacre.  I’m wondering about that as well — all I can speculate is that by this time, 15+ years after the events, the trail had literally gone cold; and until then, the prosecution had obviously been banking entirely on getting Mrkšić convicted for giving the fatal order.  Which was a miscalculation that not only failed at trial but also on appeal.)

The Mrkšić trial judgment is also notable with regard to the broad space it accords to the forensic evidence regarding the massacre as such, the fact that it occurred under the supervision of the Yugoslav and Croatian governments as well as those of several international organizations,  and the process of the identification of the witnesses: Quite obviously, the Trial Chamber was aware of the importance which the forensic evidence was going have in the public perception of the events, after the Yugoslav and Serb propaganda had vigorously denied that a massacre had ever happened at all, and after the victims’ relatives — organized under the name “The Mothers of Vukovar” — had initially opposed the exhumation, believing the propaganda and clinging to the hope that some day they would see their missed loved ones alive again:

“The exhumation of the mass grave began on 31 August 1996. Bodies were retrieved from the site and transported to Zagreb where full post mortem examinations was conducted.  The exhumation and the autopsies were conducted by international and domestic experts. Representatives of the Croatian and the Yugoslav government were present during the exhumation and the autopsies. The exhumation was conducted under the authority of this Tribunal. Other international organisations, including ECMM, OSCE, and the International Commission for Missing People also participated in the exhumation.

Once the bodies were exhumed, they were transferred to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Zagreb. International forensic experts carried out the autopsies of the bodies under the monitoring of Dr Davor Strinović, Deputy Head of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Croatia and a member of the Republic of Croatia Government Commission for Detainees and Missing Persons (“Commission for Missing Persons”). The primary task of the international experts was to determine the cause of death in each case. They carried out the autopsies according to applicable Croatian requirements and in accordance with international standards and described all their findings, including findings that may not have been linked directly to the cause of death but may have had relevance to the process of identification. Exhibit 458, tendered through Dr Strinović, is a table prepared by the international forensic experts providing a summary of the findings of their examinations of the bodies exhumed at the Ovčara mass grave. The chart includes findings on cause and manner of death. Exhibit 462 contains the autopsy reports.

The remains of 200 human bodies were exhumed from this mass grave at Ovčara. There were 198 males and two females. The age range of those exhumed was between 16 and 72. The cause of death was established in 195 cases. 188 individuals died of gunshot wounds or multiple gunshot wounds. For the seven other persons the cause of death was trauma. It was established during the post mortem examinations that 86 individuals had also suffered from wounds or injuries caused before death. For the remaining 114 persons the autopsy reports contained no entries indicating that these persons had visible signs of trauma or injuries caused before death. The Chamber accepts in accordance with this evidence that at least 200 persons had been buried in the mass grave, that 195 of these persons died from trauma, including 188 from gunshot wounds, and that 86 of these persons also suffered bodily injuries caused before death. The Chamber’s finds from the evidence that the 200 persons had been killed at the mass grave site on 20/21 November 1991. The death of more persons than the 200 mentioned above at Ovčara on 20/21 November 1991 is not precluded by these findings, although, apart from a few specific cases identified later in this judgement, this is not established by the evidence in this case.

The cause of death could not be established by autopsy in the case of five of the 200 bodies buried in the mass grave. The Chamber accepts Dr Strinović’s evidence that in cases where gunshots have not damaged the bones but only soft tissue of a body, such as the heart, an autopsy performed several years after the death will not reveal the cause of death as the soft tissue will have decomposed. Given the surrounding circumstances, as found by the Chamber from all the evidence, the presence of 200 bodies in the one grave, of whom it is demonstrated by autopsy findings that 195 died from trauma including 188 from gunshot wounds, the Chamber finds by inference that all 200 persons buried in the grave died on 20/21 November 1991 at Ovčara from trauma caused by physical violence, in almost all cases from one or more gunshot wounds, and further, in the case of each of the five persons whose cause of death could not be determined by autopsy examination, that the trauma causing death was most probably gunshot wound to the soft tissue of the body.

After the autopsies were completed, the process of identification began. In 1997, the Commission for Missing Persons took custody of the bodies exhumed at the Ovčara mass grave in order to carry out this task. Two methods of identification were used: the classical method and the DNA method. Classical identification was conducted by gathering of identifying elements through autopsy and ante mortem material, including clothing, any items found on a body including jewellery, documents, and keys, as well as the teeth and skin in appropriate cases. The skin of each body was examined for identifying elements including any scars from previous surgery, injuries, old injuries, scar tissue, and tattoos. Ante mortem information was gathered from the families of the victims and then compared with elements found in the course of the autopsy. Of the 200 bodies exhumed at Ovčara, 192 were identified, 93 by the classical method and 99 by DNA. Of those identified almost all were of Croatian ethnicity. Even where an identification had been established by these means the identification was not accepted as final unless confirmed by the family of the victim. Each body remained classified as unidentified until final confirmation was obtained.

The Annex to the Indictment lists the names of 264 individuals who are alleged to have been taken from the Vukovar hospital and murdered near Ovčara during the evening hours of 20/21 November 1991. Of these 264 named individuals, the bodies of 190 have been identified as described and were among those exhumed from the mass grave at Ovčara. Other evidence further established that another 16 of those listed in the Annex to the Indictment were found in other graves and were subsequently identified. 13 of those 16 were exhumed from the New Cemetery in Vukovar, one person from the Lovas mass grave, and the mortal remains of another two of those listed in the Annex were received from the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro (from Sremska Mitrovica in 1997 and from Belgrade in 1995, respectively). The bodies of 58 persons listed in the Annex to the Indictment have not been found and they remain reported as missing. No evidence was led during the trial concerning the cause of death of the 16 persons listed in the Annex to the Indictment but whose remains were found elsewhere than at Ovčara, so that the evidence does not establish that these persons were murdered or when they died.

