Archive for May, 2006


May 29, 2006 8 comments

Srebrenica Genocide Denier and Milosevic’s Darling Kicked from French Theatre

Peter Handke - Srebrenica Genocide Denier - Attends Slobodan Milosevic's funeral… and then Awarded $50,000 EURO Literary Price – guess where? – in Germany (country with rich Nazi past, never-ending Holocaust denial, incurable Anti Semitism & Islamophobism). To award Srebrenica Genocide denier with $50,000 is same as awarding Adolph Hitler with Nobel Prize for Peace.

Peter Handke is controversial because of his pro-Milosevic stance during the Balkan wars, and his support for the Serbian regime. Recently, French national theatre Comédie-Française removed the play “Voyage to the Sonorous Land or the Art of Asking” from its 2007 season lineup, after Handke spoke at the burial of former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic in March.

Handke, who lives in France, said in an essay in the French newspaper Libération: “Let’s stop laying the massacre … on the backs of the Serbian military and paramilitary. And listen — at last — to the survivors of the Muslim massacres in numerous Serbian villages around Srebrenica.”

By calling the casualties of eleven Serb civilians in Kravice in 1993 a ‘massacre’, the Austrian playwright Peter Handke is trying to justify all the previous and later slaughters of tens of thousands of Bosniak civilians by Serb forces, including the genocide of 8,106 Bosniak civilians in supposedly UN ‘protected’ enclave of Srebrenica. Of course, this is not the first time this Austrian ‘intellectual’ and Srebrenica Genocide Denier has exercised such extreme views and warped logic in his overly pro-Milosevic stances. What Handke, Milosevic’s darling, does not know is that numbers of alleged Serb victims around Srebrenica were extremely inflated by both Serbian media and Srebrenica Genocide deniers and revisionists. Read Myth About Serb Victims Around Srebrenica and Example of Serbian Propaganda: Rade Rogic and the Effect of Imaginary Serb Soldier.

One of Handke’s greatest plays, The Art of Asking was scheduled by the French public theatre company, the Comédie Française.

Peter Handke - Face of Srebrenica Genocide DenierOn April 29, 2006, the daily Libération reported that Marcel Bozonnet had decided to scrap the play after having read a snippet published on April 6, 2006 in the Nouvel Observateur, a weekly magazine published every Thursday. The snippet called a sifflet (a “whistle”) — by the journalist Ruth Valentini read:

Peter Handke in Pozarevac

“I am happy to be close to Slobodan Milosevic, who has defended his people,” said — in Serb — Peter Handke on March 18 on Liberation Square, in Pozarevac. The guest flaunted his grief along with 20,000 fanatics. Loyal to the “Butcher of the Balkans” and to his own revisionist position, the Austrian writer, author of Justice for Serbia, had come as a “truth seeker.” Thus Handke, for whom “to be pro-Serb is a honorific title,” persists in his defense of “Slobo,” considers that the Serbs are “the real victims of the war,” approves the Srebrenica massacre and other crimes done in the name of ethnic cleansing. Waving the Serbian flag, squeezing forward to touch the hearse and lay his red rose, Handke looks a sorry sight. With his tribute to the despot, the poet has definitively dug the grave of his lost honor.

Deeply disturbed by Valentini’s report, the general administrator reached the conclusion that his personal conscience could not allow him to let Handke’s play be shown at the Comédie Française. He scrapped the play. It was a “personal decision,” said Bozonnet.

Handke, who reduced himself to being Srebrenica Genocide denier, said he was “disgusted” with the decision by company administrator Marcel Bozonnet to pull the play, while Bozonnet shot back that he has been scandalized by the playwright’s eulogy at Milosevic’s graveside. “For my soul and my conscience it was impossible to welcome this person into my theatre,” Bozonnet told a press conference, adding that to host someone’s work in the theatre was “an act of recognition, of love.”
“For three weeks . . . I have been plunged back into the horror of ethnic cleansing,” Bozonnet said as he confirmed that Handke’s Voyage to the Sonorous Land or the Art of Asking would not be staged in January.

Bozonnet took the decision after reading reports about Milosevic’s funeral in Serbia on March 18 at which Handke, 63, gave a eulogy saying he was “happy to be beside Slobodan Milosevic, a man who defended his people.” One wonders who did Milosevic defend his people from when he was the one destroying them?

Bozonnet, who has held the post since 2001 and is hoping to win a second and final term as theatre administrator, denied his decision amounted to censorship.

“This is not censorship. It is one theatre director who has decided not to put on a play, but all the others can stage it. [Handke] is allowed a lot of freedom, so give me some too,” he added.

In his article in Liberation Mr Handke goes on to write: “Let us stop comparing Slobodan Milosevic with Hitler. Let us stop drawing parallels between him and his wife Mira Markovic on one hand, and the Romanian dictator Ceausescu and his wife Elena on the other. And let’s stop calling camps established during the secessionist war in Yugoslavia, concentration camps.”

Those who, unlike Handke, were eyewitnesses to the horrors of Serbian concentration camps in Bosnia, like an American journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Roy Gutman, called these camps concentration camps and death camps.

Following his warped logic, Handke appealed to the wider public to stop making connection between Serbian military and paramilitary forces and slaughters of innocent civilians in Bosnia, including the most notorious one in Srebrenica, where at least 8000 Bosniak civilians, were killed by regular Serb forces under the command of Ratko Mladic.
Bozonnet gave a press conference on May 4, 2006 to expand on his decision:

For three weeks, I reviewed European history, from 1990 to date. I reviewed this terrible film! I reviewed it in my mind, ladies and gentlemen! I plunged back in this horror that ethnic cleansing was, the planning of these facts, of these crimes. I learned about all that Peter Handke had said, which I did not know . . . . I was scandalized by what Peter Handke said. In part I knew it but I did not know the extent: the work of historians systematically questioned, of war correspondents, of your papers, ladies and gentlemen, that have admirably informed us for years, that thanks to their work, their courage, pierced the wall of indifference. This is I found out what Peter Handke ridiculed….These are no longer suppositions, one cannot doubt Milosevic’s actions….it’s unbelievable, he does not know where is the world, he does not know where is the truth, he does not know where is history, he does not believe in the accounts from witnesses: that’s what he said on Milosevic’s grave!

Peter Handke was awarded the city of Düsseldorf’s Heine Prize for literature. The Heine Prize, endowed for 50,000 euros ($64,000), is one of the three highest-paying literature prizes in – guess where? – Germany, country with rich nazi past and never-ending Hitler supremacist nostalgia among young and old. The jury said Handke — like Heinrich Heine, the German poet after whom the prize is named — obstinately follows the way to an “open truth.” He puts forth his own poetic world view, in contrast to broader public opinion, they said.

The prize will be awared on Dec. 13.


May 27, 2006 1 comment
Helping the Children of Srebrenica
World Life Trust aims to heal hearts of refugee youths

By: Asad Yawar (AlexYawar)

Frank and Fiona Klimaschewski near their home in Notting Hill, London July 1995: one of the worst moments in the history of modern Europe unfolds. The United Nations-declared “safe area” of Srebrenica is effectively handed over to advancing Bosnian Serb forces by the Dutch UN contingent entrusted with defending its civilian population.

