Srebrenica: 17 years later, quest for justice goes on

Some 30,000 people gathered July 11 to remember the massacre of an estimated 8,000 captive Muslims, mostly men and boys, on that day in 1995 at the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica, when it was overrun by besieging Serb rebel forces. The remains of 520 newly identified victims of the massacre, in rows of green-draped coffins, were buried during a commemoration ceremony at the Potocari memorial cemetery outside the town. Among the remains were those of six children and four women, the eldest aged 94. With them, the total laid to rest in Srebrenica comes to 5,657. After years on the run, Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic and political leader Radovan Karadzic face genocide charges at The Hague for the massacre (Europe’s worst since World War II) and other crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war that left some 100,000 dead. Both deny all charges.

Among those who spoke at the ceremony was Nazi Holocaust survivor Arthur Schneier, who told the assembled: “Eventually you pay a very heavy price for silence. So, silence is not the answer. You have to stand up in the face of injustice. Whenever you face man’s inhumanity to man you can’t close your eyes. You have to hear the cry of the oppressed.”

But after some progress in coming to terms with the historical reality of July 1995 in recent years, the Serb-controlled zone of divided Bosnia shows signs of creeping back into denialism. The town of Srebrenica itself falls within the Bosnian Serb Republic, having been conquered by the Serb army at the time of the massacre. In what was decried by commemoration organizers as a “provocation,” Serb authorities in Srebrenica organized a multi-day festival with concerts, soccer matches and other public amusements that culminated on July 11, just as the grim remembrance and interment was held outside the town.

In 2004, the Serb Republic government apologized for the “enormous crimes” at Srebrenica and surrounding areas, and issued an official report acknowledging that Serb forces had murdered thousands of Muslim prisoners. But the present Bosnian Serb president, Milorad Dodik, has distanced himself from this apology in a play to ethno-nationalist sentiment. Following The Hague tribunal’s acquittal of Karadzic on one count last month, Dodik said: “Such court decisions constantly confirm our claims that genocide did not happen here.”

The Serb Republic under Dodik is also financing a “Srebrenica Historical Project,” claiming that most of the Srebrenica victims were killed in legitimate “combat operations”ā€”in denial of the consensus of UN investigators and human rights groups worldwide. In Pale, the Serb-controlled town near Sarajevo that saw protests after Mladic’s arrest, residents hailed him as a champion, telling journalists such things as: “It does not matter that he’s in The Hague. He is a Serb hero, forever.” And: “To Serbs, Mladic is a synonym for justice and the survival of the Serb people. As far as I am concerned, Serbs now need a new Mladic.” (Euronews, The Independent, AP, Foreign Policy, July 11; Srebrenica Genocide Blog, July 8; B92, Belgrade, June 29; B92, May 28)

Wheels of justice turn at Hague…
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague on on July 9 resumed the trial of Ratko Mladic, which had been suspended in June due to an error in disclosing documents to the defense lawyers. Judge Alphons Orie adjourned the trial to allow the defense more time to consider the evidence presented by the prosecution. The court re-opened the trial with the testimony of witness Elvedin Pasic, who was a juvenile at the time of the war. He lived in the village of Hrvacani that was attacked by Serb forces, and witnessed elderly villagers being killed. Pasic has also testified in other cases including those against Radoslav Brdanin, who was sentenced to 30 years, and Momcilo Krajisnik, who received 20 years. Mladic is charged with several counts of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the Bosnian civil war including murder, political persecution, forcible transfer and deportations, cruel treatment and the taking of peacekeepers as hostages. (Jurist, July 9)

On June 28, the ICTY denied a motion by Radovan Karadzic to dismiss 10 charges against him, while acquitting him on one charge of genocide for lack of evidenceā€”concerning massacres that took place in 1992, not Srebrenica. The prosecution finished presenting its case in May, and Karadzic is scheduled to begin his own case in November. He is defending himself in court. The 10 remaining war crimes charges include counts of genocide and murder, some related to the Srebrenica massacre. Earlier in June, the ICTY judges went on a five-day visit of locations where the massacre was carried out. (Jurist, ICTY press release, June 28)

Also on June 28, the ICTY convicted Serb nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj of contempt of court and sentenced him to two years in prison. Seselj had been accused of contempt for refusing to comply with a court order to remove confidential information from his website, including books he authored disclosing names, occupations and addresses of confidential witnesses. Last October, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, and in July 2009 he was sentenced to 15 months on related contempt charges. Seselj’s war crimes trial began in 2007, after he was charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes and accused of establishing paramilitary units affiliated with his ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, which are believed to have massacred and otherwise persecuted Muslims and Croats. In March of this year, a week after the prosecution asked the court for a 28-year prison sentence against him, Seselj argued that the tribunal is biased and does not have jurisdiction over his case. In January, Seselj sued the ICTY for $2.6 million in damages due to alleged unreasonable delays in his trial and denial of his right to communication with family members, doctors and legal counsel. (Jurist, June 28)

Earlier in June, the ICTY sentenced former mayor of Sokolac town, Milan Tupajic, to two months in prison for refusing to testify against Karadzic. In January, the ICTY accepted a plea deal in the trial of Jelena Rasic, former attorney of convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal Milan Lukic, convicting her of five counts of contempt for procuring false witness statements. In December, the ICTY convicted former Yugoslav intelligence officer Dragomir Pecanac of contempt for failing to testify before the tribunal. (Jurist, June 28)