Of those 190 persons listed in the Annex to the Indictment whose bodies have been identified and were exhumed from the mass grave at Ovčara, in 184 cases the cause of death was shown by autopsy to have been gunshot wound or multiple gunshot wounds. The cause of death of two more of these persons was trauma. The cause of death of the remaining four persons was not able to be determined by autopsy but, in accordance with the finding of the Chamber noted a little earlier in this Judgement, in each case the cause of death was trauma, occurring on 20/21 November 1991 at Ovčara, the trauma being most probably a gunshot wound to the soft tissue of the body.”

Case No. IT-95-13/1, Prosecutor v. Mrkšić et al., Judgment of September 27, 2007, paras. 492-498.

[After this follows a five page-long section detailing how exactly the victims had been identified, and why the evidence of their identification is credible and convincing in the Trial Chamber’s view.]  Then the Trial Chamber concludes:

“Thus, the Chamber is satisfied and finds that 194 of the persons named in the Annex to the Indictment were taken from Vukovar hospital in the morning of 20 November 1991 and were murdered in the evening and night hours of 20/21 November 1991 at Ov

The evidence further demonstrates, in the finding of the Chamber, that at the time of these 194 killings, the perpetrators acted with the requisite intent for murder. The circumstances demonstrate this. The Chamber refers in particular to the very large number of victims and to the fact that almost all victims died from multiple gunshot wounds. The Chamber also refers here to its findings made elsewhere in the Judgement, that a large grave had been dug before the killings, that the grave was in an isolated location, that the bodies of at least 190 of the victims were covered and left, and that the killings occurred in the evening and at night. To establish the intent of the actual perpetrators it is further relevant that the victims were prisoners of war, that they were unarmed, the majority also being sick or wounded patients from a hospital. The Chamber would also observe here that the perpetrators were among the victors in a bitter armed conflict in which the victims had been among the Croat losers.

On the basis of the foregoing, and leaving aside for the present the question of the criminal responsibility of the three Accused, the Chamber finds that the elements of the offence of murder (Count 4) are established in relation to 194 identified persons listed in the Schedule to the Judgement.”

Case No. IT-95-13/1, Prosecutor v. Mrkšić et al., Judgment of September 27, 2007, paras. 509-511.

It’s almost as if the Trial Chamber were telling the prosecution in that last paragraph of the quoted excerpt, “and if you idiots hadn’t focused exclusively on the regular army officers although you knew the massacre had been committed by paramilitaries after the JNA unit had withdrawn, we might actually have been able to convict someone of having committed these murders, too …”


Finally, there was:

Slavko Dokmanović
Dokmanović was the President of the Vukovar municipality at the time of the Ovčara massacre.  He likewise stood accused of having either participated in it or at least aided and abetted in its commission.  However, the proceedings against him came to a halt after he had hanged himself in his cell in June 1998.


Overall Review and Comments on the Book’s Other Sections:

Overall Review:


Original post:

Clea Koff: The Bone Woman — Part 3: Bosnia

Reading progress update: 157 of 277 pages.

Srebrenica: The monster of all Bosnian massacre sites, with 8,000 men of all ages taken away from their families and killed in various locations in the Srebrenica area, or picked up and killed on their way to (believed, relative) safety in nearby Tuzla.  The team to which Koff belonged exhumed several hundred bodies at two sites associated with the Srebrenica massacre; after Koff had left, her boss / mentor Bill Haglund and several other team members also worked on other sites, including the infamous Pilica / Branjevo Military Farm.

Even much more than those in Kibuye and Kigali, this was a high pressure environment and assignment, which essentially came to an end for Koff when she burned out — a development doubtlessly helped on by the fact that she had less than a week back home in California between Kigali and this assignment; and that’s not even factoring in the roughly 20 hours of air travel from Kigali to California and almost as much from California to Zagreb, with several hours on war-gutted roads on to the military camp near Srebrenica where they were staying; covering several time zones (and a 9-hour time lag in total each way): True, Koff had already seen these kinds of traveling conditions in connection with her first assignment in Kibuye, but this sort of thing in and of itself alone will grind you down if repeated to frequently or in too short succession (even under the best of conditions, which she clearly didn’t experience).  Essentially, she was obviously already worn out before she even started working in Srebrenica.  A less young and fit person than her would never even have made it anywhere near the end of their second month there (and indeed, she implies that others did leave before she did).

The equipment on hand was marginally better than that available in Rwanda, but this section of the book, like those covering the two Rwanda assignments, once again brings home just how impromptu and “untested waters” level the whole ICTR and ICTY setup was.  This was true for the actual tribunals themselves (and I’ll say more about that in my review of this book once I’m done), which were virtually unprecedented, but it was equally true, as Koff describes in great detail, for the missions “on the ground”.

Most of all, I was shocked to learn that they were working in an environment known to be riddled with anti-personnel landmines (which are extremely hard, indeed virtually impossible to spot on the ground) — without even having been given the most basic training and instruction how to move in an environment like that.  Only a few years later, when I participated in several EU / OECD training programs for humanitarian missions, it would never have occurred to anyone not to make this a core part of our training — and for a reason.  The same applies, similarly, to interactions with the inhabitants of their deployment area — not only the survivors of the war crimes (who were a crucial source of information, but as explained in my last status update, also needed to be approached with due care in order not to “taint” them as trial witnesses), but also, and in the Eastern Bosnian area where Koff worked in particular, the majority of the population, who constituted a considerable security risk to any member of an international team, because they were openly hostile and frequently extremely disruptive vis-à.vis to the U.N., NATO and IFOR (the international peacekeeping forces), as well as towards anybody collecting evidence that might lead to the arrest and prosecution of the instigators of the massacres, who to these people were (and in many cases still are today) nothing short of national heroes.