The result is the continent’s worst massacre since the end of the Second World War. At least 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men – possibly many more – are killed by the Bosnian Serb army, while the women are singled out for rape, and then death. Incredibly, the leader of the Dutch contingent then goes on to drink a toast with general Ratko Mladic, who is in charge of the Bosnian Serb army attacking Srebrenica.

In May 2006, Srebrenica is a long way from most people’s minds. Slobodan Milosevic, whom most commentators agree was the principal mover behind the carnage in the former Yugoslavia, is dead, Ratko Mladic is an indicted war criminal, and peace and some semblance of stability have returned to the region.

But the scars from Srebrenica are still much in evidence amongst those who survived the ordeal. Many of those who lived through Srebrenica were children who are now reaching their late teens. For most of them, prospects of a normal life, including having a job in their native country of Bosnia-Herzegovina, are slim; partaking in the opportunities offered by the dream of European Union membership is even more distant.

But for Anglo-German couple Fiona and Frank Klimaschewski, Srebrenica is still very much a live issue. Their organisation, the World Life Trust (, which is in the final stages of securing full charitable status in the UK, is dedicated to helping the survivors of Srebrenica – notably, those who lost one or more parents in the bloodshed – through organising intercultural exchange programs with youths of similar age from London. World Life Trust’s newest venture along these lines, called PEACE (Peer Education And Cultural Exchange) for East West European Youth, has secured funding from the British Council.

OhMyNews caught up with the Klimaschewskis at their home in London’s eternally trendy Notting Hill, where we talked about the work of the World Life Trust, the current situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and with some trepidation, this summer’s World Cup finals in Germany.

OhmyNews: Bosnia-Herzegovina has been at peace for over ten years now, and the country has started to attract major investment from the likes of Coca-Cola and Siemens. Has this impacted on the lives of the children that you work with, and do they feel more hope than they did a few years ago?

Fiona Klimaschewski: Well, the last time I saw them was in January of last year, and I would say that over the last five years, there’s predominantly been no change in any of their situations. One or two have relatives living abroad in places like Germany, and one family for instance have had a new house built by the brother from income made in Germany. One or two got rehoused in slightly better housing on a rebuilding project in central Tuzla.

But two-thirds of the children come from outlying areas (of Tuzla). Two of the children come from refugee camps, and there’s been absolutely no change in their circumstances, and I would say that it’s actually more hopeless than it was, because after the war there was a hope that things would get better, but so long after the war, when things didn’t get better for them, I think it’s a more hopeless situation.

The teacher project leader, who lives in Tuzla, her job security is much the same; her income is much the same, and she still feels that in order to give her children a chance, she has to leave Bosnia. Most of the children – teenagers they are now, fifteen to seventeen years old – feel that they still need to think in terms of going to another country in order to attain a good standard of living.

Frank Klimaschewski: I think the fact that the children are very keen to come (to England for the program) shows that they are desperate for a change, and that they can be very active themselves once they are given an opportunity, and these opportunities seem to have been lacking so far. Foreign aid has not provided enough opportunities for involving themselves in something constructive.

OhmyNews: As survivors of Srebrenica, the children you work with must be suffering from tremendous psychological trauma. Does this make them harder to work with?

Fiona Klimaschewski: I think on the whole that these particular teenagers that we’ve been working with since 1998, that they’re very courageous. Very few of them are psychologically traumatised in a recognisable way. They obviously carry a sadness; they carry a heavy responsibility, usually and especially the boys. It’s particularly noticeable with those that are only children: sometimes they are the only emotional support to their mothers who’ve lost everyone else. So in that sense they have a great burden on their shoulders.

Emotionally literate: Frank and Fiona Klimaschewski pose with an Emile Zola novelSome of them are the main emotional support for their family, because it was a patriarchal society where the men generally lead. So a lot of the women are very confused and lacking in direction, having lost their husbands, their brothers, their fathers, their sons. But on the whole I’d say that the children were actually surprisingly healthy. That’s the most remarkable thing: that they are very grounded, realistic, hard-working, responsible, amazing teenagers. And that’s what makes them such a joy to work with. They’re not spoilt by consumerism or materialism. They’re grateful; they’re on the whole clever…they’re a real joy to work with.

OhmyNews: Just over ten years ago, Bosnia-Herzegovina was a country split into three. Now the country is rapidly centralising, with one currency, one united football league, one police force and even one army. Do the refugee children feel hopeful about the future for a united and reconciled Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Fiona Klimaschewski: It’s difficult to tell. They tend to shy away from talking about politics of any kind. They don’t want to talk about religion, they don’t want to talk about politics; they are very, very reticent to give you their views. So I’d say on the whole that they keep fairly quiet; that’s a fairly consistent thing with them.

I haven’t talked specifically with them about these questions but I just know that in general they want to…they tend to avoid direct questions and direct answers about religious and political issues.

Frank Klimaschewski: I think that this is just a sore topic with lots of associated disappointment. And it seems that they don’t like to speculate and throw themselves into false hopes. And from what I hear, and from what I know, I can understand why.

Fiona Klimaschewski: One of the things that was happening that affects them very badly was that at one point, the widows’ pensions were not being paid consistently to their mothers. Sometimes, this is the only income that the women have, and they might be keeping three or four children on that widows’ pension, and if it doesn’t turn up – if it’s delayed for administrative reasons – that is really a potential existential crisis as to how they’re going to survive.

A lot of the women were also not trained (professionally or vocationally) and there is not much job training available. A lot of these women were expecting to be housewives. They’re great at making clothes, cooking and basically keeping house whilst the men go out to work, and that’s what they were expecting to do in their lives. And not all of them – in fact, very few of the mothers are trained. And for that reason, they end up being absolutely, totally dependent on these widows’ pensions which have, as I say, been inconsistent…

Frank Klimaschewski: …which (amounts to) borderline abuse. That may be a bit harshly formulated, but the official side, the local government, is acting irresponsibly, and it raises some kind of suspicion, too, as to where their interests lie…

OhmyNews: So much has happened since the end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995. We’ve had the war between Serbia and NATO in Kosovo, we’ve had 9/11, we’ve had military conflict in Afghanistan and now Iraq. Is the world in danger of forgetting about Bosnia?

Fiona Klimaschewski: Yes. I think in general, people do find it hard to relate to the Bosnian teenagers because they’re not in a…(or rather) they appear not to be in a life-threatening situation, but indeed some of them are. It’s just a different kind of threat: the threat of hopelessness, and despair, and depression, and (the feeling of there being) no future, especially for those that are in some of the smaller, outlying areas of the smaller towns.

One teacher was (recently) telling me that her weekly wage is (the value of) a London Underground weekly travel ticket. Wages have not risen that much (since the end of the war).

Frank Klimaschewski: Europe might be missing its chance to really clean up its backyard, and it lacks the will to face the legacy that it will have for the future.

OhmyNews: What is the best thing about working with these children?

