Panel I: Fact-Finding, Truth-Telling, and Memorialization
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: So I will also add my thanks to all of you for coming and to our guests for joining us today on the panel. I won’t give full biographical information, as you all have bios that were handed out with the program. I’ll just briefly introduce though, so you know who is who. To my immediate left is Nataša Kandić, who is the director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, Serbia. After her is Ambassador Steven Rapp, he’s the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes. And after him is Anisa Sućeska-Vekić, who is the director for the Bosnia and Herzegovina Office of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. And finally, we have Emir Suljagić, who is a survivor of Srebrenica. Thank you for joining me.
As you have heard and probably many of you in the audience know, starting in July 11, 1995, so 15 years ago from this past Sunday, the town of Srebrenica fell and in the aftermath some 8,000, mostly men but some women and children as well, were killed. In the time since then, there have been a number of efforts to try to find more about what happened. Some of the leaders of those efforts have joined us here on this panel. I will pose a series of questions to our panelists, rather than having formal presentations. And my first question, beginning Emir with you, is what have we learned? What have been the most helpful sources of information about what happened at Srebrenica in the war? And what have been some of the biggest obstacles for finding the truth of what happened?
Emir Suljagić: Well, I think the most obvious answer would be that the majority of the facts that we now have related to the genocidal operation in Srebrenica between July 11 and July 16 is the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. But I think that the real problem with this mountain of facts which has been unearthed, and I mean literally unearthed in quite a lot of cases, is that the political impact of its work, 17 years down the line and probably a billion dollars down the line, the political impact of its work is close to none. If you look at the mission statement of the Tribunal, you’ll see that among the goals of the ICTY is end of impunity and fighting denial. And what we have today in the region are governments openly, systematically, and institutionally denying both the extent, the scope, and the nature of the crimes that took place in Bosnia, not only in 1995.
What I’d like to remind the audience of is that what culminated in Bosnia in July 1995 started in April and May in 1992 and went on for three years. And that to me is the biggest problem. And we all know the facts, the facts are out there. Some really great people have worked and helped us get the facts. But what we have now is we have a government in Belgrade which is openly pursuing the policy of annulling the political impact of the fact that it is responsible for genocide in another country. We have Bosnian and Serb politicians openly and systematically denying that genocide took place in Srebrenica, that crimes took place anywhere in Bosnia. And I think that’s what we have to deal with at this point. I think that we should not allow-- first of all, we should not allow that behavior, and I think we should not allow anybody to build a political platform on that basis.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: And Ambassador Rapp, for you, what do you think have been some of the most helpful sources? Would you also agree that the tribunal is one of the most helpful sources of truth telling about what happened?
Steven Rapp: Well, you’ve come to the right place for that question. I’ve worked in the tribunals, the Rwanda Tribunal, which for a period of time had a joint prosecutor with the Yugoslavia Tribunal, and I know a great deal of the work that’s been done at the ICTY, and thereafter was Chief Prosecutor at Sierra Leone where several people who had worked at the ICTY joined my teams. This recent judgment on the 10th of June in the Popović case, which goes to 800 pages, is something that really needs to be read. It’s a trial of three years, seven individuals, the first conviction actually of genocide commission -- there had earlier been a conviction of General Krstić for aiding and abetting genocide -- but I think clearly brought together various types of evidence to make this not just beyond a reasonable doubt, but really beyond all doubt. The DNA evidence has been particularly important.
And I say that, particularly with the experience this last weekend of being in Srebrenica as one of the three representatives to President Obama at the ceremony there, where this year we had the greatest number of victims of Srebrenica’s remains buried, 775 coffins were interred. It was possible to make that identification through DNA, and that’s permitted the court to say absolutely we have 5,336 positively identified victims, but likely as the process goes forward to reach the number 7,826. And that DNA evidence not only permitted those identifications of individuals, which is so important for the families, that right to know what happened to your loved one, but it’s also allowed, I think, the denial to be dismissed very, very firmly.
Keep in mind that it was also used to uncover the fact-- of course, it was known, but to prove that a great many bodies were moved from primary graves to secondary graves. In more than 300 instances, it was possible then to trace back and find that material in one grave had been moved to another. So that was extremely important. And it’s not just of course DNA evidence, because there are those who say, “Well, these people may have all died in combat,” which I think is totally contrary to everyone’s account of what happened. Clearly, there were a few people that died in combat as the column tried to escape Srebrenica and that area. But a relative handful. And those accounts are I think quite clear in the testimony of victims and witnesses. And I think if you look at the testimony as well, you’ll see both insiders, people that were involved in the killing crews who were testifying, and victims, those lucky few who were shot and pretended to be dead, who were able to basically tie each of these primary graves back to individual incidents, that I think makes it clear that in terms of the crime here, it can’t be denied. Now, of course, with every crime, there’s the challenge of proving individual criminal responsibility. And that’s the biggest challenge, but that was done here as well. But we can deal with that on a separate question.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: And Nataša, what forms of evidence have come out through your work and elsewhere in Serbia that’s made an impact in your ability and others’ ability to speak truthfully and honestly and to get out the word of the facts of what happened in Srebrenica? What have been the most powerful pieces of evidence?