The modus operandi in these massacres is the one I remember from my own work on an ICTY case as well: single out the men, line them up with their hands bound behind their backs near the edge of a hillside, cliff, ravine, or other form of slope (or somewhere near the edge of a wood), and then mow them down, either shooting from the bottom or the other side of the ravine / slope / hillside or walking past them firing from (semi-)automatic weapons.  (The women survived, but were gang-raped by the hundreds and thousends: This practice, both in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, led to the recognition of systematic rape as a war crime in and of itself, which it previously hadn’t been — and in fact still wasn’t, according to the bare-bones language of the ICTY and ICTR statutes.)

The Srebrenica massacre was central to the single largest subset of ICTY proceedings, against:

* Slobodan Milošević,
* Vujadin Popović, Ljubiša Beara, Drago Nikolić, Radivoje Miletić, Vinko Pandurević, Ljubomir Borovčanin, Milan Gvero,
* Zdravko Tolimir,
* Radislav Krstić,
* Dražen Erdemović,
* Momir Nikolić,
* Dragan Obrenović,
* Vidoje Blagojević and Dragan Jokić,

as well as later also against

Radovan Karadžić and
* Ratko Mladić.

Milošević, Karadžić and Mladić not merely stood trial for their responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre, of course, but also for a host of other war crimes, as well as their overall responsibility for the crimes committed by the forces under their control and command.

Again, Koff’s boss and mentor Bill Haglund testified: a collection of video snippets from his testimony at the trial against Radovan Karadžić can be found on the Physicians for Human Rights website and on YouTube.  (At least in part, these snippets don’t concern the exhumation sites that Koff worked on but the one at Pilica Farm.)

Taking the trials one by one, here is what stands out:

Explanatory preface note: “Trial Chamber” always refers to the specific Trial Chamber hearing the case in question (there were several).  By contrast, ICTY had only one Appeals Chamber, but the composition of the Appeals Chamber of course changed over the course of the two decades of ICTY’s existence (as did the composition of the Trial Chambers). —

Slobodan Milošević
The former president of Serbia and the Federated Republic of Yugoslavia; in the latter capacity, also President of the Supreme Defence Council of the FRY and the Supreme Commander of the Yugoslav Army. He died in detention on March 11, 2006 before the trial against him had been concluded.  His cause of death was initially given as “heart attack”, but upon examining his body, the pathologists found the presence of a substance that (inter alia) counteracted the effect of his heart medication.  It is therefore possible (although was never definitely proven) that he committed suicide.

Milošević stood trial for a staggering amount of offenses; his indictment is, in essence, the war in the Former Yugoslavia in a nutshell.  According to the ICTY case information sheet:, with regard to Bosnia and Herzegovina alone he stood accused of:

• The widespread killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims during and after the takeover of territories within Bosnia and Herzegovina.

• The killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in detention facilities within Bosnia and Herzegovina

• The causing of serious bodily and mental harm to thousands of Bosnian Muslims during their confinement in detention facilities within Bosnia and Herzegovina.

• The confinement of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in detention facilities within Bosnia and Herzegovina, under conditions of life calculated to bring about the partial physical destruction of those groups, namely through starvation, contaminated water, forced labour, inadequate medical care and constant physical and psychological assault.

• The extermination, murder and wilful killings of non-Serbs, principally Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats living in the territories of Banja Luka, Bihać, Bijeljina, Bileća, Bosanska Krupa, Bosanski Novi, Bosanski Šamac, Bratunac, Brčko, Čajniče, Doboj, Fo<ča, Gacko, Sarajevo (Ilijaš), Ključ, Kalinovik, Kotor Varoš, Nevesinje, Sarajevo (Novi Grad), Prijedor, Prnjavor, Rogatica, Sanski Most, Srebrenica, Teslić, Višegrad, Vlasenica and Zvornik.

• The cruel and inhumane treatment of Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians. Such inhumane treatment including, but not limited to, sexual violence, torture, physical and psychological abuse and forced existence under inhumane living conditions.

• The imposition of restrictive and discriminatory measures against Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats and other non-Serbs, such as the restriction of freedom of movement; removal from positions of authority in local government institutions and the police; dismissal from jobs; arbitrary searches of their homes; denial of the right to judicial process; and denial of the right of equal access to public services, including proper medical care.

• The forcible transfer and deportation of thousands of Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians to locations outside of Serb-held territories.

• The intentional and wanton destruction of homes, other public and private property belonging to Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, cultural and religious institutions, historical monuments and other sacred sites.

• The obstruction of humanitarian aid, in particular medical and food supplies, into the besieged enclaves Bihać, Goražde, Srebrenica and Žepa, and the withholding of water supplies for the civilians trapped in the enclaves, designed to create unbearable living conditions.


Radovan Karadžić
The former President of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina / Republika Srpska and Supreme Commander of the armed forces of Republika Srpska.  Sentenced by the ICTY Trial Chamber to 40 years’ imprisonment on March 24, 2016. Almost exactly three years later, on March 20, 2019, the Appeals Chamber in a majority judgment set aside the sentence imposed at trial and, instead, imposed on Mr. Karadžić a sentence of life imprisonment.