Fiona Klimaschewski: That no matter how much you put into it, you always get more out of it. In terms of relationships, the relationships with them are very trusting. They put a lot of trust in us, and they put a lot of faith in us, and we kind of represent a hope to them. They’re very grateful, and we hope that some of these teenagers will form teams that will work with and train other teenagers in cultural diversity workshops.

Frank Klimaschewski: It’s a grassroots feel, it’s a grassroots approach, I think, towards a form of practical integration in an underdeveloped European region.

Fiona Klimaschewski: It’s also amazing to see that young people who have had every conceivable trauma thrown at them – lost male members of the family, landed up in refugee camps with basically nothing, with very few resources, tend to be A-grade students, working really hard and still giving it their all. They’re incredibly rewarding to work for. They’re very loving, they’re very open, very pure-hearted teenagers.

And they’re quite an amazing contrast to a lot of the young people who are, say, in central London, a city that has everything, where people will have everything and yet are spiritually impoverished. The Srebrenica children are impoverished in a monetary, economic sense but they’re not impoverished spiritually. And that’s the other reason it’s so incredible to work with these teenagers, that…the whole experience is just an unfolding of amazing knowledge.

OhmyNews: What kind of things does your organisation need donations for?

Fiona Klimaschewski: The British Council funding that we have has taken care of all the basic needs like flights, accommodation and basic travel costs for our first project (London, July 21-31, 2006). So donations from now on would essentially be used to do some slightly more ambitious things with them. For example, we wanted to give them opportunities to photograph and record their own visits, make up journals. We wanted to do some slightly different things with them: maybe take them to Oxford, let them see another city outside of London.

We also want to take them on a tour of London, and just show them the diversity of the city, from Canary Wharf to Green Park; from Buckingham Palace to Shepherd’s Bush. To show them the diversity of one city. Because Tuzla, where most of the teenagers come from, is quite consistent: it doesn’t have that kind of variety.

Frank Klimaschewski: Over centuries, Bosnia-Herzegovina has been a model for various cultures to coexist side-by-side, tolerating each other, and this has been forgotten. And we think that these youngsters will see and (re-)discover in London a multi-cultural life that was once outstanding in the Balkans, as well as in the southern part of Europe, like Spain.

The “open society” that we now have lacks a certain awareness. It’s in danger of disintegrating because of its materialistic focus. Whereas in the Balkans, the focus was definitely based on understanding, evaluating, tolerating: a very practical way of coexisting and sharing. And I think these children need to teach us this very simple way of living that can still be experienced in the Balkans today.

Fiona Klimaschewski: Sarajevo was in the past an example of strong identities, strong cultural identities living side-by-side and relating to each other. And there’s something to be said for that: that identity is not a disease and (different) national identities can coexist and people can coexist with diversity, and we don’t have to get rid of all the differences in order to lead good lives, lives where there is respect and recognition and where diversity is not a bad thing.

One of the things that’s happening with this project is that the London youth (co-hosting the Srebrenica teenagers) are aged between sixteen and twenty-two. They are from different ethnic minorities and British as well; they’re very mixed, they’re a very diverse group of London youth, and that’s going to be one of the themes of the project, how they will meet each other. A lot of these Bosnians have never met people from Asian cultures. Some of the youth are from Bangladesh, some of the youth are from Pakistan, some of the youth are from the Middle East, some are of white English origin.

So there’s quite a lot of diversity within the group and some of the Bosnians will be meeting this kind of diversity for the first time.

It’s important for them and all of us to see that problems exist through the actions of human beings, not culture. In other words, intolerance is a phenomenon transcendent of culture: it’s not based on you being Bosnian, or Bangladeshi, or anything like that. It’s a human problem – not a cultural problem.

OhmyNews: What future projects is your organisation undertaking?

Fiona Klimaschewski: World Life Trust has three projects. One is an orphans’ project, which is for much younger children, one is this youth project for teenagers and young adults, and one is a medical project. We have contacts worldwide with various schools, youth organisations etc., and we want this to be an ongoing program that works two or three times a year. We’ve already located youth in Chechnya, Afghanistan, the Tsunami disaster area, especially Sri Lanka, so we hope to repeat this project maybe once more before the end of this year. But we’d like it to be an ongoing project.

Also the international youth project will hopefully train a team: we’re hoping that some of the Bosnians from this program and some of the English youth from this program will get together and form a team that goes on to work in Bosnia-Herzegovina with this multi-cultural diversity workshop program. And maybe working in other parts of Europe, we’d like to involve maybe youth from Germany, from France, from different European countries – and this trend is something that the British Council are promoting – and finding other organisations that we can work with.

The orphan project is a different type of project. It involves much younger children, aged seven to twelve; the oldest is twelve years old. And those are orphans, all of having lost one or both parents in war or disaster. And those orphans, we hope to bring to London and possibly a centre in Europe. We’re trying to build a centre in Europe to accommodate those orphans and invite people to act as host families and keep the orphans for a period in the summer where they will have medical attention and a lot of care and recovery and rehabilitation from what they’ve been through.

We’re hoping to do that next year. We’re hoping to have the first orphans, approximately ten orphans from various countries next year for a summer program, and we’re looking for funds for that too.

Frank Klimaschewski: Project number three is the medical project. It’s in accordance with our organisation’s overall aim to conduct, procure or commission research programs that relate to relief of distress and hardship, and promote the quality of life in any country. We are looking into the health effects of environmental pollution, as well as strategies for civil protection. We hope to contribute towards greater transparency with regards to subjects like radiation contamination, and possibly CBRN emergency preparedness strategies for urban civilisations in particular.

Fiona Klimaschewski: So of the three projects, the donations are basically to continue the youth programs with different countries, maybe slightly bigger programs; the orphans project, which is bringing orphans to London, Europe for a rehabilitation program; and the medical project which is basically to fund scientific research and fund the attending of conferences and to publish that research.

OhmyNews: This is a project with a lot of implications for conflict areas in other parts of the world. Would you say it has relevance for the problems between North Korea and South Korea? Do you think that a similar kind of program would meet with success there, and in this respect, is your project a model?

Fiona Klimaschewski: I think it can be, definitely. Especially the multicultural diversity theme of these workshops can only be developed and expanded on. And it could very well become a model for any situation where there’s been separation and division and conflict. Conflict resolution is part of the workshop program.

OhmyNews: Finally, you’re that rarest of things, an Anglo-German couple. The World Cup finals are being held this summer in Germany. Will there be any disputes in the Klimaschewski household if England meet Germany?

Fiona Klimaschewski: We don’t have a television! (Laughs.) So as an act of generosity, I don’t mind if Germany win!

Frank Klimaschewski: I am absolutely open for any outcome. (Laughs.) And I will not hold it against my wife (if England win). But I think we will be busy with other things. (Laughs.) Mostly with the youth that are going to come. But they may bind us to watching the live games.

Fiona Klimaschewski: It happens to be the World Cup the week that the youth are here, so we might have to…

Frank Klimaschewski: …submit to the youths’ ambitions!



