Remarks by Carl Gershman
Thank you very much, Sara, and welcome everyone to this important event on the anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide and the future of Bosnia. This is the first time that the National Endowment for Democracy and the Holocaust Museum have joined together on a common initiative, and I’m deeply gratified that we’re doing so. Our institutions have different missions, but we are bound together by shared values and by the common purpose of creating a world where genocide cannot happen, not because evil has been abolished, which is not possible, but because the political, institutional, intellectual and moral conditions exist that enable mankind to contain and defeat it.
Certainly we’re not there yet. Just this week the International Criminal Court issued a new arrest warrant, including three counts of genocide, against the President of Sudan, leading the Holocaust Museum, which has closely monitored the crimes in Darfur, to warn that the Sudanese government might retaliate against innocent civilians in response to this decision. And today is the anniversary of the murder of the Russian human rights worker Natalia Estemirova, who reported for Memorial on the terrible crimes against civilians in Chechnya. Last week, after the Chechen leader threatened to kill other human rights workers by calling them “enemies of the people,” Memorial announced that it would have to close its office.
And then there is Srebrenica. Our discussion today is very consciously divided into two panels, the first looking at the crimes of the past, the second at the dangers that lay ahead if the international community and Bosnia itself do not take the necessary steps to prevent the resumption of violence. There is, of course, a very powerful relationship between these two parts of our discussion, since the necessary steps to avert the dangers are not likely to be taken in the absence of a genuine process of truth and reconciliation.
And the dangers are indeed great. According to the Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, “ethnic agendas still dominate the political process” in Bosnia, reforms that could enable a stronger central government to lead the country into Europe are being blocked, and ethnic tensions are growing as Bosnian Serb leaders are becoming more defiant and nationalists on all sides are hardening their positions in the run-up to the October elections.
Bosnia is approaching a crossroads. If it is to move forward to peace and not backward to renewed conflict, it will depend in no small measure on to the work of people like Natasa Kandic, who will be speaking on our first panel. The NED gave its Democracy Award to Natasa ten years ago for her efforts through the Humanitarian Law Center to provide legal aid and protection to the victims of human rights abuses committed during the conflicts of the 90s. Since then Natasa has continued her struggle to bring the truth to light, never more powerfully than when she produced a documentary film based on the video footage she had obtained showing members of the paramilitary “Scorpions” unit executing six Bosniaks during the Srebrenica massacre. The documentary was seen by hundreds of thousands of people when it was aired on Serbia’s B-92 television station on the very day the War Crimes Chamber delivered sentences to four members of the Scorpions unit. More recently, she has built a coalition of more than 400 organizations that are working to establish a new body called RECOM, which will be an inter-governmental Regional Commission tasked with conducting a common, credible, and comprehensive program of truth-telling about the crimes committed during the past conflicts.
Natasa is not alone in her efforts. She will be joined on the first panel by Anisa Suceska-Vikic who directs the work in Bosnia of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network that monitors and reports on war crimes at the local, national and international levels. And I would also like to note the work of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights that enables thousands of young people from the post-conflict societies of the Western Balkans to face the past together -- among other things, they arrange visits for young activists to the sites of major war crimes -- and to build new ties of solidarity across borders. I had the honor of taking part last December in the Youth Initiative’s Belgrade Summit which brought together 350 young people from throughout the Western Balkans, including 35 Kosovar youth for whom special arrangements were made to allow them to cross the border into Serbia. The Youth Initiative, in cooperation with FAMA International, has now produced an interactive multimedia educational tool called “Srebrenica – Mapping Genocide” that contains detailed information about the events that led to the genocide; profiles of the victims; the movements of Serb military forces; the location of concentration, execution sites, and mass graves; and a timeline of the events. The work of these and other groups gives us hope for the future, despite the many dangers.
The world has changed since the 1990s, and the U.S. is now chiefly preoccupied with conflicts in regions other than the Balkans. But the troubled Balkan region continues to demand our attention, especially Bosnia which one writer recently called “Europe’s unresolved moral issue.”
There are many ways we can help, and the NED offers one way through its grant assistance to the kind of courageous activists and effective organizations I have just described. There is also the need to recognize such brave people and to give them the political support, international contacts, and moral solidarity that they deserve. The fact that the Holocaust Museum is lending its prestige and moral authority to their cause and providing this forum in Washington on the anniversary of Srebrenica sends a very powerful message. It tells people who are on the front lines of a difficult struggle that the world is watching and that they are not alone. That’s the most important thing we can do to counter inhumanity in our troubled world, and I want to thank Sara and Mike Abramowitz for their leadership and commitment on this issue of moral concern and on so many others.