Every night for a quarter of a century, Mevludin Oric, 49, can’t fall asleep without remembering the day he survived his execution.
On Wednesday, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic will be handed out the final ruling on his appeal to his 40-year prison sentence from 2016 for war crimes, including the 1995 Srebrenica genocide which Oric miraculously survived.
Oric testified at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 2013 against convicted war criminal Zdravko Tolimir, the former Assistant Commander of Intelligence and Security for the Bosnian Serb army, who was also sentenced for the Srebrenica genocide.
After Bosnian Serb forces overran the eastern Bosnian enclave on July 11, 1995, Oric, along with thousands of men from the town, tried to cross over to nearby Konjevic-Polje. However, that area was blocked off by, as he put it, “nearly soldier standing next to soldier.”
“I tried to cross over in the evening with a group of 13 people, but I wasn’t able to, they captured us,” Oric started the story of his ordeal.
“They took us to Konjevic-Polje, to a storage hall. We were there for a few hours, and after that, they took us to Bratunac, to the ‘Vuk Karadzic’ school,” he said, explaining that he and the rest of the Bosniaks in his group were told they will be exchanged for Serbs in Kladanj.
But when the vehicle turned to the right in Konjevic-Polje, Oric realized that they are not heading towards Kladanj.
“When we came to Drinjaca, they told us to lower our heads and not to look. We arrived in front of a school and they put us in the gym.”
The soldiers kept bringing in more and more people until the hall was filled to the brim. It was so packed with people sitting on the floor that “our knees touched our chins,” he remembered.
“They lined us up like sardines. I estimate that there were about 2,000 people there,” he said.
Some of those in the hall were more than 80 years old, while some were only 14, he said, describing how some fainted and their heads just fell onto the shoulder of the person sitting next to them.
There, Oric said he recognised former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic.
“He didn’t talk to us, he just looked at the hall, from the doorway. He laughed and spoke to one of them (the soldiers). He then left.”
“After 10 or 15 minutes, they told us to get ready and that we are going to the Batkovic prison camp. They ordered us to go one by one, but to crawl, not to get up on our feet,” he said.
Oric remembered the soldiers giving him water and then blindfolding him.
The people were then put on trucks, each carrying about a dozen of them.
“I knew where Bijeljina was and that a truck needs an hour to get there and come back, but they came back after 10 minutes. Then, I hold Haris (his cousin) that this is not good. I told him we were not going to Batkovic,” Oric said.
“I knew they would kill us, but I couldn’t believe they would kill so many people, even an old man, 85 years of age (...) What was he guilty of? He couldn’t even hold a gun in his hands,” he added.
The executions began as soon as the group arrived at a field.
“They told us to line up. I grabbed Aid (a nickname for his cousin Haris). It hit him right away. I saw that nothing hit me, I didn’t feel anything. It hit him and he clenched my hand. I threw myself on my stomach, and he fell onto me. He was shivering, and then he died,” Oric said, describing how he then was left lying in “a sea of dead people” on that July 14th.
The soldiers kept bringing in more and more people and executing them, he said.
“The bullets were whistling by me,” he said.
At one point, Oric heard someone yell ‘There, he is running away.’
“And they began shooting. They said, ‘we killed him’.” he remembered.
If the soldier would find anyone showing signs of life, they would shoot him in the head.
“I told myself, ‘It is over. Let them kill me, so I don’t suffer. I am thirsty, the ants are eating me away (...)’,” he remembered.
Lying among the corpses and pretending to be dead, Oric said he heard heavy machinery and realised the soldiers have begun digging a mass grave.
“I thought to myself that if I survive, and they start pushing the dead into the ground, I will jump up and run - I don’t want to end up buried alive,” he said.
“I heard shots. I heard one of them approaching me,” he said. Oric closed his eyes and waited for the bullet.
“He kicked my foot with his boot. He shot Haris again, then the person who was next to me, and then continued on.”
Oric fainted and woke up in the evening. It was raining.
“I didn’t know where I was. The lights were on. They still kept bringing in more people.”
In the end, he said, one of the soldiers said ‘There are no more of them.’
“They turned off the lights, started their cars, and left. I laid there for another five minutes as I thought that this was their strategy. I couldn’t feel my legs. When I got up and saw the field, I began screaming,’ he said.
He described how bodies were lying everywhere and how he saw another person there, who asked him if he was injured.
“I headed towards him, but I couldn’t stand up without stepping on a body, there was blood everywhere. It was slippery. I had to go on all fours. You had to step on something, an arm, a foot,” he said.
The person Oric approached was Hurem Suljic. The two heard another two people calling out for help. They were injured.
They gave a shirt to one of them and Oric said there was no other way to help him.
“I had not eaten anything in five days, nor did I have a proper sip of water. I barely stood on my feet. The guy we gave the shirt to said, ‘run, brothers’. That was the most difficult thing for me, leaving and letting them behind,” he said.
Oric and Suljic walked for days towards the city of Tuzla.
He said they kept avoiding being trapped five times on the way and reached the village of Nezuk.
Two more people survived this ordeal - a total of four out of more than 1,000 people.
“Since 1995 until today, I cannot fall asleep without thinking about it,” he said.