May 18, 2006 1 comment

Tales of atrocity from the grave
Richard Wright
May 17, 2006

This is an edited version of a May 11 speech at the Sydney Jewish Museum, Darlinghurst, for the opening of the permanent exhibition Serniki: Unearthing the Holocaust.

Srebrenica Massacre: DNA identification of over 8,000 Bosniaks who were killed during Srebrenica Genocide. (Photo:

BOSNIAN writer Mesa Selimovic opens his book The Fortress with a paragraph on remembering atrocity. “I can’t tell you what it was like, not because I don’t remember but because I will not; best to forget,” Selimovic writes. “Let people’s memory of all that’s ugly die, so children may not sing songs of vengeance.”
Well, yes and no. If we remember in such a fashion that revenge regenerates mass killing, then yes, I agree with the forgetting. But if we are supposed to leave buried all traces of atrocious killings, then I say no.
We should look at the material evidence of the bodies.
A US colonel from the Kalesija camp in eastern Bosnia came to me in 1998. He wanted his peacekeeping soldiers to see the bodies in one of the Srebrenica graves, to see the civilian clothes, the blindfolds, the wrists ligatured behind backs. “Now my soldiers will know why they are in Bosnia,” he said.
Without the material evidence of the Holocaust, the deniers of the Holocaust can set up a contest where we argue over the meaning of lines of text in historical documents and argue over the integrity of people’s memories. Of course scholarship and memories are critical. But we also need to look at the powerful evidence of the bodies.
They are there, somebody shot them. They demand an explanation. And explanations must come through the eyes of unbiased forensic professionals.
Now forensic professionals keep their emotions hidden. But this is an occasion for me to open a gap in the curtain or perhaps a gap in the back of the wardrobe now that Narnia is in fashion.

So I shall start by pre-empting a question: How can I bring myself to do this sort of work? The question is often coupled with the bemused comment that I look quite a normal person. Well, I have to unravel into two strands: How do I feel about uncovering the dead and the evil context in which they lie and how do I feel about the living relatives of the dead that I uncover?

My answer to the first question may sound callous. My answer is that the work is often dangerous and disgusting but, frankly, it is not distressing; not emotionally distressing in a way that would keep a psychological counsellor in business.
Indeed, counsellors can be a disruptive nuisance when managers inflict them on professionals in my line of work. Their presence implies that we have undergone some sort of appalling stress. In fact we haven’t undergone stress.
And there’s the rub, as Hamlet says, because maybe I should feel guilty because I haven’t felt upset. Maybe I should feel guilty because I have found the work interesting. Maybe I should feel guilty because I have enjoyed camaraderie with others in my team. Maybe I should feel guilty about the occasional black humour.
So please save teams such as mine from counsellors and let counsellors apply their efforts to those who have had sudden and unexpected emotional trauma. We have not had sudden and unexpected emotional trauma. We start each job slowly, prepared for the worst.
Stress for me as a forensic archeologist comes long before the bodies are uncovered. Stress comes at the start of the field work: Am I going to find the grave? Am I going to let down the waiting team? Am I going to let down the case investigators who have invested months of work looking into the background to the killing.? Am I going to let down the people at head office in Sydney or The Hague?
That’s where stress comes to me. In contrast, the finding of the grave and the bodies is a release from stress. The routine work can begin.
Then we move on to the second question. To deal with relatives and friends of the dead is inescapably disturbing to the emotions and full of stress.
So we come to the woman in a red coat. It happened thus. On July 16, 1990, we had finished our excavation (at Serniki, in northwest Ukraine, the site of a massacre of up to 850 Jewish men, women and children in 1942). We had finished our anthropological analysis, finished recording the cause and manner of death. The bodies in the grave waited for the ceremony of reburial.

Out of the woods, like deer, emerged a few hundred villagers from Serniki. They stood uncertainly around the grave. Some Jews from Rovno gathered inside the grave with shovels. An American rabbi studying in Minsk conducted the ceremony. That was the moment when the technical team felt awkward and unnecessary. A new regime had taken over.
Suddenly the woman in a red coat started wailing by the graveside. Who was she? Our interpreter found out that her family was in the grave; she had been away on the day of the murders in 1942.
So in the previous weeks we had been handling the bones and soft tissue of her parents and siblings. We didn’t know who they were, of course. All the bodies had been merely catalogue numbers to us, analysed for age and sex, and with an attached list of gunshot and blunt instrument injuries.
The woman in a red coat forced emotions to slip out from behind the curtains of the professional workers.
Sonia, my professional colleague and wife, felt helpless at this moment. She vowed that she would let the world know what had happened to the people in the grave.

This exhibition is one of the fulfilments of that promise.
In 1991 we returned to Ukraine to the mass grave at Ustinovka. This site also dated from 1942. The genocide there had a particularly atrocious component. Shot first were 140 adults. Then 20 children were brought in a cart to the grave. They were thrown in and those whose necks were not broken were shot as they lay in a crumpled heap. That’s what the witnesses said. That’s what our excavations revealed.
After three weeks we had finished our work. The bones of the children were returned to the bottom of the grave and the grave remained temporarily open.
Villagers from Israelovka came to see this appalling sight. They came in buses, with headscarves and bunches of flowers. It was too much for me. This was their moment. I hid in the tent.

Emotions also slip out when the remains in the ground become personalised. An example. The time was 10 years after Serniki. I was working on the Srebrenica massacre at the site of Glogova. Hundreds of men and boys had been forced into the Kravica warehouse in July 1995. Grenades and machineguns killed them.
I had already worked for four years in Bosnia. I had no experience of being unable to cope with my emotions.
Until … at Glogova we opened a wallet of a once living person. Now he was reduced to a pair of jeans and a denim jacket, filled with shattered bones, mummified flesh and hair. Inside the wallet was a licence, with a smiling Polaroid photo of the young owner of the wallet. I looked at his date of birth. I said to my scene of crime officer: “This lad is the same age as my daughter; I mean, was the same age.”
That “was the same age” was too much for the emotions. I had to take deep breaths and go for a walk in the abandoned orchards before returning to work.
On my way back I bumped into the officer in charge of the US troops guarding us. “Those are terrible things you are making us look at, sir,” he said. That comment started me off again and I had to walk the reverse route through the orchards back to the site.
We forensic archeologists and anthropologists are not as unemotional as the performance artists standing as frozen statues at Circular Quay, Sydney. But we must not let our emotions get in the way of a detached analysis of the evidence.

Editor’s note: The only man to be tried for European war crimes in Australia, Ivan Polyukhovich, was acquitted in 1993 of being knowingly involved in the Serniki murders. He died in 2004.