Nataša Kandić: Well, of course if we speak about Srebrenica genocide and denial, the trials are very important. But in fighting against the denial, the most important evidence was Scorpions’ videotape. I’m speaking about Serbia. Because with people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially with victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for them, all of them, they had their own experience of what’s happened in Srebrenica. But people in Serbia, you know, they were faced with official denial. They spent 10 years before the videotape listening only that Srebrenica genocide is only a story of the international community and the victims, some people from Bosnia who want to accuse Serbs. But when Humanitarian Law Center released the videotape about police unit Scorpions with face of victims, with face of perpetrators, immediately whole situation was changed. It was the first time that we were called by ordinary people to say, asking, “Is it possible to get the videotape? Is it possible that perpetrators were so aggressive without any thinking about the young boy?”
The videotape, filmed by members of Scorpions and later Humanitarian Law Center documentary film about Scorpions unit were seen by hundreds, thousands of people. And it was really evidence who changed public opinion, because it was the first time that people could see face of victims. To see young boy, to see talking between perpetrators, to see that they think only how to kill them, without any thinking, who are the people? Who are the boys? Why to kill them?
And after that what was very good, I think that immediately after videotape the Serbian War Crimes prosecutor opened investigation, accused the commander and four other members of Scorpions. And the judge, presiding judge, she was in the beginning of the trial very good. She was very dedicated to the facts. But in the middle of the trial, it was very strange that she stopped to question witnesses relating the Srebrenica. It was clear that she’s caring about how to protect Serbian state and to prevent questions relating any involvement of institution of Serbian state. And of course, in the end, she was forced to sentence for 20 years two perpetrators. But she released one and she sentenced one member of Scorpions only for five years.
And reaction of public opinion was very strong. The people reacted very strongly, because they thought it is impossible to release a member of Scorpions after videotape, to sentence somebody only for five years. And I think it was really a result of a unique situation. To have videotape, to show videotape, and to give opportunity to the ordinary people, citizens, to see a relation and to see what’s happened to the victims. You know, the videotape is horrible, horrible really. I feel horribly bad. Two young boys faced with the perpetrators with weapons. And you see the people, children, without fear, without asking for their life. They were reconciled with that. And it was the first time that people in Serbia were on side of justice. They reacted strongly against the judgment.
And now is it enough to have strong evidence against the denial? It’s not enough. The trial, also very important against the culture of denial. But it’s not enough. For us, from the former Yugoslavia, it’s very important to have other, some additional strong instruments to fight against denial and to give respect for the victims. Because you know, trials are focused on perpetrators, they are not focused on victims. They are not focused on to build picture about what’s happened. They are focused to prove responsibility of perpetrators.
And now civil society from the former Yugoslavia built, created one coalition asking from officials from their own governments to establish a regional commission who will deal about facts, to establish facts about all victims, about all war crimes. And using facts established by a tribunal, very important evidence. And to establish additional instrument for that, maybe it will be good chance against the new crimes in the future. Because Balkans is very dangerous space of the world. Every 50 years we have killing, we have victims, we have perpetrators, we have denial. And for the future generation, it’s very important to establish a legacy of the facts and to prevent recurrence of the crimes.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: Thank you. And Emir, I’ll get to you-- you wanted to jump in?
Emir Suljagić: I just wanted very, very quickly to-- speaking of Scorpions, Nataša is very well aware that a lot of the time, a lot of the resources of that court were actually dedicated to ensuring that the link between the actual murder, and that the murderer is with the top echelons of the Serbian Security Services, did not come out. And that’s exactly the point of what I was saying earlier. You have a government that is saying it is willing to own up to what was done on behalf or in the name of the Serb people, but at the same time is doing everything to cover up its tracks.
And I see a lot of people here, a lot of diplomats here. And I just sort of wanted to say, there is a way to do it. There is a way to raise the price of denial. And you need to do that, it’s your job. I have spent the last 15 years of my life writing and researching war crimes, but it’s your job to raise the price of denial. It’s your job to isolate denial. It’s not your job to ask me to live with them, it’s your job to ask them to live up to the standards that we all accept.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: Thank you. And Anisa, I wanted to bring you into this discussion to address also the role of the media inside Bosnia and throughout the region in disseminating and researching and presenting the information that has come out about war crimes.
Anisa Sućeska-Vekić: Well, in addition to what my colleagues have said that there are facts that crime happened on a daily basis, there are verdicts and the processes in the front of tribunal. There are more than 160 processes already done in front of court of BiH dealing with war crime trials on a daily basis. There have followed in the last five years every single testimony of every single trial, and through its specialized agency was feeding media in Bosnia and the region with this information. There are very interesting things going on there.
If you ask people, if we are really looking if public is interested in this question, you find out “yes.” If you are looking to media, you have speech of hate, you have denial of genocide, you have active and progressive campaign that public is not interested in these trials. One of the reasons, unfortunately I have to say that speech of hate and nationalistic rhetoric in Bosnia now is higher than ever, is laying in media hands. They are very biased, very politically influenced, and they are without any self-regulations. There are like different ways to present on what happens. What we try to promote is to objectively and fairly report on the facts based on court processes, based on verdicts. It’s very hard to prove the genocide, even within the court. And Bosnian judiciary still very much hesitate to even start with indictments.
Only three indictments have been started, only three processes have been initiated, and they are for Srebrenica. And there are only first-instance verdicts until now, in the last 15 years. And there were just recently some finished. It’s life sentences and 31 years prison, and they are not final and there is a lot of people thinking that nothing will be really finished until current trial is over, which many experts believe will change the approach of the court and practice. But media have opportunity to present the process itself, to follow the trials, to present the facts that were brought there, but also to interview victims, people, witnesses, experts, and provide them with co-investigative reporting. Nobody is doing this.
BIRN has been the only agency who’s doing this and we are really bleeding by trying to force other media to follow the practice. But it is not happening. It has a strong political background, strong lack of knowledge also on how to really report and not to report sensationally, commercially, interviewing only victims when they want to say something about not being satisfied with the process and so on.