(One up for the prosecution, who had appealed the trial judgment.)

The occurrences in the Srebrenica area cover a whole volume of the almost 3,000-pages long Karadžić trial judgment.

Interestingly, one of the sites where the Trial Chamber had rejected the assertions of the indictment was the first of the sites on which Koff worked in the Srebrenica area, namely, Cerska Valley.  As in the Kigali case (Koff’s second Rwanda assignment), the issue was not whether or not the bodies found there were victims of executions (not even Karadžić himself disputed this).  However, the prosecution had nailed down the date of the execution as between July 13 and 17, 1995, and it had also asserted in the indictment that there had only been one single execution — whereas the Trial Chamber found that about a third of the victims identified from the Cerska Valley site had last been seen alive after the dates set forth in the indictment.  Thus, the Trial Chamber did not see itself able to find the facts as stated in the indictment.

It did, however, place reliance on Dr. Haglund’s expert testimony with regard to Pilica (AKA Branjevo Military Farm), one of the most atrocious mass execution sites of the entire war.  The trial judgment states:

“The gravesite was exhumed between 10 and 24 September 1996 by a Tribunal exhumation team under the direction of William Haglund. The remains found at the gravesite were then examined under the direction of Robert Kirschner. William Haglund prepared a report on both the exhumation of the gravesite and the results of the post-mortem examination of the remains found therein.

The Branjevo Military Farm gravesite is an approximately three metre deep grave, consisting of a trench extending 28 by 10 metres. The gravesite showed evidence of robbing and disturbance evidenced, first, by aerial images and the discovery of partial bodies and, further, by soil samples from the surface of the gravesite.

A minimum of 132 individuals were found at the gravesite. All the individuals for whom sex could be determined were male. It was established that the victims’ ages ranged from 15 to 61, with the majority of the victims being over 25 years old. All the victims were found wearing civilian clothing, with the exception of one, who was wearing military-type trousers. Further, two blindfolds and 83 ligatures were recovered at the gravesite. The cause of death for at least 130 bodies was attributed to gunshot injuries.

As of 13 January 2012, DNA analysis has led to the identification of 138 individuals in the Branjevo Military Farm grave as persons listed as missing following the take-over of Srebrenica.”

Case No. IT-95-5/18-T, Prosecutor v. Radovan Karadžić, trial judgment of March 24, 2016, paras. 5454-5457.

In a later passage of the judgment, the Trial Chamber also sustains the experts’ findings as to such things as the differing degrees of decomposition and the interlocked positions of the bodies (Karadžić had argued that the varying states of decomposition indicated that the sites were just general dumping grounds for corpses used again and again), the blindfolding of the victims (which Karadžić had suggested weren’t blindfolds but military-style bandannas) and other findings common to all or most of the sites in the Srebrenica area.

Notably, the trial judgment relies substantially on the guilty pleas, evidence collected and and earlier judgments passed (and confirmed) with regard to the direct participants in the Srebrenica massacre, who had already stood trial before ICTY while Karadžić and Mladić were still at large, such as Drazen Erdemović, Momir Nikolić, and Dragan Obrenović (see further below).

The Karadžić Appeals Judgment doesn’t seem to have been made available to the public yet (all I’m finding is the scheduling order for the judgment and a general note as to its outcome).


Ratko Mladić
Formerly Commander of the Main Staff of the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (“VRS”); convicted by the ICTY Trial Chamber of genocide in the area of Srebrenica in 1995 and of persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane acts (forcible transfer), terror, unlawful attacks on civilians and the taking of hostages; and sentenced to life imprisonment on November 22, 2017.

Mladić has appealed the judgment; the appellate proceedings are still ongoing.

The trial judgment seems to be under seal; at least, I couldn’t find it in the electronic database whichever way I looked.  I’d expect it to be substantially similar to the Karadžić judgment with regard to Srebrenica, however.


Popović et al.
The proceedings against the men chiefly in command of the incidents at Srebrenica — the dates given below are those of the respective final judgments, which in all but the last two cases is the appeals judgment.

* Vujadin Popović (Lieutenant Colonel and the Chief of Security of the Drina Corps of the Army of Republika Srpska [“Vojska Republike Srpske” or “VRS”])  and Ljubiša Beara (Colonel and Chief of Security of the VRS Main Staff), both sentenced to life imprisonment on 30 January 2015.
* Drago Nikolić (2nd Lieutenant who served as Chief of Security for the Zvornik Brigade of the VRS), sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment on 30 January 2015.
* Radivoje Miletić (Chief of Operations and Training Administration of the VRS Main Staff), sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment on 30 January 2015.
* Vinko Pandurević (Lieutenant Colonel and Commander of the Zvornik Brigade of the Drina Corps of the VRS), sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on 30 January 2015.
* Ljubomir Borovčanin (Deputy Commander of the Republika Srbska Ministry of Internal Affairs Special Police Brigade (“MUP”) and, later, also Commander of a joint force of MUP units subordinated to the Drina Corps of the VRS to participate in the Srebrenica operation), sentenced to 17 years on 10 June 2010, trial judgement not subject to appeal.
* Milan Gvero (Assistant Commander for Morale, Legal and Religious Affairs of the VRS Main Staff), sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment on 10 June 2010, trial verdict determined as final by Appeals Chamber on 7 March 2013 following the accused’s death.