May 15, 2006 2 comments


Research & Documentation Center

Research and Documentation Center, Bosnia-Herzegovina

The allegations that Serb casualties in Bratunac, between April 1992 and December 1995 amount to over three thousand is an evident falsification of facts. The RDC’s [Research and Documentation Center] research of the actual number of Serb victims in Bratunac has been the most extensive carried out in Bosnia and Herzegovina and proves that the overall number of victims is three to nine times smaller than indicated by Serbia and Montenegro .
Perhaps the clearest illustration of gross exaggeration is that of Kravica, a Serb village near Bratunac attacked by the Bosnian Army on the morning of Orthodox Christmas, January 7, 1993 . The allegations that the attack resulted in hundreds of civilian victims have been shown to be false. Insight into the original documentation of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) clearly shows that in fact military victims highly outnumber the civilian ones. The document entitled “Warpath of the Bratunac brigade”, puts the military victims at 35 killed and 36 wounded; the number of civilian victims of the attack is eleven.
In addition to information received from relatives and family members of the victims and inspection of cemeteries, RDC has collected all existing primary sources, official documents and documentation of RS Ministry of Defense and Bratunac brigade of VRS, as well as research by the Serb authors. The victims have been categorized on the basis of two time-related criteria: the first was the municipality of residence at the time of the beginning of war; the second was the municipality of premature and violent death.
After all the sources have been processed, cross-referenced and reviewed, the results showed that 119 civilians and 424 soldiers classified in the first group died in Batunac during the war. Under the second category the number of civilians is somewhat higher (119) whereas the number of soldiers is 448. The result demonstrates that 26 members of other VRS units other than Bratunac brigade of VRS fought and died in combat in the municipality of Bratunac .
RDC inspection of the military cemetery in Bratunac showed that of 383 victims buried it is impossible to ascertain the exact cause of death for 63 victims, even though they may have died during the war. In addition, 139 victims who have lived elsewhere at the time of the outbreak of war and died in fighting either in their places of residence or elsewhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are now buried in Bratunac military cemetery. 48 victims buried in Bratunac fought and died in Hadžići; 36 fought and died in Srebrenica; 34 and died in Vogošća; 3 in Konjic and 3 more in Ilijaš; 2 fought and died in Sarajevo, two more in Ilidža; one in Trnovo, Pale and Tuzla each.
Of the remaining victims from outside Bratunac one lived in Kiseljak, but died in Hadžići; one lived in Srebrenica and died in Jajce; three lived in Travnik and died in Hadžići, three lived in Ilidža and died in Hadžići, nine lived in Sarajevo and died in Hadžići, one lived in Hadžići and died in Vogošća, one lived in Zenica and died in Vogošća, one lived in Zenica and died in Srebrenica. Furthermore, one victim lived and died in Tuzla , one lived in Bosanski Brod and died in Olovo, one lived in Srebrenica and died in Bihać. Lastly, two individuals who lived in Kakanj and died in Hadžići are buried in the military cemetery in Bratunac, one who lived in Hadžići and died in Ilidža, two who lived in Vitez and died in Hadžići; four residents of Konjic who died in Hadžići, two residents of Pale who died in Hadžići, seven residents of Zenica who died in Hadžići, one resident of Vareš and one resident of Kakanj, who both died in Ilijaš.
The number of victims from Central Bosnia buried in Bratunac is consistent with the population movements after the war, especially the Serb population from the suburbs of Sarajevo . Under the Dayton Peace Accords, the suburbs of Sarajevo held by the VRS were to be re-integrated into the city of Sarajevo . The then leadership of the RS called on the local Serb population to leave Sarajevo and even take the graves of their loved ones with them. In fact, such a large majority followed the instructions that parts of the city of Sarajevo remained deserted for months. The remnants of their loved ones have been buried in Bratunac after the war, but their deaths are presented as the result of actions taken by the Bosnian Army units from Srebrenica.
As importantly, a number of foreign nationals (mainly from Serbia and Montenegro and Croatia) are included in the overall figure of Serb victims in Bratunac. At least 15 such individuals lost their lives in Bratunac as a result of fighting; it may be of some significance that all of them were members of a paramilitary group that arrived to Bratunac in April 1992, upon invitation of Bratunac Serb Democratic Party and in coordination with the State Security Service of Republic of Serbia (see testimony of Miroslav Deronjić, President of Municipal Board of SDS Bratunac, at International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia). Some of those individuals are Vesna Krdžalić, Dragica Mastikosa, Aleksandar Grahovac and Sreto Suzić who all died in combat on May 29, 1992 . Subsequently, they were all classified as “victims of Muslim terror” by the RS authorities. However, individuals from Serbia continued arriving to Bratunac throughout the year 1992, if the death records of the Bratunac brigade are to be trusted: one such individual died in fighting in August (Žarko Komnenski) and one more in November (Đuro Vujaklija). Furthermore, death records show that “volunteers” arrived from Serbia to Bratunac even in 1993, such as Dragan Milićev, who died in combat in January 1993 and Dragoslav Stanković who died in February 1993.


May 15, 2006 Comments off

Comment: Revisionism Will Cripple Bosnia’s Future

The West’s commentators must not forget or dismiss the suffering caused during the wars if reconciliation is ever to be possible.
By Nerma Jelacic in Sarajevo
Portraits of Bosniaks, victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, are displayed in the town of Tuzla. Photo: Reuters“Thank you for making me realise that I have to deal with my past if I want to have a future,” Satko Mujagic told me on a hot, Bosnian August afternoon.
We were standing on the very spot where, 12 years ago, he lay beaten, bloodied and blinded by dysentery – waiting for a final bullet from a guard who was shouting at him nearby.
We were standing on the site of the infamous Omarska concentration camp.
Not far from us a ten-year-old boy walks up to my companion on this trip, tugs his sleeve and asks, in English, “Are you Ed Vulliamy?” When the man nodded yes, the child said shyly, “Thank you for saving my father’s life,” before turning back to the security of his mother’s arms.

It is no exaggeration to say that this family unit is together thanks to the journalist Ed Vulliamy, a man I am privileged to call my friend, and who is viewed as a saviour by hundreds of other Bosnians.
For Vulliamy and the ITN crew he was with in August 1992 focused the world’s attention on the existence of Serb-run concentration camps where men and women were raped, tortured, humiliated and killed in a way that could only have come from the darkest corner of the human mind.
Had these abuses not been exposed, perhaps Satko’s two-year-old daughter would not now be carelessly skipping around and picking flowers on the patch of grass on which her father once lay bleeding and in despair.
Mujagic thanked me for a very specific reason. The previous evening, when I asked him if he would accompany us to a commemoration ceremony that was being held in the Omarska mines, he said he didn’t want to come. Like many Omarska survivors, he said he would rather forget about what happened there than be reminded of it.
“I don’t want to go to that place ever again,” he said.
I felt he was wrong to take this stance and tried to convince him otherwise. Over the past year, having spoken to survivors of the war from every corner of Bosnia and Herzegovina and from different ethnic backgrounds, I have come to realise that the past cannot be forgotten.
For the way the past is addressed determines the way in which the future will unfold. Burying it somewhere at the back of our consciousness only increases the possibility that the same animosities may erupt to the surface again.
I now know, through my own feelings and those of my family, friends and countless encounters with those who lived through even worse horrors, that the only way to move on is to face the past – to deal with all its ugliness and horror – in order to be able to achieve that level of consciousness when a clean break can be made.
Burying or distorting the past is counterproductive.
I did not expect Mujagic to be swayed by my argument, but to my surprise, the following morning, he knocked on the door of the women’s refuge house where I was staying and with trepidation in his eyes and his future – his daughter – in his arms said they would both come with us.
Not long after, I encountered a different group of Omarska’s victims.
I climbed down into a three metre deep mass grave, and stood among piles of human bones, clothes and watches, staring down at skeletal heads whose jaws were frozen in an everlasting grimace of pain. Days after the grave was unearthed, that distinctive smell of decay still lingered in the air. The remains of 175 camp inmates, buried twelve years ago, have so far been recovered from this pit.
A few days later, Satko’s story was among those touched upon in an emotional and thought-provoking article by Vulliamy that was published by IWPR – see Comment: We Must Fight for Memory of Bosnia’s Camps – in which he argued that the Omarska camp should be preserved as a monument to the horror that occurred there.
Vulliamy’s piece was republished in Bosnian in the Sarajevo weekly Slobodna Bosna, and subsequently sparked a much-needed local debate about how the memory of the camps should be preserved.
Other local media visited the camp site and its survivors, some even interviewed owners of the company that wanted to privatise the mine within which the camp was located. They too were open to suggestions about just how they could preserve the memory of the not so distant past.