There is also really a problem of the law that doesn’t exist on sanctioning such speech of hate, nationalistic rhetoric and denial of genocide in media. Not only media, generally. Our prime minister on Monday, just day after the commemoration, publically on PBS said that genocide in Srebrenica never happened, and it’s just revenge for one of the crimes committed against Serbs. Just on Saturday day before, a commemoration happened, Radovan Karadžić, who is indictee of the Tribunal, has been awarded by Republic of Srpska and the SDS, along with one of the members of the party convicted for war crimes in front of Tribunal. Everything is happening publically, media is promoting it; nobody is reacting. And that is the scary thing.
The scary thing is that media just develop the public opinion everywhere. They just form the way how we perceive our future, how we perceive where we live. And the scary thing is that young generation in Bosnia and Herzegovina that have Bosnia’s future in their hands, young people that are now decision makers, do not remember the war. They were born during the war or they were very young. And they read newspapers and they perceive the facts as they were served. They were anyway grown on the varied told history, different histories. So the situation is very bad. There is no political bill to pass this law, everything can be said and be not sanctioned. So as Emir said, I think we need a lot of support to deal with these issues and to find measures to sanction such denials and to sanction speech of hate, which leads not to reconciliation, but to higher tensions in the region.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: And a question for any of you. I wondered if there’s been anything in the 15 years since Srebrenica fell, any information that’s come out through the tribunals, through the work of various investigations, through your own work as a human rights advocate, that has surprised you. Emir, you were there. I think you were the only one who was there. But I think probably everyone here followed that news while it was occurring. Has there been anything that shocked you, surprised you?
Emir Suljagić: To be honest, I think the short answer would be “no.” But let me try and say something else. I think part of the reason that Srebrenica unfolded the way that it did was that we didn’t learn the lessons from 1992. And I remember I started working as an interpreter for the United Nations in April ’93, when the first UN contingent moved into the enclave. And it was the Canadian contingent. And afterward they voted it out in March ’94, which is when the first of the three Dutch battalions came in. And I remember I sort of, me and my friends who were interpreters, we sort of took it upon ourselves to try and tell them what was our experience of 1992. And we were not believed. Why we were not believed is a different story, is a different matter. But we were not believed.
And then in July 1995, when the Serbs started separating women and children from men, we knew instinctively what would happen, because that was the practice we saw two years earlier. We saw them do that and then we saw them kill the men and deport women and children, along with an occasional rape. Which is exactly what happened. And we kept saying, “Listen, this is going to happen, this is what they’re going to do.” And the only thing that we got as an answer was, “Well, this is completely legal under Geneva Conventions.” Which I didn’t know at the time, and I really don’t know and have never bothered to look up. But it’s the, I think, sort of institutional memory that has failed of the United Nations, of the international community, if there is such a thing in Srebrenica, and which is part of the reason that it ended the way that it did.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: Yes, Ambassador Rapp?
Steven Rapp: Well, just to talk about surprising things I think really, and perhaps this is because we start with such low expectations, but the fact that the level of cooperation that has been achieved has occurred. And in terms of a surprising recent event, I think from the point of view of many people was the discovery of the Mladić diaries and notebooks, which are extremely extensive, that were handed over to the Tribunal absolutely unconditionally, that at least on the part of those that have seen them contain evidence of high-level complicity and Yugoslav government with Mladić and with others.
And that I think is a reflection of the kind of thing that’s happened internationally that’s made possible the success, albeit not perfect success, of the tribunals. Certainly when the tribunals were established, and they were established even before Srebrenica, there were not high expectations. The world had failed to provide peacekeepers with robust mandates under Chapter VII to protect people. And in the end, the United Nations established tribunals with Chapter VII mandates to enforce their judgments and arrest warrants.
And no one, I think, expected that the day would arrive when Milošević was brought to justice, or Karadžić or more than 160 other individuals. And indeed, 43 of the 45 persons that were wanted from Serbia that have been arrested. And the efforts continue absolutely critically, to arrest Mladić and Hadžić and finish that particular list in terms of the cases that are going to be brought and prosecuted at The Hague. At the same time, the fact that there have been, thanks to Nataša’s work, cases like the Scorpions in the Belgrade War Crimes Chamber, cases involving Zvornik, three of them, albeit in process involving allegations of people involved in massacres that were included within Srebrenica, I think is a positive development and has the effect at the end of the day of shrinking the space for denial.
One has obviously the contrary situation when people like the Prime Minister of the Republika Srpska make the speeches that he made on Monday that deny the genocide. But those are voices speaking about a flat Earth, about something that’s been discredited by all the science and all the history. I know in the case of Nuremberg, Michael Scharf has, based upon some polling research, had indicated at the time of the Nuremberg Tribunal, Germans, by more than 90 percent, thought it was an unfair discriminatory victor’s justice process. Two generations later, 90 percent say exactly the opposite. And so given, I know the challenges of the Balkans and the history of the last 600 years; it may be more challenging to have this kind of transition in two generations. But there is evidence I think that it’s begun and it’s begun because of the international pressures that make that cooperation essentially mandatory, both in terms of the United Nations, but also in terms of the unwillingness of countries of Europe to accept into the EU accession process countries that weren’t cooperating with international justice and forced action that otherwise wouldn’t have taken place.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: And Nataša or Anisa, would you like…
Nataša Kandić: Yes. I agree with the Ambassador about importance of Milošević’s diaries. I didn’t expect--
Steven Rapp: Mladić’s diaries.
