August 6, 2008

“How can you ever adequately punish a man who is guilty of ordering the assassination of 8,000 human beings [in Srebrenica]?” – asked Elie Wiesel.

INTRO: Mr. Elie Wiesel is a Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of over 40 books, the best known of which is Night, a memoir that describes his experiences during the Holocaust and his imprisonment in several concentration camps. Mr. Wiesel established The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity soon after he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize for Peace. The Foundation’s mission, rooted in the memory of the Holocaust, is to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality.

Copyright: The following OP/ED was republished from the Daily News for educational and non-commercial purposes. It is used for “fair use” only as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.



It’s unimaginable.

For 13 long years, we thought he was hiding out in the mountains, surrounded by bodyguards. We looked for him in underground hideouts, tracked him down in the region’s most obscure corners.

All in vain – Radovan Karadzic, the former Yugoslavia’s most infamous, most notorious fugitive, was actually a public figure. People ran into him on the street, in restaurants or at the movies; some people watched him on TV, talking about alternative health options, and no one discovered his real identity.

In fact, examining pictures of him published by the press, with his fluffy white beard and glasses, I wouldn’t have been able to unmask him myself.

And yet I had met him. If I ran into him on the street, I’d remember his face, I thought.

It was in late 1992. I had come to do research on the situation in Bosnia and Serbia. Disturbing, even revolting reports were trickling back to us. Newspapers, radio and TV stations were broadcasting horrendous images: cities bombarded, corpses lying in mass graves, massacred children, mutilated men, raped women.

Reports of odious deeds were circulating: Tuzla, Srebrenica entered the annals of crimes against humanity. The words “Auschwitz in Bosnia” were solemnly pronounced.

Faced with various governments’ nearly official indifference, I responded to Yugoslavian President Dobrica Cosic’s invitation and, with members of Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” team, headed to Belgrade, Sarajevo and Banja Luka. We met with all the leaders in the region except the leader of Croatia. Its president, Franco Tudjman, was a Holocaust denier, and I refused to shake his hand.

But I did talk with Slobodan Milosevic. And with Karadzic, in whose palace – a real fortress – the meeting took place. His gaze was icy, haunted, unearthly. He was the all-powerful master. Why so many executions, so many murders? Was it because of some violent mysticism, a cult of death? No. For him, it was something else: a fascination with holding absolute power over his enemies as well as his allies.

I asked him why he had had the famous Sarajevo National Library burned down. Given that he himself wanted to be known as a psychiatrist and a poet, was he afraid of books and their human and humanist truth?

Red-faced with anger, pounding the table, he claimed it was the Muslims themselves who had burned down the building from the inside.

I objected. I had seen the library in ruins: the damaged walls, the artillery scars. The building had been attacked from the outside.

No point in arguing – the pigheaded Karadzic denied it all.

The idea of creating an international tribunal was mine. One day, when I was in the office of Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, we talked about the tragic situation in Bosnia. What were the options? Political, humanitarian, military?

That was when I suggested creating an international tribunal. My argument was that only indicting the killers for war crimes and crimes against humanity would frighten them. There would be no statute of limitations, and they would have to be extradited. Eagleburger thought it was a good idea and proposed it in his negotiations with the allies in the U.S. and Europe.

And yes, I think major criminals should be brought to trial before international courts in order to have a historical and also a pedagogical impact on future generations.

People might ask: How can you ever adequately punish a man who is guilty of ordering the assassination of 8,000 human beings? Good question. It seems that, by its sheer scope, the crime outweighs the punishment. And yet, these trials help our collective memory. For that reason alone, they are justified.

The shocking fact remains: Karadzic succeeded in walking free. For 13 long years. He lived without bodyguards, in Bosnian cities and villages, while local and international police and NATO agents were trying to track him down.

Whose fault was it? Who was responsible? Who were the accomplices?

Was his disguise that good, that successful? Perhaps, may God help us, beneath the killer’s mask, there was a failed actor?