For the memories are still fresh and true reconciliation impossible until the past is properly addressed – by all. The victims. The perpetrators. The observers.

Our trip to Omarska was not accidental. The idea came about earlier this year when Vulliamy was trying to think of a suitable way to mark his 50th birthday. I had for some time by then been trying to get him to revisit Bosnia, to be witness to the changes that have taken place since his last trip in 1996.
I hope Vulliamy will not mind me saying so, but I feel that he also was trying to escape from the past. What he saw and lived through would have left a scar on anyone. And the momentous discovery he made at Omarska and Trnopolje – another camp only a few kilometres away – was a heavy burden to carry for 12 years.
“Omarska has haunted me ever after,” he wrote in his article. “I kept meeting survivors or relatives of the dead; in trenches during what was left of the war, across the diaspora and in The Hague where they (and I) came to bear witness.”
It was particularly important for Vulliamy to come here again – to remind himself of the horrors he had witnessed – because of a small but persistent group of revisionists who have repeatedly challenged what he saw that day back in 1992.
After Vulliamy and the ITN camera crew reported what they saw, the UK’s Living Marxism magazine claimed that the camps captured by ITN cameras – and brought to life in Vulliamy’s article – were fabricated.

[ Daniel’s note: Note that The Living Marxism magazine was launched in 1988 as an outlet for the Revolutionary Communist Party, a bizarre controversialist sect which split from the “International Socialists” in the 1970s. Soon the Revolutionary Communist Party was collapsed into Living Marxism, which, hovering between three different parent companies, later changed its name to LM. ]

ITN subsequently sued Living Marxism for libel and won, and the magazine collapsed under the cost of the damages they were ordered to pay.
But Living Marxism’s defeat did not deter a fringe group of die-hard Serb apologists in western Europe and the United States who have been remarkably successful in keeping their version of revisionist history alive.
Proponents of Living Marxism’s stance argue that the West conspired against Milosevic in order to destroy the “the last standing socialist bastion in Europe”.
Apart from being false, such claims are detrimental to the process of reconciliation in Bosnia.
In his IWPR article, Vulliamy recounted how a Swedish magazine called Ordfront, or Word Front, carried an interview last year with Diane Johnstone, author of “Fool’s Crusade”, a book that questioned the number of victims of the Srebrenica massacre, the authenticity of the Racak massacre in Kosovo, the use of rape as a tool of war in Bosnia, and the number of people killed throughout the war in Bosnia.

[ Daniel’s note: For Srebrenica Massacre 101, click here ]

He then expressed his profound disappointment that “members of the chattering classes, unbelievably, have hailed this poison as ‘outstanding work’, in a letter signed by, among others, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Tariq Ali, John Pilger et al”.
It is not hard to understand Vulliamy’s frustration. In her book, Johnstone claims Milosevic did not preside over a campaign of ethnic cleansing, but rather that he was advocating ethnic tolerance and harmony amongst Yugoslavia’s peoples.
She also casts doubt on the generally accepted figure (as noted, for example, by the Red Cross) of nearly 8,000 killed in Srebrenica, claiming the number is “inflated”. She further argues that what happened in Srebrenica was not genocide. “One thing should be obvious,” she writes. “One does not commit ‘genocide’ by sparing women and children.”

[ Daniel’s note: Facts: 8,106 Bosniaks Killed during Srebrenica Massacre ]

If anyone wanted more proof that these claims were false, they could look to the case of Radislav Krstic, the Bosnian Serb general who was convicted of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for the crimes committed in Srebrenica.
Or they might look to the 2002 confession by the former Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic, who admitted that her government carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
They might even have looked to the admission earlier this year of the massacre in Srebrenica which finally came from the government of Republika Srpska itself, at the same time revealing the existence of 32 new mass graves.
If the perpetrators themselves are ready to admit the atrocities they committed, why is it so difficult for armchair commentators to do the same?
Johnstone’s book has inflicted new pain on those who matter the most: those who underwent endless days of mindless torture and survived; on the brave and almost forgotten women of Srebrenica who are still desperately searching for their loved ones; and dishonours the memory of the victims.
But by questioning the established facts, she is also damaging Bosnia’s chances for reconciliation by giving credibility to revisionists who don’t want to acknowledge their wrongs.
Following public outrage over the Ordfront interview, the magazine apologised for the pain caused. But the resulting infighting over the decision led to a split in the editorial board, and the removal of the editor.
This prompted a group of several well-known intellectuals, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Tariq Ali, John Pilger to sign an open letter to the Ordfront board, referred to earlier, denouncing the magazine for “censorship”.
“We regard Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade as an outstanding work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition,” they wrote.
Less then a week after this letter was mentioned in Vulliamy’s article for IWPR, Ali sent a message to Slobodna Bosna insisting instead that the letter was a simple denunciation of censorship, not an endorsement of Johnstone’s views.
That may be, but that is certainly not how it was interpreted by Vulliamy or Bosnia’s victims.
In a response to Ali’s denial, Quentin Hoare sent a letter to Slobodna Bosna supporting Vulliamy and denouncing Ali’s claims.
Hoare’s letter is bound to provoke further denials and attacks from the revisionists.
It is surprising how hard it is for grown men and women to admit they made a mistake, let alone to apologise.
Yet instead of the probable tirade of denial and counter accusations likely to be provoked by this comment article and Hoare’s letter to Slobodna Bosna, perhaps the esteemed thinkers of the West can make amends.
Perhaps such commentators can show the victims, the survivors and their families that they are not living in a merciless unfeeling world.
They should realise that their words have reopened deep wounds and instead of poring salt on them they should help heal them – by apologising.
They should accept that their words lend credibility to radical nationalists who remain active in Republika Srpska and who are still calling for ethnic and territorial division in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
They should understand how their continuing revisionism over the past still, today, clouds the future for people like Mujagic’s little daughter, the future of the grateful young boy I wrote about at the beginning of this article, the future of all Bosnia’s children.