…and in Bosnia-Herzegovina
A war crimes court within Bosnia and Herzegovina on June 15 handed down its harshest sentences yet to four former members of the Bosnian Serb Army, convicted of taking part in the Srebrenica massacre. The court in Sarajevo sentenced Stanko Kojic to 43 years in prison. Franc Kos and Zoran Goronja were given 40 years each, and Vlastimir Golijan given 19 years. The four were convicted of taking part in the killings of about 800 men at a military camp at Branjevo, near Srebrenica. The judge noted that the men took breaks from the executions to eat lunch and drink beer while surrounded by the bodies of the victims. While the United Nations has labeled the massacre an act of genocide, the four were only convicted of crimes against humanity because it was found that the “genocide intent” was not proven. (VOA, June 15)

In May, the Bosnia and Herzegovina war crimes court found two former Bosnian Serb police officers guilty of aiding and abetting the genocide. Dusko Jevic and Mendeljev Djuric were found to have taken part in the killing of some 1,000 Muslim men, overseeing the transportation of the men to execution sites around Srebrenica. The court sentenced Jevic to 35 years, and Djuric to 30. (Jurist, May 25)

Also in May, US resident Dejan Radojkovic was deported to Bosnia and Herzegovina to face charges related to his actions as a police commander in Srebrenica during the war. Radojkovic is accused of rounding up more than 200 Muslims who were then taken away to be executed. He immigrated to the US in 1999. After an investigation found Radojkovic had not disclosed his involvement in the conflict, he was arrested in 2009 and deported. His commanding officer, Nedjo Ikonic, was deported in 2010. (Jurist, May 26)

International judicial authorities have repeatedly found that the Srebrenica massacre constituted an act of genocide. In 2004, in a unanimous ruling on the case Prosecutor v. Krstić, the ICTY first ruled that the massacre constituted a crime of genocide. Theodor Meron, the presiding judge, stated: “By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general. They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.” In February 2007, the International Court of Justice concurred with the ICTY judgement, stating: The ICJ concludes that the acts committed at Srebrenica…were committed with the specific intent to destroy in part the group of the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina as such; and accordingly that these were acts of genocide, committed by members of the VRS [Bosnian Serb Army] in and around Srebrenica…” (Institute for Research of Genocide, July 9)

…and in Serbia
Cases related to the war have also been advancing within Serbia (which during the Bosnian war was still part of rump Yugoslavia). On June 26, the War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court sentenced 14 former members of the Yugoslav army and paramilitaries for killing civilians during the war in Croatia, which immediately preceded (and partially overlapped with) the Bosnian war, and in which some 20,000 lost their lives. (Jurist, June 26)

But “leftists” still in denial
Despite the overwhelming consensus of the human rights community, large elements of the idiot left in the West continue to deny the Srebrenica and Bosnia genocides. George Monbiot in The Guardian May 21 refreshingly takes on those supposed “leftists” who have led the denialist charge, especially Edward Herman and David Peterson (who have similarly denied the Rwanda genocide). Monbiot writes: “For Edward Herman and David Peterson to be right, the entire canon of serious scholarship, human rights investigations, exhumations and witness statements would have to be wrong. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But they offer little but the recycled claims of genocidaires and genocide deniers, mashed up with their own misrepresentations.”

Monbiot also has choice words for other esteemed figures on the US and British left who have cheered on or enabled the denialists, including journalist John Pilger, Z Magazine editor Michael Albert, and “world’s greatest intellectual” Noam Chomsky. We don’t agree with Monbiot about everything, but we are sure glad he’s taking on these rascals.

Note that the conviction of Seselj and the denial of Karadzic’s motion to dismiss both occurred on June 28, St. Vitus’ Dayā€”which has resonated in Balkan history for over 500 years. One wonders if that was coincidence.

See our last post on Bosnia.

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  1. Belgrade Women in Black remember Srebrenica

     Women in Black
    Belgrade Women in Black hold public vigil to commemorate the Srebrenica massacre. Banners read "We Remember Genocide of Srebrenica" and "Solidarity."
    Photo: Women in Black

  2. Thanks for Srebrenica round-up

    I haven't visited for a long while – my loss. Thanks for that round-up. You didn't mention that Karadzic's Rule 98bis acquittal on the charge of genocide in Bosnian municpalities was based on the insufficiency of the evidence submitted by the prosecution concerning genocide in seven municipalities. The panel did not give no reasons for reversing the conclusion of the judges at the same stage of the Milosevic trial that the evidence submitted in that case proved that genocide had in fact been committed in municipalities including three of those remaining in the slimmed-down Karadzic indictment. The Karadzic acquittal was handed down by a panel presided over by O-Gon Kwon, outnumbered on a number of the issues in the Milosevic hearing. I wonder how the late Alexander Cockburn would have responded. Interesting that he ended his life in apparently harmonious coexistence with Srdja Trifkovic and Marine Le Pen.

  3. Against ‘leftist’ denialism on Srebrenica

    On the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide,Ā Michael Karadjis has an in-depth critique on theĀ Mihalis Balkan AnalysisĀ blog of continuing “leftist” denial of the massacre. Some of our work is cited.