Nataša Kandić: Mladić. I didn’t expect information, like information about weapons, about meetings, because there are no information about Srebrenica genocide and the events before the fall and after. But many other information is very, very relevant. And now we have a case against the Croats using relevant information from diaries. And it’s really a new approach, a new knowledge about what’s happened in the past. I was shocked with a discussion amongst Serbs and Croats about Bosnia and Herzegovina and about the Muslims and their region, how to organize life in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But it’s surprising in a positive sense.
I was shocked with some documents which are not used by Tribunal, and especially later with the International Justice Court to prove or to develop a command channel and the communication between Republika Srpska and Serbia. I’m talking about documents relating the members of Scorpions unit. Because from the documents, it’s clear that members of Scorpions belonged to the Serbian police, that it’s a unit created by Serbian State Security Service. And what’s happened during the trial in the front of International Justice Court, they didn’t use those documents. They didn’t ask for additional documents. And they concluded, based on, at that time it was only a judgment against Krstić for genocide in Srebrenica. They concluded that Scorpions weren’t a member of Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb army without a direct connection with the Serbian institution. And it was the main reason why the judgment is only against the Serb, only for failing in don’t arrest Mladić, et cetera, but without decision relating to participation in execution of the crime. And it was really a surprise, what’s happened to justice, and especially with International Justice Court. Having the documents, but going to direction to secure better position for the Serbian institutions.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: And Anisa, did you want to respond to that as well?
Anisa Sućeska-Vekić: No, I just wanted to say that it’s not only about a few cases that are really well known to the public, such as Karadžić or a pending case of Mladić, who is not arrested. And there about 130 cases also done in front tribunals that are somewhere for the region. There are somewhere in the, let’s say shadow, 160 cases in front of Court of BiH which are bringing the truth. There are witnesses there who are really talking about what they have seen, describing even conversation they heard, the visual identifies of those who were perpetrators.
But the fact is that there are less and less witnesses in this process. It’s again up to political will to bring the law that will protect them. Witnesses are dying. Either they are old or they are sick and dying young. Then they are tired. They are witnessing at least-- they are witnessing even up to 50 times the same witness, to Tribunal, to Court of BiH, to several cases. After 50 times of passing through trauma, there is now a traumatization process. People are losing ability to testimony anymore, even they decide not to become witnesses in new cases or they are even deciding to cancel their testimonies until there. That is why a lot of processes in the front of Court of BiH are falling. They are falling because there are no witnesses anymore. And the facts that these people are saying are also the facts that are there to be used to determine who was involved, what was the level of involvement, and what has been really done. So it’s really challenging.
Steven Rapp: Can I just add one thing? Good news and bad news on this front. As I indicated, I was a prosecutor in the tribunals, and before that I was a prosecutor in the United States. And sometimes we prosecutors were criticized for calling press conferences to announce the filing of charges. But we always thought it was very important that people would know that the law has been broken, that people are being held to account for it. And without necessarily commenting on the facts, it’s a critical part of a prosecution to send a signal that there are consequences to this conduct. And it’s also very important that people have access to the information of what happens in court and that there’s publicity about it. And that sometimes occurs; obviously cases in Belgrade that we’ve discussed have received some publicity.
Up until I think a couple days ago in Croatia, for instance, many things were secret. It was impossible to know if a person had been convicted of war crimes. I think yesterday they changed that policy. And now that will be public information, whether an individual’s been convicted of war crimes or not. On the other hand, in Bosnia, where the state court has had a very good record, as we’ve heard, of 160 cases. It’s prosecuted cases like the Stupar case out of Srebrenica, cases involving the siege of Sarajevo. It’s had I think a very efficient record in terms of being able to bring these complex trials to conclusion.
I was intrigued when I was in Sarajevo on Monday that one of the international judges told me that a policy had now been adopted that the judgments could no longer be on the website and that this was some kind of violation of the privacy of the individuals that were convicted. And so now all record of who has been convicted is not there. And because it’s impossible for the court to move quickly enough to somehow excise the names, now the judgments themselves, even the contents and the findings about what happened in each of the trials, isn’t public. And I hope that this will be something that’s considered and reconsidered. I think as each of these judgments is handed down, there’s, I think, some immediate press on it. But for anybody to go back and to try to find it, it will be impossible. And the enormous work that’s been done there and the contribution of Bosnia and of the international community to that court I think will have less of an effect if effectively its work is secret.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: Emir, you wanted to say something?
Emir Suljagić: I’m sorry. I just wanted to-- I can’t let this fly. I wanted to go to Mladić diaries. Obviously, it’s a policy of the United States to continue appeasing the government of Serbia and continue to take it for its word, which is exactly the same thing which it did in the ’90s, which is exactly the same thing that led to genocide. But obviously, I’m sorry, but you’ve been served a document that was totally doctored by the Security Services of Serbia. All of a sudden, you have a document that details everything, and all of a sudden it stops detailing. There isn’t a single entry related to Srebrenica. There isn’t a single one. That’s one thing. The other thing is, Serbia was under legal obligation to deliver that document. And we are now being presented with it as a success. I’m sorry, it was their duty, it was their duty under international law to deliver that document. And I’m really sorry, some of the stuff that I said came out too hard. But I just have to warn that taking the government of Serbia for its word has not worked out. It has not worked out, and we paid the price for it. And I’m just asking you, trying to ask you again, just appeal for caution. Because you are not dealing with-- they are not sincere. They’re not sincere in that. And that’s all I have to say on that issue.