Interestingly, the June 10, 2010 trial judgment in these proceedings still accepted the forensic evidence regarding the Cerska Valley site, as given (chiefly) by Dr. Haglund.  Almost even more interestingly, the Appeals Chamber in this case specifically rejected the evidence advanced by the defendants in order to cast doubt on Dr. Haglund’s expert testimony — which at least in part seems to have been substantially the same evidence which, a year later, caused the Karadžić Trial Chamber to reject the prosecution’s case with regard to the Cerska Valley incident(s).

The Popović et al. Trial Chamber found, with regard to Cerska Valley:

Forensic anthropologists later exhumed a mass grave to the southwest of the narrow, unpaved road through Cerska Valley.

Forensic evidence has established that this grave was a primary, undisturbed grave. Among the remains exhumed from that grave, 142 individuals have been identified as persons reported missing following the fall of Srebrenica, based upon DNA analysis. 150 male individuals were exhumed; all but one had died as a result of gunshot wounds. Cartridges found in the grave matched cartridges found along the road and in the vicinity of the gravesite. Based upon this evidence, William Haglund, the forensic anthropologist who led the exhumation, concluded that the victims were lined up along the southern side of the road, while the individuals who shot them were on the northern side of the road shooting the victims in a spraying-type fashion.

Of the 150 bodies recovered from the grave at Cerska, the oldest were in their fifties and the youngest between 11 and 15. A total of 48 ligatures were found in the grave, 24 of them still binding the arms of the victims behind their backs. 147 bodies were dressed in civilian clothing and items of Muslim affiliation, such as prayer beads and pouches and Islamic community papers, were found on nine individuals.

Case No. IT-05-88, Prosecutor v. Popović et al., trial judgment of June 10, 2010, paras. 411-413.

On the other hand, the Trial Chamber in these proceedings (again while not casting in doubt the forensic evidence as such) found that the allegations made in the indictment with regard to the second site that Koff worked on in the Srebrenica area — Nova Kasaba — were not sufficiently sustained by the eye witness testimony it had heard.  (The Karadžić trial chamber a year later convicted Karadžić for the Nova Kasaba killings, relying chiefly on eye witness testimony.)

The Popović et al. Trial Chamber’s evidentiary findings, including those regarding Dr. Haglund’s forensic evidence, were fully upheld by the Appeals Chamber.

The Popović et al. appeals judgment had become binding (i.e. not subject to any further appeal) by the time the Karadžić trial chamber handed down its judgment.


Zdravko Tolimir
Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Security of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) Main Staff — another one of the people chiefly responsible for the crimes committed (inter alia) in the Srebrenica area.  Sentenced to lifetime imprisonment by the Trial Chamber on  December 12, 2012; the sentence was upheld by the Appeals Chamber in its judgment of April 8, 2015.

The Trial Chamber’s findings with regard to the forensic evidence adduced in connection with the Cerska Valley site are essentially the same as those in the Popović et al. proceedings.

Like the Karadžić and Popović et al. Trial Chambers, the Trial Chamber in these proceedings also relied substantially on the evidence collected in the proceedings against, as well as the guilty pleas submitted by perpetrators already adjudicated at this point, such as Drazen Erdemović, Momir Nikolić, and Dragan Obrenović.

Tolimir’s challenge of the evidentiary findings, including the forensic evidence, was rejected by the Appeals Chamber.


Radislav Krstić
Chief of Staff / Deputy Commander — and later Commander — of the Drina Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS).  Sentenced to 46 years’ imprisonment by the Trial Chamber on August 2, 2001; reduced to 35 years on appeal by judgment of 19 April 2004.

The Trial Chamber — while again not casting doubt on Dr. Haglund’s findings as such — did not find sufficient evidence showing that the Drina Corps had been involved in the killings that occurred in the Cerska Valley, so Krstić was not held responsible for these killings.  He was found responsible for killings at other locations, including the Pilica / Branjevo Military Farm, however.  The Trial Chamber’s findings in this regard are similar (albeit somewhat less detailed) than those of the Karadžić Trial Chamber. — The Apeals Chamber knocked Krstić’s level of criminal responsibility down to “aiding and abetting” in light of the fact that the Srebrenica operations were, in large part, directed and overseen by Radko Mladić himself, which resulted in an 11-year reduction of Krstić’s sentence (but given his age at the time, still was equivalent to a life sentence, or substantially as much).


Drazen Erdemović
A soldier in the 10th Sabotage Detachment of the Bosnian Serb Arny (VRS), operating north-west of Zvornik in the Zvornik Municipality of Bosnia and Herzegovina: one of the members of the Pilica Farm firing squad — he personally killed about 70 people — and the first accused to be convicted for these events. Sentenced to a prison term of 5 years; the lenient term having been due to the accused’s substantial cooperation with the prosecution and the Tribunal (including a guilty plea), as well as his (compared with the other accused before the Tribunal) relatively inferior rank and lacking command responsibility.

As the Erdemović judgments were among the first judgments to be handed down by ICTY at all, they were of substantial importance for the later proceedings, both in terms of establishing legal precedents and in terms of the evidentiary findings.  As Erdemović had cooperated with the Tribunal and pled guilty, however, no expert forensic evidence needed to be introduced against him.


Momir Nikolić
Assistant commander for security and intelligence of the Bratunac Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army; sentenced on March 8, 2006 by the Appeals Chamber to 20 years’ imprisonment for, inter alia, his participation in the organization of the killings, as well as the systematic racial / ethnic and religious persecution of Bosnian Muslims in the Srebrenica area.

Like Erdemović, Nikolić pled guilty — but by the time of his proceedings, the Tribunal already disposed of a substantial amount of evidence with regard to the war crimes committed in the Srebrenica area; besides, his responsibility was vastly greater than that of a rank and file soldier such as Erdemović; so his guilty plea just barely succeeded in sparing him a life sentence.  (The Trial Chamber, in its 2003 sentencing judgment, had even imposed a 27 year sentence.)


