September 30, 2016
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Pictured above is a cemetery and memorial for the genocide victims at Srebrenica. Although the Bosnian war ended over two decades ago there are still tensions in the country today. Today intermarriage between the three Bosnian ethnicities is even less common than it was before the war and there is still great segregation. The only thing that the different parties now have in common is the poverty they have been stricken with. In 2010 the men who fought in the war, on both sides, were promised a pension by parliament.These war veterans never received their pension due to the continuing power squabble between the ethnicity and their right to govern the territory. Today the citizens still feel trapped by the grip that their parties have on their lives. It affects their education, their communities and their economic freedoms.
September 26, 2016
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History is written by the victors. The winners decide the rules, and the punishments to dole out to those who break those rules. The Nuremburg and Tokyo trials after WWII proved that. The defeated Germany and her allies were put on trial by the victorious world powers, but these winners had the express design to punish the losers in this war. That is how it has always been; the winners punish the defeated for their crime, but what about the crimes of the victors? The crimes of the victors are often ignored in favor of publicizing the crimes of the losers, but shouldn’t all crimes in a conflict be persecuted? Shouldn’t the nations that preach that impunity cannot exist, be held responsible for the crimes that they committed? It is this in mind that the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) and the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) were created. They were made in the image of the Nuremburg and Tokyo Trials, but with a new purpose of prosecuting both the winning and losing sides in the conflict. These tribunals are trying to make sure that no matter what side you are on, that committing war crime will never go unpunished.
September 21, 2016
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“The Banality of Evil”
I remember first hearing this phrase and thinking how can evil be ordinary? It gives many great comfort to think that people are born inherently evil, that your neighbor, friend, colleague, would never be this caricature of evil. But that is not the truth, and the truth is a terrifying reality. Normal people can do more damage than the person holding the gun, The Nazis proved that. The bureaucratic officials of Nazi German were a well-oiled machine where one signature at the bottom of an insignificant piece of paper could send thousands to their death. It was so easy to blame the figurehead of the movement, Hitler, but he never pulled a trigger (except on himself). The power behind Hitler was the fire he ignited with his rhetoric and promises, and to a severely economically depressed Germany, his words sounded like salvation. People still question why anyone would follow a man like Hitler, but they didn’t follow the man, they followed the promise of a future that Hitler promised. Hitler made the masses proud to call themselves German once again after humiliation in WWI. People could have felt they had an obligation to the man who raised their country back up, they could have whole-heartedly believed in his rhetoric. The important thing to remember is that without the support of the masses, the ordinary people, no dictatorship or genocide would ever happen; they would have no army, no followers to fill their ranks, no support for their cause.
March 26, 2015
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Milorad Dodik, president of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is calling for a new international truth commission for the Srebrenica massacre. Dodik views what happened in Srebrenica as a “huge crime” that has resulted in “a big political problem.” According to him, propaganda has wrongly portrayed all Serbs as the murderers in the massacre. In Dodik’s mind, the Srebrenica killings were “an act of cowardice” contrary to the knightly way in which Serbs always had carried themselves.
Dodik’s push for a new international truth commission for Srebrenica is interesting, given his history of denying that the Srebrenica massacre by Bosnian Serbs was genocide, even though international and Bosnian courts ruled it as such.
Yet what is even more interesting than Dodik’s apparent change of heart as to the severity of what happened in Srebrenica many years ago, is the reaction of victims’ groups to the possibility of yet another commission. Such groups argue that court verdicts have already well established what occurred in Srebrenica, questioning why a new commission needs to be created to go over the facts yet again. Hajra Catic, president of the Women of Srebrenica association, thinks that Dodik is just trying to rewrite the history of Srebrenica, as he is displeased with what commissions have established.
These developments lead me to question whether truth commissions are always valuable for a society that has suffered such massive abuses. While truth, as an ideal, may be something quite valuable and worth pursuing, we must consider the effects that reliving experiences has on victims and their families. Perhaps survivors and families involved with Srebrenica are tired of going through the trauma of what they experienced and would rather have the digging stop. Moreover, how valuable would another truth commission be when so many court verdicts, in addition to a former commission, have already well-established the facts of what occurred? Is Dodik seeking to establish a new truth commission for the betterment of the survivors and their families, or is it a political attempt to grab the media’s attention, as some critics believe it to be? Not only does Dodik’s push for a new truth commission bring up questions about the intrinsic value of yet another commission, but it also brings into light how politics and state interests may be involved in decisions to establish and support them.
For the full story, click here.