Steven Rapp: Well, I do want to comment on that. And certainly, the government of Serbia in the past has often been quite uncooperative. And certainly, there are people in Serbia today that don’t want to see the ICTY succeed and who would obstruct its efforts. And it has taken international pressure, of which the United States was a part. I remember being in Carla Del Ponte’s office the day that Milošević was flown in, in June of 2001. And that was a reflection, clearly of the United States’ unwillingness to attend the Donors’ Conference in Belgrade, it would have been on the 28th, I think, of June, 2001, were it not for that surrender. And we’ve supported conditionality in the EU process that has been extremely important. And it’s been pressure. It has been that pressure that has brought--
Emir Suljagić: Yeah, but which has been dropped two weeks ago.
Steven Rapp: --success. Now you see a government change two years ago, where immediately thereafter Krstić was arrested. He should have been arrested sooner than that. The effort continues. As far as we’re concerned, we follow the views of the ICTY prosecutor, who indicates that cooperation is better but it is not yet full and complete. And so that cooperation has to continue until the day that Mr. Mladić and Mr. Hadžić are in The Hague.
Emir Suljagić: But the only instrument that was working, which was the conditionality policy, has been dropped June 14. Mladić is no longer-- Serbia no longer has to arrest Mladić as part of its EU agenda or whatever you’re wanting to call it. That was the only thing that was working, the EU conditionality policy was the only thing that was working.
Steven Rapp: Well, and Serbia continues to work and understand that the SAA is not going to become effective until 27 countries ratify that SAA.
Emir Suljagić: Fair enough.
Steven Rapp: And there’s still a whole process of accession. So that process isn’t over. But I do note that intense efforts are being made as we speak to bring Mladić to justice. And I’m very hopeful that we’ll see him in The Hague in the next few months.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: And I think we’ll also discuss that a little bit more in the second panel, which will follow a break. We are going to open up some questions to the audience. Before we do that though, I wanted a short response from each of our four presenters on what you think are the major unresolved terms today, the major unresolved questions in terms of how the conflicts of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, particularly genocide at Srebrenica, will be remembered. So what are the greatest obstacles today? Nataša?
Nataša Kandić: Of course, political will. Human rights community expect that all states, all parliaments in the region will adopt-- 11 July is day of remembering genocide and victims of genocide. Montenegro adopted European Parliament Resolution relating the genocide. Serbian Parliament brought a declaration about victims of Srebrenica without mentioning word “genocide.” But I would say that the declaration is a positive step. Everything is explained by the declaration, but Serbian Parliament is not a parliament with members who are dedicated to do justice. Many of them are responsible for the war. But Parliament adopted declaration, telling everything what’s happened, giving respect to the victims. But it was without mentioning genocide, and it was without the main decision to adopt 11 July as day we will be remembered and giving with those with respect to the victims I think is the main obstacle, political will. Because we don’t have politicians who understand how it’s important to give the respect to the victims of genocide. I think on Serbia and of course Republika Srpska at the moment is very aggressive relating the facts about Srebrenica. And the current government denied the main decision established by the former government and report issued by the Commission of the Republika Srpska, with very good conclusions relating to genocide and killed people.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: Ambassador Rapp, for you, what do you think are the major obstacles moving forward?
Steven Rapp: Well, the major obstacle, of course, as you might guess from my past and from my office, which deals with war crimes issues and tribunals, is achieving justice in these cases. And of course, we’ve mentioned The Hague and the absolute critical importance of the arrest of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić, the last two indictees, both believed to be in Serbia, and that they need to be arrested and transferred to The Hague and their trials are completed in the full view of the region and the world. But it’s not just there.
I mean, what we have seen, not perfectly, but in ways that I think have been important, the development of war crimes prosecutions in the region and prosecutions of cases involving the ethnicity, the same ethnicity as the prosecutor. And there are hundreds, some say thousands, of war criminals living in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, often shielded by borders because there is no extradition between them.
There was the case of Stanković, the first case sent back to the State Court of BiH, that very strong case and very horrendous acts committed by this individual. The case sent back to the State Court of the BiH, he was there convicted. His conviction was upheld. He was put in prison. He escaped from prison, went to Serbia. And now he’s a free man, because it’s impossible to extradite him from Serbia to Bosnia to serve the sentence.
Now, if the case hadn’t been sent from The Hague, which was what the UN wanted, he would have been convicted and he’d be serving a sentence today in a European country and he’d have to finish that sentence. So extradition is important. It may be difficult to accomplish in the region. But at least there has to be a greater level of cooperation so that when there’s strong evidence of people living in Serbia that have committed crimes in Bosnia, those files could go to Serbia and there be prosecuted and individuals there convicted on the basis of evidence before their neighbors. And I think that that is critical to shrinking the space for denial that we’ve spoken of.
Now, we know it’s always difficult to prosecute your own. Even in the United States, if you remember back, and I was very young at the time, with the Calley and Medina case for My Lai. Medina was acquitted because the judges refused to follow the law of command responsibility. And Calley received a sentence from which he was commuted after a relatively short period for killing 600 Vietnamese civilians. So it’s a challenging thing to do that, in any country. We attempted it there. But it’s important that that process continue. And that’s what I think is the most important to shrinking the space for denial and allowing people to go forward.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: And Anisa, for you?