Nerma Jelacic, IWPR’s Bosnia and Herzegovina project manager, wrote this article in a personal capacity. Comments to – Originally published October 01, 2004 – IWPR.


May 10, 2006 Comments off

Bosnia war crimes court opens first genocide trial

SARAJEVO – Bosnia’s war crimes court on Tuesday launched the trial of 11 Bosnian Serbs charged over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosniaks, its first genocide trial since it opened last year.
The former army officers and special policemen are accused of killing over 1,000 Bosniak men aged between 16 and 60 while they were trying to escape the eastern United Nations-protected enclave on July 13, 1995.
Prosecutor Ibro Bulic said 8 of the men fired their machine guns at the prisoners, one threw hand grenades at them and another reloaded the ammunition.
The victims were first buried in a nearby mass grave and transferred to Glogova and Zeleni Jadar mass grave sites two weeks later in order to hide the crime, Bulic said. Some bodies were found after the 1992-95 war.
“The prosecution will ask the court to declare these men guilty so that a small step towards meeting justice can be made,” Bulic said in his introductory remarks.
Milenko Trifunovic, one of the men accused of firing his machine gun, and Milos Stupar, commanders of two special police squads engaged in the operation, were charged with individual criminal responsibility for failing to intervene and protect the prisoners.
The 11 accused were arrested last year and all have pleaded not guilty to the charges.Their indictment brings to 36 the number of those charged for the Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.
The U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague has also charged 19 people for the massacre. Six have been convicted and nine are on trial or awaiting trial.
The masterminds, Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic, remain at large nearly 11 years after being indicted.

Related links:


May 9, 2006 Comments off

Bosnian Serb Deported after Lying on Immigration Paperwork

PHOENIX – A former member of the Serbian army who concealed his military service to qualify for refugee status in the United States has been removed to his native country of Bosnia-Herzegovina by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Raiko (Rajko) Ninkovic, 63, was returned to Bosnia May 5, nearly four months after being named in the first judicial order of removal ever entered by the U.S. District Court in Arizona. That order came as part of a plea agreement between Ninkovic, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, and ICE. The agreement also required Ninkovic to give up his refugee status and agree to be removed to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Ninkovic was charged with lying on his application for refugee status in 1998 when he stated he had never served in the Serbian military.

A refugee fraud investigation conducted by ICE revealed that Ninkovic had been a member of the 1st Infantry Battalion of the 1st Bratunac Light Infantry Brigade of the Drina Corps, which has been implicated in war crimes and genocide related to the Srebrenica massacre that occurred in July 1995 in the former Yugoslavia.

Due to the atrocities committed during the Bosnian conflict in the early 1990s, some people from this region who claim refugee status in the United States hide the details of their military service.

Ninkovic was one of 13 Bosnian Serbs in the Phoenix area indicted last year on federal criminal charges for failing to disclose on their immigration paperwork that they previously served in the Serbian military.

While Ninkovic is the first to be removed, the 12 others also face eventual deportation. The investigation leading to the arrests was conducted by ICE and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.



May 8, 2006 Comments off

Prosecution Wants Srebrenica Suspect Tried in Bosnia

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Prosecutors have asked for the case against Milorad Trbic, a former Bosnian Serb soldier currently awaiting trial in The Hague on genocide charges relating to Srebrenica, to be transferred to the Bosnian court system.
Trbic had been expected to stand trial before the tribunal in August or September this year, along with seven others accused of involvement in the executions of thousands of Bosniak men and boys after Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serb army in July 1995.
But in her latest submission published on May 4, Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte argues that transferring his case to Sarajevo would ease the strain on the court’s resources, which have been “expanded to the maximum” to handle the planned joint trial. To date, the largest trials in The Hague have involved no more than six defendants.
Del Ponte also notes that sending Trbic to Bosnia would make room for higher-ranking officers to be added to the joint Srebrenica trial in The Hague. The indictment against Trbic and his co-accused includes a ninth suspect, Bosnian Serb general Zdravko Tolimir, who remains on the run. Prosecutors have also said former army chief Ratko Mladic could be added to the joint trial if and when he is taken into custody.
The tribunal’s rules require that decisions on whether to refer cases to other courts must take into account the gravity of the crime in question and the level of responsibility attributed to the accused.
While Del Ponte acknowledges that the crimes committed at Srebrenica were “of the greatest magnitude”, she argues that Trbic held a low rank at the time and had “minimal authority”.
Del Ponte is also asking that the Bosnian authorities to be given a chance to present their own views on the matter to the Hague court.
Prosecutors have previously said that Trbic has implicated several of his co-accused in the Srebrenica crimes – both in testimony he gave in separate proceedings in The Hague against two other officers, Vidoje Blagojevic and Dragan Jokic, and in statements that he has provided to the prosecution.
The transfer of cases to judicial systems in the Balkans is part of an effort to wind down the work of the Hague tribunal by the end of 2010.



May 3, 2006 2 comments

GENOCIDE FEATURE: Stopping Genocide – Taking the Lead or Muddling Through?

Zarrin T. Caldwell
OneWorld US

Governments have a lot of options at their disposal to stop mass atrocities, so why don’t they always use them?

Stopping Genocide – Taking the Lead or Muddling Through?

Srebrenica Massacre, July 1995 - the worst act of genocide in Europe since the second world war“The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.” – Robert Jackson, Nuremberg Trials Chief Prosecutor

The incidents of mass atrocities we see on the nightly news–are they genocide? When large groups are being murdered or driven to physical destruction because of their race or religion, how could it not be? But while some say it is, others say no. Should it matter?

In fact, the debate over when to define such incidents as “genocide” would fill volumes. Today, so much time is often spent discussing whether to call something “genocide,” that valuable time is lost addressing the conflict itself. Witness the murder of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in the space of around 6 weeks in 1994 while the international community tried to decide whether genocide was really taking place and what to do about it. Although much soul searching has since taken place at the United Nations on why the international community was not able to prevent this atrocity–or the one in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica a year later–many assert that it is still happening in 2006 in western Sudan, or is at risk of occurring in places like Cote d’Ivoire.

Historical Roots

Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-born jurist who served as an adviser to the U.S. Department of War during World War II, first coined the term “genocide” and defined it as “the criminal intent to destroy or to cripple permanently a human group.” Many would argue that genocide is not a new phenomenon and has been practiced for centuries. According to the Encylopedia Brittanica, for example, it was common in ancient times for victors in war to massacre all the men of a conquered population.

It was only about 60 years ago, however, that the UN General Assembly made the crime of genocide punishable under international law. The shock of Nazi Germany’s mass extinction of some 6 million Jews and millions more Poles and Soviet prisoners during World War II led to the Nuremberg Trials from 1945-1949 in which Nazi war criminals were charged with “crimes against humanity.”