March 6, 2015
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Pope Francis has recently announced that he will visit the Capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, in June of this year. His aim of the trip is to, “give rise to the development of good and contribute to the consolidation of brotherhood and peace, inter-religious dialogue and friendship.” A recent op-ed written by the ICTJ’s communications director, Refik Hodzic, a Bosnian himself, discusses the current reconciliatory issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country is still suffering from the legacy of the 1992-95 conflict; a conflict which resulted in more than 100,000 deaths of Bosnian Croats and Serbs. The issues in the country are not surrounding a lack of impunity—hundreds of war criminals been caught, tried, and sentenced. The issues in this case go deeper. Even twenty years later, the wounds have not healed. Hodzic wrote himself, “We are paralyzed, caught in limbo between war and genuine peace because we have not translated the truth and justice emerging from courtrooms into acknowledgement, empathy and reconciliation.” This is a strong example of the split between retributive and restorative justice—the criminals have been formally punished but there is still a lack of restoration of forgiveness and reconciliation in the hearts and minds of the individuals who lived through the conflict and who are attempting to live their lives now. Beyond the courtroom, reconciliatory justice still needs to be made, especially with the recent release of several war criminals who have finished their sentence. Pope Francis enters the scene and offers an interesting religious element to the healing process, and it will be interesting to see if his presence will have an impact in the reconciliation process.
March 3, 2015
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The US immigration agency established a war crimes department in 2008 in order to investigate immigrants from former conflict zones, for example the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Currently, according to BBC, the department is hoping “to deport 150 Bosnian immigrants who they believe to be involved in war crimes during the 1992-95 war.” Many of those immigrants are thought to have contributed during the Srebrenica massacre which killed more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. Over 100,000 Bosnians sought refuge and visas in the United States in the mid-90’s, but there was little attention paid to backgrounds and the process “relied mostly on their honesty”. The lawyer of several defendants argued that his clients were working for the Serbian government and were not directly related to the events of Srebrenica or war crimes.
Ultimately, what does deportation twenty years after the crimes were committed accomplish? It is unclear what the goals of deportation are in this case, but I fail to see a contribution to the reconstruction or reparation of the affected society. Where will the immigrants return to, and how will that affect the new society which they join?
January 29, 2015
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In July of last year, a Dutch court in The Hague determined that Dutch troops acting as UN peacekeeping forces in Bosnia-Hercegovina were at fault for the deaths of more than 300 Muslim men and boys. These deaths compose part of one of the most famous genocides in international history, an episode of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs. The judge presiding over the case said that the soldiers should have known that deporting the Bosnian Muslims from the UN-sponsored Dutch compound would have meant their death. This ruling raises an important question: how will those responsible for the Dutch action (or lack thereof) be prosecuted for their roles in the act of genocide? The court has yet to announce how the families of the 300 men and boys killed by the decisions of the Dutch forces will be compensated, but there hasn’t been any word about the possibility of punitive actions against those responsible in the eyes of the court.
January 16, 2014
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Dutch Peacekeepers are Found Responsible for Deaths
Here is a link to an article about a recent trial regarding the Dutch’s responsibility in the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre that we spoke about in class today. In September of last year, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the Netherlands was in fact responsible for the deaths of three Bosnian Muslim men because Dutch peacekeepers had wrongfully ordered them to leave UN compound. What’s really interesting is one of the families that filed this lawsuit, was the young man we watched in one of the videos, the one who was allowed to remain on the base because he was a UN translator while his mother, brother and father were forced to leave.
this verdict gives the U.N a certain level of accountability for the thousands of death that took place during the massacre, saying that the Dutch peacekeepers had ‘effective control’ of the troops so as a result they must share responsibility for the crimes. Many victims feel that this verdict brings true justice, because it sets the precedent that the U.N actors are held accountable too, and cannot hide behind the U.N wall of immunity. I don’t know if i necessarily agree with this verdict, but it definitely does send the message that by allowing this travesty to happen, you are just as responsible as the ones who committed the crime
April 9, 2012
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The Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies at UMass recently opened at the end of March. It is hosting its first traveling exhibit called the Rescuers with Proof: Media for Social Justice.The exhibit highlights stories from genocides that occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Cambodia.With photographs and testimonials from around the world, the Rescuers Project highlights the remarkable stories of ordinary people who, at great risk to themselves, have intervened to protect and save members of targeted groups. Here’s a link to its website if you’re interested: http://proofmsj.com/exhibits/ . The exhibit is open until April 12th. The Institute is at 758 North Pleasant Street (ac from Totman Gym). Here is the link to the website http://www.umass.edu/ihgms/ .
I think this new Institute could be a really great resource for a lot of our research papers and is a great complement to what we’ve been doing in class if anyone has a chance to check it out!
April 7, 2012
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Photo (C) Alana Tiemessen
Today, April 7th, Rwanda begins a commemoration period of the 18th anniversary of the genocide. This time also marks the 20th anniversary of the Bosnian war that began with the siege of Sarajevo. Both episodes of violence resulted in high death tolls, displacement, and extreme vicitimization. Both societies also continue to struggle with the past by seeking justice and reconciliation.
I want to draw your attention to two pieces. The first is an article by Susan Thomson on The Lasting Legacies of Rwanda’s Genocide. We’ll be discussing the Gacaca courts in class this week and you’ll see how the post-genocide political environment has affected justice and reconciliation.
Also, take a look at Twenty Years On, Bosnia Struggles to Reckon with the Past by Refik Hodzic at the ICTJ. The podcast address some of the political obstacles to justice for Bosnia.
These commemorative periods in Rwanda and Bosnia are a time to remember the victims and also an opportunity to call attention to ongoing struggle with human rights in both countries.