Anisa Sućeska-Vekić: Adding to what Ambassador Rapp said, it’s like just fulfilling the justice will be a huge process with a lot of obstacles, because the process is not even close to the end. I would even rather say in the beginning. Arresting Karadžić and Mladić change a lot, but in the end doesn’t change everything, and it’s a step. It’s a step forward, but not most important steps. I remember two years ago, I was talking to prosecution of the state of State Court of BiH and they were mentioning about a thousand and some hundred indictments on their table that’s supposed to be processed. These processes didn’t take place. And the fact is now that a newly-brought document and policy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that will deal with war crime trials and all these processes which is called “war crime processing strategy,” brings all these processes to the lower courts, to the local and district court, that will deal with this enormous number of indictments that they are raising on daily basis.
What is going on? We were analyzing the courts, and have been, for two years already, on how they work, what is their capacities. There’s no even single common regulation they follow. They will work in Republika Srpska and Federation under two different legal frameworks. In Republika Srpska, they are proceeding under a legal framework of ex-Yugoslavia, where doesn’t exist genocide, crimes against humanity, or crimes allocated to this. So the biggest sentence could be five years. And even the indictees cannot be charged, because these things don’t exist in the law.
In Federation, the situation is different. The courts are following the practice of The Hague Tribunal and international practice. First, the legal framework needs to be harmonized. Secondly, it’s completely high politically influenced to the judges and there’s no political will to process the cases even to those courts that already got cases. So it’ll be a long process. And it’s very important to have strong [inaudible] of international community.
I have to add here that there is a huge problem of not only denial of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but active, active propaganda of taking off international community from this process. We had very dangerous decision by our Parliament. They decided that international judges and prosecutors have to be removed from the state court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, even from War Crime Chamber. We were lobbying and calling for days to try to change this. Calling the public to really get up and make things. The international community reacted, very late, according to our opinion. But they managed to have a few judges and prosecutors left in the War Crime Chambers. But what will happen with the local courts, nobody still knows. And implementation of this strategy waits. So the huge obstacles are there.
On the other side, we have increased speech of hate, as I said, increased nationalistic rhetoric within the young population, which is very, very, very dangerous, and open public speech of hate from the politicians and from everyone who wants to get involved. So we believe that a legal framework that will deal with both issues, it’s very much needed, and strong, strong international support is needed. Bosnia is not ended. A war in Bosnia will happen again, as Nataša said, as it’s happening again when there is denial, where there is a coverage of the facts that happened. Nobody was teaching us on what really happened in the second war. Court reporting was forbidden by the law, and things happened again. So I think we all have a role to support the truth to come out.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: And Emir, I know for you, you carry a special burden as a survivor in answering any of these questions. But if you were to put yourself forward in time, how would you want this story to end and what do you think are the obstacles to getting there? And the truth telling and fact finding.
Emir Suljagić: I’m not naïve enough to actually even think that this story might end the way I’d like to or the way anybody I shared some experiences with. What I do know is that 15 years after the war, it is clear that we are not going to get justice, no matter how you define it. And I can live with that. I’ve got no problems with that. This is a real world, and I know how things work in a real world, I’ve seen them work. What I have a problem with is that as a result of ambivalent policy or a lack of policy of international community, which is at the same time appeasing Serbia and condescending towards us, any responsible politics in the region, the international community is helping create a grievance that is not likely not be addressed in the near future. And I have to warn that all conflicts in the Balkans have come as a result of grievances, real or imagined, doesn’t matter, which were manipulated and not addressed in time. And that’s what I’m afraid we’re doing now. And that’s how I’m afraid the story’s going to end.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: We would now like to open up the floor to audience members to pose questions to our panelists. My colleagues have microphones in the two aisles. If you just raise your hand. Okay, we have one down here and in the middle. Nina, the microphone is right behind you.
Question: Thank you all for a very interesting panel. My question is really directed to Ambassador Rapp. And I’m very troubled by your comments. I agree that it has been conditionality posed by the United States, principally by a bipartisan alliance in Congress and enforced by both the Clinton and the Bush administrations, that resulted in over half of the indictees who are now in The Hague, getting there, and the other half coming as a result of EU conditionality, which started in 2004. Well before you took office, and you know the respect I have for your career, the Obama administration started to eviscerate the conditionality policy. Now the cooperation evaluation is virtually automatic. And most shockingly, the U.S. government, Secretary Steinberg in particular, pressured the Dutch government to give up its own conditionality. Could you explain why the U.S. government is doing this? Particularly after-- I know of your commitment and commitment to justice. And certainly the President’s statement was very strong. But there is a vast, vast gap between the rhetoric of the administration and what it’s actually doing.
Steven Rapp: Well, I want to make clear here, and I’d like to talk to you about the facts of this situation. Because I’ve met too many times with Dutch authorities, and I’ve always assured them of our support for the prosecutor and for his work in this area and for his evaluation of what’s happening in terms of Serbian cooperation. And as we note, the prosecutor in December last year and to some extent in his June report, indicates some pleasure, I mean some feeling that there is an increased level of cooperation in Serbia on the Mladić and Hadžić cases. He doesn’t yet call that full and complete. I understand that that’s been interpreted by some in Europe as essentially an A grade. He didn’t intend it as an A grade, and in my view, it’s not an A grade. And completing the process of EU accession will require that that cooperation continue and be strengthened.
At the same time, I mean, I just returned from the region, just returned from Belgrade, where the message that I continue to deliver is the absolute critical importance of the arrest of these two fugitives… It’s importance to the future of Serbia, the importance to the future of our relations and its relations and moving forward in Europe. And certainly what I see is a very intense effort, and it was recognized as such when I was in Sarajevo as well by Bosnian officials. So we want that to continue. And our effort to press for it and to assist it will continue. And I think that at this stage, it I think bears the prospect of achieving real results.