Dragan Obrenović
Chief of staff and deputy commander of the 1st Zvornik Infantry Brigade of the Drina Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army; briefly in 1995 acting commander of that brigade.  Pursuant to a plea agreement following his guilty plea (substantially for the same or similar crimes as Momir Nikolić), sentenced to 17 years imprisonment by judgment of December 10, 2003.


Vidoje Blagojević and Dragan Jokić
* Vidoje Blagojević (Commander of the Bratunac Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army, which operated in the Bratunac and Zvornik municipalities in eastern Bosnia), sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment

* Dragan Jokić (Chief of Engineering of the Zvornik Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army, which likewise operated in the Bratunac and Zvornik municipalities), sentenced to 9 years’ imprisonment,

both by the appeals judgment of May 9, 2007.

The Trial Chamber in its January 17, 2005 judgment, again while not disputing Dr. Haglund’s expert testimony as such, found insufficient evidence that the two brigades to which these defendants belonged had directly participated in the Cerska Valley and Pilica / Branjevo Military Farm killings (as well as the events at a number of other sites).  The sheer number of war crimes locations in the Srebrenica area, however, virtually guaranteed that something would “stick” after all — and what did stick merited, in the eyes of the Trial Chamber, an 18-year sentence for Blagojević (which the Appeals Chamber knocked down to 15 years) and a 9-year sentence for Jokić (which the Appeals Chamber upheld).  Among the things that did stick (and were confirmed on appeal) was the knowing provision of logistical assistance for the killings at Branjevo Military Farm. — The prosecution, for its part, appealed the dismissal of the case with regard to some of the incidents where the Trial Chamber had not found sufficient evidence for the direct participation of the two defendants’ brigades, but that appeal failed as well.


Overall Review and Comments on the Book’s Other Sections:

Overall Review:


Original post:

Clea Koff: The Bone Woman — Part 2: Kigali (Rwanda)

Reading progress update: 112 of 277 pages.

Second section, Kigali. This part begins with a detail I’d have liked to see mentioned right at the beginning of the book itself: The so-called “Tutsi” and “Hutu” “ethnicity” is anything but that — in fact, it’s not an indigenous African thing at all, but an artificial classification introduced by Rwanda’s European colonial overlords, Germany and Belgium, in the early decades of the 20th century, based on physical features and social criteria (chiefly occupation: rural / agricultural vs. town-dwelling / merchant, as well as family wealth or absence thereof)  — and as a result of intermarriage and changing social structures, by the time of the 1994 genocide it had long outgrown any dubious validity it might ever have had in the past.

Koff is “welcomed” to Kigali by a brutal reminder of the genocide by having to spend her first two nights in a hotel room riddled with bullet holes, in one of the hotels where hunted-down groups of Tutsi had tried in vain to find refuge.  That said, in this section there’s less detail on the victims’ stories, as told by their exhumed remains here — and if the Kibuye section had been like this as well, I’d be complaining about superficial contents in this particular regard, too.  Still, there is this:

“Meanwhile, the skeletons were telling their stories, and they were different stories from those that came oout of the Kibuye church mass grave.  The second skeleton I analyzed, that of an adult male, exhibited all manner of trauma: a fractured mandible, a fractured clavicle, a fractured sternum, bilateral rib fractures, both humerii fractured, and a fractured right foot.  That is, this person was beaten to death and had tried to defend himself in the process.  In contrast, the trauma on the Kibuye bodies had made it hard to picture the violence in the church: how was it that so few people had raised their arms to protect their heads as their assailants approached with upraised blunt and sharp instruments?  The absence of defense wounds gave my image of that massacre an eerie calmness: did people take the blows as though taking the sacrament?  Or had so many people been packed into the church that they couldn’t even raise their arms to protect themselves?  But here in Kigali, this skeleton was telling the story of a person struck on the chin, defending himself from blows to the body and the chest and, probably, blows even after he fell to the ground.  Buried next to him were another man, beaten, and yet another, shot.”

Koff also visits a village named Ntamara where, like in Kibuye, the victims had been herded into the church to be slaughtered there, and where the inside of the church had been made into the gruesomest memorial imaginable, with everything just being left exactly as it had been right after the massacre — with now decomposing corpses lying higgledy-piggledy above, below and next to each other, all across the pews and the ground, and literally rotting right into the church floor, a spectacle filling basically the entire interior of the church — and she wonders whether something very much like this might have been what first confronted the survivors in Kibuye as well, before they decided to bury their dead in the mass grave later exhumed by the experts.  And about yet another visit to the site of a massacre, she relates:

“One of our destinations was a mine that reportedly held remains.  Dean rappelled down the shaft to investigate, while several women came to lie on the grass and watch us.  One of them had a terrible swelling in her leg, encompassing the top of her foot and traveling up her shin and calf.  She explained to Pierre [note: an ICTR investigator traveling with the experts, in part to take witness statements] that during the genocide, her husband had paived five thousand Amafaranga (Rwandan francs) to her would-be killers to save her from being thrown alive into the mine.  The aggressors took her husband’s money but cut her Achilles tendon before they left.  The ankle had been trying to heal itself for almost two years.  She sat on the grass while she talked quietly, and I thought about Kibuye, just as I had at Ntamara.  Here we were, on the other side of the country from the church whose grounds yielded skeletons with deep cut marks on the backs of their ankles, talking to a woman who survived the same kind of assault because her attackers were open to negotiation.  I imagined thousands of such women — and men, and children — across Rwanda, walking with canes or crutches, their skeletonized counterparts half buried in the ubiquitous verdant undergrowth.”