Although some criticized these trials because the war’s winning powers took on the role of judge and prosecutor, they nonetheless set precedents for holding individuals–not just states–accountable for heinous crimes. And they gave momentum to the effort to codify laws to combat genocide.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide entered into force a few years later in 1951. Genocide is defined in this Convention as “the intentional physical destruction of groups in whole or in part.” For these purposes, “groups” can be defined by their national, ethnic, racial, or religious characteristics. Despite some inherent flaws in the Convention–like its lack of enforcement provisions–it has nonetheless helped to establish a body of customary international law against such extreme abuses. As signatories, 137 states have acknowledged a clear moral and legal obligation to prevent and punish genocide.

When Is It “Genocide”?

Perpetrators of mass atrocities will often claim that they have not committed genocide because there was no specific “intent” to annihilate a group, but that these victims were simply casualties of war, or a threat to national order. Many Turks would not agree, for example, that the massacres of Armenians in 1915-16 constituted genocide; the former Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein would not agree that its use of chemical warfare against the Kurds in the 1980s was genocide; nor would the Bosnian Serb Army Commander Ratko Mladic and his supporters agree that the 1995 massacre of thousands of Muslim [Bosniak] men and boys in the town of Srebrenica was genocide.

Human rights organizations, in contrast, have generally disagreed with these assessments, have brought attention to the abuses taking place, and have tried to ensure that perpetrators are not able to commit such crimes with impunity–through their support of institutions like the new International Criminal Court in The Hague, for example.

There is still significant debate today about whether to call the killing of an estimated 200-400,000 civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region “genocide.” Allegedly government-supported militias (the Janjaweed) are carrying out these atrocities, but the Sudanese government claims these militias are not an instrument of their policy. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Africa Action, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch–just to name a few–claim, in contrast, that the Sudanese government and its allied Arab militia are implementing a strategy of ethnic-based murder, rape, torture, and forcible displacement of civilians in Darfur.

Contrary to the position of many other member states at the UN that are only willing to call it a “humanitarian crisis,” the conflict in the Sudan is one of the few that the U.S. government has–at least at one time–been willing to label “genocide.” Using this term implies an obligation to take action to protect civilians, but such action by the U.S. on Sudan remains inadequate, say many NGOs.

NGOs and others assert, however, that it is important not to get bogged down in the debate over whether to call something “genocide.” As Juan Mendez, the UN Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention, stated in February 2006, “Many times the debate about whether something is genocide or not has substituted for the decision to act to prevent it, and that is a paralyzing, very sterile debate.” What is more vital, adds UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is that the perpetrators of the violence are held accountable so that “such grave crimes, whatever they may be called, cannot be committed with impunity.”

Peacekeeping Revisited

Many of those working in international organizations or with civil society groups have long suggested that rapidly deployable–and more effective–peacekeeping operations would go a long way to helping to stop mass atrocities such as genocide. The key term in this phrase is “rapid.” With rare exceptions like the UN Operation in the Congo in 1960, it usually takes several months to put forces on the ground from the time the UN Security Council decides to establish a peacekeeping mission. Denmark, the Netherlands, and Canada have been at the forefront of proposing “high readiness brigades” that could move into an area much more quickly to both secure the peace and prevent atrocities.

Since 2000, such a State of High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG) has come into existence, but deployments focus more on the peaceful settlement of disputes than on taking robust action. Sensitivities about command and control arrangements, training problems with multinational forces, and a lack of willingness to foot the bill have hampered progress to date. United Nations member states are often concerned about any initiative that may be perceived to infringe on their national sovereignty; hence, there are many political hurdles to overcome before forces can be dispatched.

But views about peace operations have also gradually been changing. A report released by the U.S. Institute of Peace in June 2005, for example, noted that a fundamental shift is underway in UN peacekeeping. More robust methods are being used to protect civilians and go after those who are considered “spoilers” of peace agreements, notes the report, which also calls for the creation of a rapid reaction force. A Christian Science Monitor article on the report’s release notes that UN peacekeepers are getting a stronger mandate and are “pushing the boundaries of impartiality in an effort to restore lost credibility” after a string of failures in the 1990s.

While the UN has prided itself on being an impartial body, there have been growing questions about the appropriateness of maintaining neutrality in all circumstances. As a UN peace operations panel noted in their Brahimi Report released in 2000, “No failure did more to damage the standing and credibility of United Nations peacekeeping in the 1990s than its reluctance to distinguish victim from aggressor.” The Brahimi report was a catalyst for changing UN thinking on these values.

The Duty to Protect

In commenting on the massacre in Srebrenica, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that a “deliberate attempt to terrorize, expel or murder an entire people must be met decisively with all necessary means.” These means can include a variety of political carrots and sticks, public condemnation, economic sanctions, or, as a last resort, some form of military intervention.

While some NGOs, like the American Friends Service Committee, advocate a nonviolent approach to such conflicts, others believe that military–or at least policing–solutions may sometimes be necessary. Refugees International has recommended to the U.S. government, for example, that it should prepare “for the necessity of taking a hard line against perpetrators of genocide.”

This stance underlies a growing recognition in international circles that there is “a responsibility to protect” civilians from terrible atrocity crimes. An independent International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty–established by the Canadian government in 2000–tried to forge a consensus on these ideas. They also proposed clear guidelines to ensure that interventions–military or otherwise–were not politically motivated. Among others, crimes have to be widespread and systematic to warrant intervention, said their report.

Although international law has traditionally supported a “hands off” policy regarding a state’s domestic affairs–and states continue to accept few limits on their perceived national sovereignty–humanitarian intervention has occasionally been justified in exceptional circumstances, such as interventions in Somalia and Kosovo. Human rights law has also evolved a great deal over the past 50 years, with far more attention paid to protecting individuals from violations committed by erring governments.

And, as International Crisis Group President Gareth Evans noted in August 2004, “There has been an increased willingness to challenge the ‘culture of impunity’ through new international criminal courts,” a “greatly increased reliance on peacemaking initiatives and negotiated peace agreements,” an “equally dramatic increase in complex peace operations focusing on post-conflict peace building,” and “a significantly greater Security Council willingness to authorize the use of force, which has helped deter aggression and sustain peace agreements.”

He adds that these efforts have made a difference and that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the number of people killed each year in violent armed conflicts has significantly declined from a high point in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Calling All Leaders

Governments have a lot of options at their disposal to step in to stop mass atrocities, including drawing from a range of political, legal, economic, and military sanctions. The reality is, however, that they are not always willing to employ these options in deference to their own perceived interests. Absence of political will and resolve among UN member states, combined with a lack of effective and centralized enforcement, has generally been a recipe for inaction. Responses usually end up being very ad-hoc in nature–or, in the words of some commentators, the international community simply “muddles through.”

Speaking at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004, Samantha Power, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, offered several prescriptions for addressing genocide more effectively. Among these were avoiding the semantic debate, for governments to apply a much broader range of options from the policy toolbox, equipping decision makers to see the human faces involved, and to have more of a conversation across borders about alleviating such tragedies.

In reference to the role of citizens, she added “for the most part, we haven’t succeeded in convincing our policy makers and our politicians that they would pay a political price for being a bystander to genocide….A non-response to genocide doesn’t occur in a vacuum. A non-response is affirmed by societal silence. It becomes an excuse. It is the excuse that political leaders point to.”

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