Question: Well, I’m not surprised that the War Crimes Office has that position. But the problem is the U.S. government has done everything to undermine the only thing that has produced results in the past, which is true conditionality.
Steven Rapp: Well I know if you go back to what Vice President Biden said in May in Serbia, I think he made it clear that we still see the value in this approach. And certainly, within our government, I’m pressing to make sure that this cooperation continues at peril of it affecting our relations and the relationship in Europe.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: And I hope everyone will stay. Because of course, the Dutch will also speak for themselves on the next panel, and also Antony Blinken will address the White House policy. There is another question, down front, in the middle here.
Question: Thank you, I am a research intern at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, but speaking at the personal level here. I had two short questions, one for Ms. Nataša Kandić and the second one for any of the panelists or all of them. I just wanted to use the opportunity to thank Ms. Kandić for all her work that she’s done and continues to do to support the human rights in the former Yugoslavia.
My question is, can there be talk of collective guilt or collective responsibility in Serbia? As far as I’m aware, there were not any massive demonstrations or protests of Serbs when the Srebrenica massacre happened or when the Račak massacre happened in Kosovo. I didn’t see any Serbs protesting and demonstrating that this is not in our name. What do you think on that? Was the propaganda very good and shielded the population, or can we talk about some kind of massive indifference to the crimes that were going on?
And the second question is how do we ensure that politics are not in a way mixed together with war crimes and within indicting war criminals? There’s the recent case of the massive grave discovered in Raska in Serbia, where the bodies of more than 400 Albanians are believed to have been buried there. But there has been evidence that this mass grave has been there for so long, but Serbia did not intentionally… was culpable to do anything about it. But now we see that some action has been taken just prior before the ICJ ruling. So how do we ensure that war crimes are war crimes and treated as such, and politics are left aside? Thanks.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: Thank you. So the questions are about collective, which I think might be two separate concepts, collective guilt, collective responsibility, also involving propaganda in Serbia. And then also, I think the second larger question though is about the intermixing of politics and war crimes, which I think probably more people on the panel. But Nataša, do you want to begin?
Nataša Kandić: I will say that collective responsibility is a very important issue. It requires public debate about that. But at the moment, we don’t have public debate. Through this Regional Civil Society Initiative about establishment of a regional commission, will require public debate about the past. But I’m speaking about our Civil Society Initiative. But our debate through civil society is not enough. We need to force politicians to take their responsibility and to open public debate in parliaments and in society. Because only politicians have an institution, have power with public discussion. And I think opportunity for that is through this Regional Civil Society.
But we cannot speak about collective guilty. There are individual guilty and the main duty of ICTY Tribunals, domestic courts, is to establish individual responsibility for the crimes. The problem is that there are no discussion about war crimes trials in the region. The media are not interested to report about that. There are no communication between court decisions and public, ordinary people citizens. Everything what’s happened, for example in Serbia is in a building court, it’s important. When you close the door, nothing-- you cannot see the people and the journalists speaking, discussing about that.
But Kosovo, I think Kosovo is a very, very important issue for the future of Serbia. And also for the future in Kosovo, this, Civil Society Initiative, is focused on all states. They should sign agreement about establishment of commission. And the main, our obstacle problem is how to collect all the states, all the parliaments to sign agreement about that. Because we should bring Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia discovering of mass graves suddenly in Serbia. It’s not only mass graves. There are 1,800 missing Albanians and Serbs, 1,400 Albanians and 400, 450 Serbs. There are some mass graves, secret mass graves. Serbian authority discovered these mass graves allegedly with 400 bodies.
But it’s not whole story. There are some secret mass graves and also there are some secret mass graves in Kosovo. And what is the main conclusion? There are no political bill to support families, to give them location and to help them to get remains of their relatives, children, fathers, I don’t know. But the international community is not interested in that issue, because what is interest to international community to see Mladić in The Hague.
Public debate about the past is our relation to the past. If we want to discuss about the past, it will be better for us and for the future. If we want the future remembering the past, we should do it something. But the international community will not pressure to debate about the past. It’s our task. If we want good future, democratic future and future without crimes, we should open discussion. We should make pressure on our politicians to take responsibility for the past, not only under the pressure of international community. We should force them to establish regional commission to deal with facts, to give respect to all victims, to establish facts about all war crimes.
Because ICTY and all our courts in the region, they will establish facts about responsibility, probably about 1,300 perpetrators. And what happened to it? Probably we had more than 20,000 perpetrators. They will live and peace without any fear that they will be tried, because there are no court capacity for that. We need more than courts. We should use court facts, but pressure on the governments to open space for voice of victims and to discuss facts about hundreds and hundreds of cases of war crimes were mentioned only in some cases of war crimes trials. But without investigation, without facts about that.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: If we can, I’d like to take a question over here.
Question: I’m Tom Parsons, the Director of Forensic Science of the International Commission on Missing Persons. We’re the organization that’s been involved in the scientific excavation of all these graves, as well as the DNA identifications. And I think there’s a perspective here that’s quite relevant to some of these conversations. And that is the remarkable contribution of the international community in supporting these forensic operations. Prior to Bosnia, prior to Srebrenica, it was not a capability of the world science community to be able to go into a series of graves where thousands of people have been scattered in fragments and exhume them, and then using high-tech DNA technologies, reunite them with their families. And this was the result of a great deal of commitment on the international community.