The Kigali team is not as homogeneous in purpose and approach as the one in Kibuye, and consequently it fractures under stress — as is invariably bound to happen in high-stress working conditions like these.  On the other hand, Koff highlights that Kigali was the only site where she experienced a sense of closure at the end, as for once she was able to go through a proper hand-over procedure with the people staying / coming in when she left.

As far as the prosecution side is concerned, the person held criminally responsible for the killings near Amgar garage in Kigali, near which were found the bodies which the Physicians for Human Rights expert team exhumed and examined, was Georges Rutaganda: a prominent businessman and menber of the National and Prefectoral Committees of the political party of President Habyarimana (“Mouvement républicain national pour la démocratie et le développement”, MRND) — the key driving force behind the genocide — as well as second vice president of the National Committee of the MRND’s youth militia, the Interahamwe.

In that latter capacity, Rutaganda had members of the Interahamwe set up a roadblock near Amgar garage, where Tutsi trying to pass were singled out and taken to the garage and killed there.  Other groups of Tutsi were rounded up elsewhere in Kigali and nearby locations and then either likewise taken to the Kigali garage and killed there, or killed on the spot and their corpses were taken to the garage. — Moreover, Rutaganda was one of the chief propagandists of the genocide, using a radio station that he owned.

Georges Rutaganda was sentenced to life imprisonment in December 1999; a sentence affirmed on appeal on May 26, 2003. He died in 2010, while serving his sentence in a Benin prison.

Interestingly, although Drs. Haglund and Peerwani again testified at the trial as to their findings, the ICTR Trial Chamber here did not see itself in a position to establish, with the requisite amount of certainty, a link between the killings described by the witnesses testfying at his trial and the bodies exhumed and examined by the experts team.  I.e., while there was / is no doubt that these people died a violent death, the trial chamber did not find that these were the very victims of the killings which Rutaganda stood accused of having ordered and incited.  Rather, the trial chamber rested his conviction and sentence for genocide and “murder as a crime against humanity” solely on the testimony of the eye witnesses to the events. — The prosecution did not appeal the trial judgment on factual grounds, i.e., with regard to the rejection of Drs. Haglund and Peerwani’s expert testimony (as it could have done: the prosecution’s right to appeal on factual, legal and / or sentencing grounds is a feature that ICTR, ICTY and (I think) International Criminal Court proceedings share with the majority of civil law jurisdictions); they probably concluded that they had secured the maximum sentence, life in prison, either way (and once you reopen factual issues on appeal, you never know whether the whole thing isn’t going to come crumbling all around you after all, even if — like in these proceedings — appeal doesn’t involve a complete review and reassessment from scratch).  That said, the Appeals Chamber — in a majority ruling — did reverse the trial judgment on the one ground of appeal raised by the prosecution; namely, the characterization of certain of the murders as war crimes, and it also unanimously affirmed the life sentence (see above) and rejected the bulk of Rutaganda’s grounds for appeal.

Trial judgment in case no. ICTR-96-3 (Prosecutor v. Georges Rutaganda) here:

Appeals judgment here:

In fact, Koff, in her book, alludes to the experts’ own sense of uncertainty as to the provenance of the victims they had examined: Not only had they failed to identify all but one victim among the several bodies they had worked on; initially, there had also been a certain amount of misdirection as to where “their” bodies were to be found in the first place — indicating that there was no reliable information as to what exactly had happened to the corpses of the people killed at the garage.

Aside from the lack of a sufficient link between the findings of the forensic experts and the crimes specifically before the court, as found by the trials chamber, the appeals judgment in this matter is notable as well, in yet another regard: Rutaganda had appealed his conviction, inter alia, on grounds of witness tampering resulting from too close contact between certain expert witnesses (though not Drs. Haglund and Peerwani) and their team members with several of the “fact witnesses” (eye witnesses) testifying before the Tribunal.  Ultimately, that ground for appeal was rejected, but the Appeals Chamber had to perform quite a close analysis of the evidence to get to that result — and the judgment highlights just how crucial it is for experts (not merely those who will end up actually testifying at trial, but every single member of their team) to be extremely careful when interacting with anybody who might just possibly end up being a witness at trial.  (And to be clear, such interactions may be inevitable to a certain extent, particularly in situations like these where the survivors are literally the only people who can provide the factual information which not only the prosecutors and the court, but also the experts require to be able to do their job properly.)


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Clea Koff: The Bone Woman — Part 1: Kibuye (Rwanda)

Reading progress update: 79 of 277 pages.

A buddy read with Elentarri and Ani.  As Elentarri says in her first reading status update, Clea Koff was a member of a team of forensic anthropologists who worked on several of major war crimes sites in Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, collecting evidence to be used in the trials before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Trbunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Koff doesn’t provide a high degree of scientific detail as to the work of a forensic anthropologist, but enough — and just about the right amount — for a layperson to be able to imagine what that work involves (quite frankly, even based on what she does write, and what I know from other sources, more detail would probably substantially gross me out.  I manifestly do not share her love of “bones”, with or without body tissue attached).  But this, to me, quite frankly isn’t the chief attraction of her book to begin with.  Rather, what she does provide (and what I’d been hoping to get from her book) is a unique first-hand account of literally working “on the ground” of the site of a genocidal massacre: working conditions in general and in particular, nature of the work done, interactions with other U.N. / investigative and police organizations and forces, interactions with victims / survivors, their families and other witnesses (to the extent possible), and obviously the impact of the work on the anthropologist him-/ herself, even if, like Koff, they’re actually doing what they’ve wanted to do their entire life.