Wiesel, Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Boston University, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. A Holocaust survivor, he was one of the leading voices to call the world’s attention to atrocities in the former Yugoslavia. This article, written exclusively for the Daily News, was translated from the French by Sharon Bowman.

  1. Aseem
    August 7, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    Thank you Elie. I see justice in your eyes. They tell a lot.

  2. Anonymous
    August 11, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Thanks to editor for posting this article!
    My opinion, as a survior of Bosnian war, is that the people like Mr.Elie can understand the best the destiny of people in my country. What makes survivors so colse is the awful common experience.
    I didn’t know the international tribunal was his idea. I have a lots of objection to the work of tribunal but in the other hand in several years with such a strong groups of crime deniers..God knows how would these real crimes turn out to be in public. Now at least they’re being represented the right way, a mild console..
    Thank you for answering my question about the fake blog on Srebrenica genocide. It was so shocking for me..
    Mel, Bosnia.

  3. Amel
    August 11, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    I think you’re both pigheaded since you denied the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians (i.e.”600,000 Palestinians left the country….”), made no comment about the Sabra and Shatila camp massacre and you manage to charge $25,000 a lecture.

    A report just came out, from a former UN political affairs officer in Bosnia and a Hague Tribunal (the one you helped establish) investigator, that US-France-Britain were protecting Karadzic.

    I’m not sure what you are asking at the end when you know who’s responsible, whose fault it is and who the accomplices are.

  4. Vincent Jappi
    August 11, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Start has just published “Karadžić je stvoren u Srbiji ” an interview with Srđa Popović on the reasons why Karadžić was arrested.

  5. Vincent Jappi
    August 12, 2008 at 7:32 am

    Karadžic’s Defence
    Srđa Popović, Peščanik (B-92), 8 August 2008, Bosnian Institute, 9 August, 2008

    The eminent Serbian civil-rights lawyer Srđa Popović comments devastatingly – for Radio B92’s Pešcanik (Hourglass) website -on an article published in Politika, Belgrade, 4 August 2008, in which Milan Škulić, professor of international criminal law at the faculty of law, University of Belgrade, offers advice on how Karadžić’s defence should be conducted.
    Popović includes here an important note recalling how Milošević’s Serbia declared itself independent in September 1990, well before Slovenia and Croatia did so.

  6. Owen
    August 12, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Thanks Vincent, it’s a nice change to hear someone taking the carpet-bearer to all that sly nonsense.

  7. Owen
    August 13, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Sorry for the mis-key, that was meant to be “carpet-beater”

  8. emdrea
    November 2, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    Elie you have touched my heart.

  9. Tyler McMurtrie
    March 4, 2009 at 4:57 am

    I just got done reading the book Night in class. The things you wrote Elie i can’t imagine and I just cried. I can’t believe the things you were put through. Thank You:) I’m in 8th grade and soon we are going to the Tolerance Museum and I know how hard it will be. I can’t imagine. I loved your book and I thank you for writing it and allowing other people to know what happend during the Holocaust. You are truly a brave person and I send you my deepest sympathy. Thank You.

  10. Anonymous
    May 20, 2009 at 2:19 am

    You are an amazing man.
    I read your book ‘Night’ for our world history class.

    I cried a total of four times.
    You are an inspiration and I am shocked and abhorred by the things you had gone through.

    I know this is off key and I digress, but I just feel the need to tell you that when you made a promise to never leave your father’s side, that touched me the most.

    I hope this man somehow receives punishment for what he has done.

    Mr. Wiesel you have seriously touched my heart and I feel almost ashamed to be human when I learn about such horrid incidents like this.

    You are an inspiration Mr. Wiesel. And you’re story will never be forgoten.

    -Beth Reyes,
    Gunderson High School student.

  11. Anonymous
    May 27, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    i read for your book and fell in love with it. the wayy you wrote evrything is so well written that it painted clear images in my head. thaniks for sharing what people think never happened.

  12. Anonymous
    July 29, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    I have read the book Night thanks for telling us about what happened. And I am sorry to hear of all those who died

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