And with regard to both obstacle and opportunity, I just want to echo some of Emir’s comments, is that we have to stay focused on the task and not lose the impetus at this point. Because there have been 13,000 scientifically based identifications in the former Yugoslavia that support the war crimes. The exhumations tell the story of what went on there. And we have to stay with it. The job is almost 70 percent done. Another five years of support by the international community, the Americans, the Dutch, 18 other donor governments, this is what is needed to complete the task and truly revolutionize what Srebrenica and Bosnia is in terms of our ability to know and remember the truth.
Steven Rapp: Can I just add something to that? I mean, I really want to salute your organization and the great work and obviously the need for our support, and other countries’ support to this. As well, I think it’s established a new standard in these situations, which I’m sure the International Commission is being called upon to assist with, whether it’s in Kyrgyzstan or wherever, which is that in every one of these situations, the first thing that needs to be dealt with is the identification of these victims, for people to know where their children are, where there husband are, where their brother is. And that that’s something about which I think it may be difficult in situations of ethnic or religious conflict, but it’s something about which I think humans can unite and say, “This needs to be done.”
And that when I was in Srebrenica on Sunday, I mean, a meeting with the mothers who were burying their children who were saying, “I just didn’t give him enough kisses,” that kind of thing. But now they knew that was their son that was being buried. It wasn’t a question of is he gone somewhere else, is he a prisoner, et cetera. That is so important. And of course, from my point of view, from the point of view of delivering justice, and of course, that’s what’s motivated a lot of this to get started. But it is then so important to have that kind of information to then proceed when there is the will and the capacity to find criminal responsibility for these acts. And I think that it’ll be one of the legacies of what happened here that that kind of focus and that forensic attention, and now with the DNA technology, will be something that I think will be available elsewhere. And hopefully, because people will know that that’s going to occur, perhaps be part of what we all dream of, which is some deterrents for these acts before they happen.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: Anisa?
Anisa Sućeska-Vekić: I just wanted to answer the question the gentleman asked. I would give in both questions. It’s true what Nataša said that collective guilt doesn’t exist theoretically. But in practice, in Bosnia and Herzegovina concretely, this is very, very there in perception of people. I will just give you very illustrative example. As we were reporting on the crimes, practices of the war crimes happening in Prijedor. We should all have in mind that there is a huge process of denial of genocide in Bosnia. It’s partially also, it’s providing only information about Srebrenica. There were genocides happening in other parts of Bosnia. Detention camps in old Bosnia and Prijedor rape camps in east Bosnia and Herzegovina, both to male, women, and minors. We should be all aware of this. So there were processes about Prijedor cemented.
And we got letter from a Serbian gentleman living in Prijedor thanking us for taking off collective blame from his back. First we were surprised, but then the letter goes like, “Thank you for enabling me to say hello to my neighbor in Bosnia who came back. Because for five years, I’m walking next to him and trying to hide my head.” And then he explained that when he spent the war in Prijedor, he was shocked and he was afraid, trying to hide his family. And himself shutting the doors and trying to not see things. And he said, “I’m just ashamed that I didn’t see anything, but I really didn’t see anything.” And during the process on which you were reporting, I learned the truth, but also my neighbors learned the truth, so the guilt has name and surname. And thank you for this. It’s [inaudible]. So it’s still very important.
There are other ways, of course, and it should be many other ways of collecting the facts, all possible. But the trials are those that are bringing determined facts which cannot be denied. And that’s very important to say. But when it’s up to politics, it cannot be not mixed with war crimes. Because first, politicians were those who were involved. And the same politicians are now there, still creating our future. On the other side, war crime trials and war crime processes in general are not only about the facing with the past and not looking at the future, if you’re a young person in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and you want to look into employment, in your development, generally, you need to face with the truth. Because sustainable return process in Bosnia failed, even though it was very much supported by the international community. Nice houses built, people returned. But people do not live together. They do not send their kids to school, they are not saying hello to their neighbors. And they’re afraid to live. Their life literally stopped somewhere in ’95. So in order to go further on, these processes have to be done and politicians need to be very much involved in that. So there’s no way that it can be separated.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: Emir, did you want to add anything?
Emir Suljagić: No, not really. I mean, Serbia’s operating.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: I think we have time for one final question, if there is one. Okay, we’ll take down in front.
Man 3: I guess first, I’m going to address you Emir, this question. In regards to the Mladić diaries and the evidence that was collected when he was nearly caught recently, I found out about this just a few days ago. It struck me that there was collusion between Croats and Serbs to take action against Bosnian Muslims. At the time, how much did you feel that there was collusion, or if you knew that there was collusion, and how does that make you feel today, 15 years later.
Emir Suljagić: You want me to answer that?
Man 3: Oh, I spoke to you, because you are… But anybody else could answer.
Emir Suljagić: Obviously, in May 1993, whatever collusion there was, it rematerialized in the-- well, I should say active aggression by Republic of Croatia on Bosnia and Herzegovina and ethnic cleansing of Bosnia population from western Herzegovina, especially-- and I had the privilege of, well, rather dubious privilege. But I had the privilege of reporting on the trial of covering the ethnic cleansing of Mostar. There is another trial related to the war crimes committed by Bosnia and Croatian army forces in western Herzegovina going on now. And I guess more facts will come to light. But that was obvious even before that. I don’t think that either Milošević or Tuđman were hiding that they were looking for some kind of deal at the expense of Bosnia and Herzegovina. That it materialized in such a brutal manner I guess has also to do with their character as politicians and their visions of Serbia on the one hand and Croatia on the other.
Bridget Conley-Zilkić: And I think we’ll now conclude this session. We’ll take a very short 15-minute break. We’ll reconvene at four with our second panel, and then go directly into the keynote address. But first please, if we could just thank our panelists for their comments.