Clea Koff was a member of teams that helped gather forensic evidence for several of the really important ICTR and ICTY cases; including:

* KIBUYE CATHOLIC CHURCH; RWANDA (vs. Clément Kayishema & Obed Ruzindana),

* KIGALI GARAGE, RWANDA (vs. Georges Rutaganda),

* SREBRENICA MASSACRE, BOSNIA (vs. Vujadin Popović, Ljubiša Beara, Drago Nikolić, Radivoje Miletić, Vinko Pandurević, Ljubomir Borovčanin, Milan Gvero, as well as Slobodan Milošević, Radislav Krstić, Dražen Erdemović, Momir Nikolić, Dragan ObrenovićZdravko Tolimir, Vidoje Blagojević and Dragan Jokić, and after they had been captured at last, also against  Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić),

* VUKOVAR HOSPITAL, CROATIA (vs. Miroslav Radić, Mile Mrkšić and Veselin Šljivančanin, as well as Slobodan Milošević and Slavko Dokmanović),

* BRČKO CAMP, BOSNIA (vs. Goran Jelisić and Ranko Češić)

* and various war crimes committed in KOSOVO (vs. Slobodan Milošević, Vlastimir Đorđević, as well as Nebojša Pavković, Milan Milutinović, Nikola Šainović, Dragoljub Ojdanić, Nebojša Pavković, Vladimir Lazarević and Sreten Lukić)

(Note: all above links go directly to the relevant ICTR and ICTY case files available online.)

As Koff states, the documentation of war crimes such as genocide by impartial forensic experts is crucial, both in order to preserve an accurate historic record and in order to help convict the perpetrators and make it impossible for them to deny — as they otherwise invariably would — that the crime of which they are accused occurred at all.  To the extent that it is possible to identify the victims, that identification may also help bring closure to their families and loved ones and, ultimately, help foster a return to a peaceful coexistence of the descendants of all sides to the conflict.

In the Kibuye trial — the first genocide case that Koff worked on, which covers the first almost 80 pages of her book — the availability of the forensic anthropological and pathological evidence collected by the team to which Koff belonged had the effect that the two accused (the governor of Kibuye province, Clément Kayishema, and a prominent local businessman) did not even dare dispute the events as such, nor their outcome: the brutal slaying of hundreds of Tutsi, many of them women and children, herded together inside Kibuye Catholic Church, by a mob chiefly consisting of Hutu ad armed predominantly with machetes (as well as the identical massacre of thousands of other Tutsi in other places within Kibuye province).

Rather, the two accused chiefly sought salvation in (1) disputing that they had been present or had directed the massacre, (2) disputing that they had intended for the massacre to happen (i.e. that they had the relevant mens rea), and (3) disputing that the massacre legally qualified as “genocide” under the ICTR statute.  Their defense failed on all grounds, both before the trial chamber and the appellate chamber.  Clément Kayishema’s sentence to life imprisonment was affirmed on appeal — he died in 2016 while serving his sentence in a Mali prison.  His co-defendant Obed Ruzindana’s sentence to 25 years’ imprisonment was likewise affirmed on appeal.

Despite the fact that the Rwanda genocide — including the Kibuye massacre — had received extensive global news coverage, the trial and the appellate chamber in the Kibuye case went to some lengths to first establish that the events (1) in Rwanda generally and (2) in Kibuye specifically (a) really had occurred as stated in the indictment and (b) legally qualified as genocide.  While the bulk of both judgments rests on witness statements establishing the two accuseds’ roles in the events, the trial chamber also extensively restates the forensic evidence given by the leader of Clea Koff’s team, Dr. William Haglund, as well as the team’s leading forensic pathologist, Nizam Peerwan.  Dr. Haglund also described the particular perfidy of the attackers, who would first hobble their already defenseless victims by cutting their Achilles tendons (thus preventing them from fleeing), to only then slaughter them outright:

“Expert witnesses Dr. Haglund, a Forensic Anthropologist, and Dr. Peerwani, a Pathologist, testified regarding the victims of the massacre. Both experts examined cadavers of thousands of people and described how they had been killed. Dr. Haglund testified that he had examined the large mass grave near the Catholic Church along with four additional areas that also contained human remains. Dr. Peerwani examined 122 cadavers during January and February 1996. Now part of the evidence, identification cards found on the victims indicated that they were all Tutsi.

Dr. Haglund’s written report confirms that many people, men, women and children were killed at the Complex. Of the 493 dead examined by Dr. Haglund, only found one gunshot injury. He estimated that 36% of people in the grave had died from force trauma whereas 33% of the people died from an undetermined cause. Dr. Haglund selected an individual as an example who he identified as a fifty year old man. The man’s fibula had been completely severed by some sharp object, which “would have severed the achilles” tendon rendering this individual partially crippled. On the neck region “all the soft tissue from the right side of the neck towards the back would have been cut through” and “a sharp cut mark in the tibia body, and in the inferior border of the scapular shoulder blade, another trauma caused by a blow of a sharp object.” Dr. Haglund concluded that the fifty-year old man was trying to protect himself by presenting different body aspects to the armed assailant. Dr. Peerwani found stab wounds indicating the use of sharp force instruments and confirmed that many of the victims were young children and the old.”

(Case No. ICTR-95-1, Prosecutor v. Clément Kayishema and Obed Ruzindana, Judgment of the Trial Chamber of May 21, 1999, paras. 325-326 (affirmed on appeal June 1, 2001)).


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