Tuesday, July 10, 2007

From Sarajevo: Listening to the President of Bosnia Herzegovina

I am sitting in a plenary session of the International Association of Genocide Scholars listening to the President of the country who has come to address us. His presence is indicative of how important it is to the country that this meeting is taking place here.

He began by noting that Serb leaders had made it clear before the killings that they were planning on killing Bosnian Muslims. It is striking that in so many cases of genocide and/or mass killings the perpetrators make their intentions clear, e.g. the Holocaust, Rwanda, and here.

Tomorrow we go to Sebrenica. It is the anniversary of the massacres there and some of the bodies which were left in ditches there have been exhumed and will be reburied.

I saw the film which will be part of the memorial at this site. There were many things about it which struck me. First and foremost, of course, the mass killings. The largest massacre in Europe since the Holocaust.

But, as someone who studies bystanders, I was absolutely floored by the behavior of the Dutch so-called peacekeepers who essentially walked away and left the Bosnian Muslims to a certain fate of death at the hands of the Serbs.

The Dutch alone were not responsible but a great measure of shame seems to fall on their shoulders.


acadia said...


Survivors of Bosniaks killed in Srebrenica are suing the Dutch government and the United Nations for damages, on the grounds that UN peacekeepers failed to adequately protect the population.

You can read about it in Der Speiegel:


Quote from Der Spiegel's eyewitness accounts:

"...The Serbs began to 'march girls and young women away from the group of refugees. They were raped.' ....A Dutch soldier stood by and watched as the women were raped, even listening to music on his Walkman.... A Serb, says Subasic, 'told the mother to make the child stop crying. But when the baby continued to cry, he took it from the mother and slit its throat. Then he laughed. A Dutch soldier also witnessed the murder of the baby, she says, and yet he "didn't react at all"..."

Shaina said...

I think the entire issue of bystanders is an interesting one. Forgive my ignorance, but have you written in articles or published any materials regarding the bystander phenomenon?

With regards to Srebrenica, Dutchbat are very much emblematic of the bystander issue; however, I also think that it was as much a failure of the entire premise of the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and the international system. And the issue of the Safe Areas which were created under the understandable and laudatory aim of preventing mass deaths to civilians in the enclaves; but there was no real will on the part of the international community to defend them. This isn't to lessen the guilt of the Dutchbat commanders; just to point out that Dutchbat was one part (albeit an essential part) of the international community that failed the people in Srebrenica.

Side note: One of the best representations of the bystander phenonom I've seen has been the "Ghosts of Rwanda" by Frontline PBS which shows how the bureaucracy of the US government became a bystander to genocide.

Shaina said...

ETA: Of course, the responsiblity for committing genocide lies squarely on the shoulders of the Command of the VRS.

It is perhaps a rather obvious point; but one that should be made.

BTW: If you get the chance, would you be able to summerize the presentations and papers given at the conference; I'm hoping that at least a few of them will be published online.

J P Maher said...

The Dutch Bn didn't protect Muslims. That's because they had all they could do to protect themselves from Muslims. One Dutch soldier was killed by a Muslim dropping a hand grenade into his vehicle. The press at the time was full of photos of the evacuation. The evacuation of women and children was also filmed and aired on TV. I watched on satellite. An anonymous witness allegedly says Serb soldier slit Muslim baby's throat in Srebrenica. Sure, sure. Anonymous witnesses also testified that Jews in 1475 kidnapped, tortured and murdered a Christian boy in Trento (Italy), and mixed his blood with the Pesach matzoth. --Contrary to stated policy, Dr Lipstadt's blog prints anonymous material.