abortion, bosnia, concentration camp, croatia, feminism, former yugoslavia, genocide, icty, Ina Vukic, justice, Karadzic, mishka gora, omarska, serbia, theodor meron, united nations, war, war crimes, women's rights
There are some days when the world seems to be caught in a never ending tempest of depravity and injustice, when nothing but the irrepressible joy of my young children can counterbalance the dark storm clouds. However, this week there were a few more sunny patches than usual.
In Texas, after a pigheaded marathon filibuster and a remarkable stand-off between pro-choice activists chanting “hail Satan” and pro-life activists singing ‘Amazing Grace’, the House of Representatives finally passed a bill banning late-term abortion. It is admittedly, only a small step. It only bans killing unborn children older than 20 weeks gestation, a mere four weeks advance from the current law, and it will also require abortions to take place in surgical centres, which may save the lives or improve the health of pregnant women but not their doomed children. It does, however, demonstrate that the truth about abortion is beginning to be heard. If there is one thing both sides agree upon it is that there is no compromise, no common ground. Pro-lifers will be satisfied with nothing less than an end to the killing, and pro-choicers will not relinquish the so-called right of women to choose when and if one of their children should be allowed to survive the brief sojourn in his or her mother’s womb.
Also heartening was the news from the Hague yesterday. The Appeals Chamber of the ICTY made another effort to set things straight, reversing the acquittal of Radovan Karadzic on one count of genocide last year. For many of you, the war in Bosnia is not part of your living memory, so let me explain the significance of this.
When Karadzic was acquitted last year of this single count of genocide (out of eleven), those of us who have an ongoing concern for the victims of war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia were aghast. You could have told me that Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin had been acquitted of genocide and I would have been no less horrified. The fact that this acquittal occurred on June 28 only added to the cruelty of it, as if history was determined to curse this day forevermore.
As discussed by Ina Vukic at the time, the acquittal was unfathomable: “once one exterminates children and sets out to exterminate children of an ethnic group, then genocide is the only word that can, humanly and legally, define such mass murders. That is what Serbs did in those seven municipalities of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992”. To quote the former Bosnian President Ejup Ganic: “Is it genocide when in Visegrad they gather citizens from surrounding villages and suburbs, loot them, rape some, then force them into a house and set fire to all. Set fire to all, from two-year-old children to the elderly of 80. What’s missing there for it to be genocide?” (English translation by Ina Vukic.)
So it is no small matter that this acquittal has been reversed. Karadzic’s contention that there was “no confluence” between the actus reus (commission of the crime) and his mens rea (genocidal intent) has been rightly quashed. Remember, this is not a judgement regarding Karadzic’s guilt, but merely a decision that the charge of genocide should be reinstated and that he should stand trial on this charge. According to the ICTY, Karadzic’s guilt still remains to be “established beyond reasonable doubt”. To have allowed this premature decision to stand would have been to deny history. It would have swept a huge portion of crimes against humanity that undoubtedly took place in Bosnia in the 1990s under a purgatorial carpet, allowing crimes for which there are indubitable perpetrators to go unpunished.
The Appeals Chamber took note of “evidence of genocidal and other culpable acts committed against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats throughout the Municipalities, such as killings, beatings, rape, and sexual violence, as well as evidence of the large scale and discriminatory nature of these acts”. It concluded that “genocidal acts of causing serious bodily or mental harm occurred”, and that the Trial Chamber’s error (acquittal) “resulted in a miscarriage of justice”.
The ICTY evidence to support all this isn’t particularly accessible to the average reader. Indeed, even journalists from major newspapers covering war crimes trials usually confine themselves to the judgement summary and don’t bother with the full text of a judgement, let alone the trial transcripts. So allow me to finish with some quotes from Rezak Hukanovic’s memoir of his experiences in the death camps of Omarska and Manjaca. I warn you it is very distressing reading, but there are worse passages I could quote, and if we cannot bear to read this brief excerpt in the comfort and safety of our homes, how must it have been for those who lived through it day after day. I hope it will convince you of the continuing importance of seeking every last shred of justice for Karadzic’s victims.
They were taken out one evening, stripped, and then beaten with iron rods. Two more prisoners were taken out and, with a knife at their throats, ordered to bite off the genitals of the two young men from Kozarac. As these two died an excruciatingly painful death, the camp resounded with frantic screams.
Equally painful deaths, due to unheard-of abuse and torture were met by Miro… and over one thousand other civilian prisoners brought to the Omarksa torture chamber from the region of greater Prijedor. “These guys could even give Hitler a run for his money,” Dr. Eso Sadikovic used to say.
…there were new arrivals almost every day – they were given a bloody welcome with all kinds of truncheons as soon as they stepped out of the bus. Many never made it as far as the dorm: the guards would have smashed their heads against the brick wall of the building. That was truly a horrible sound – a skull being smashed, the bones splitting and breaking. That sound, intermingled with shouts and painful screams, penetrated deep into the guts of the people inside, scorching their very eardrums…. This bloody reality, like a frozen apparition, became sealed upon their very souls.
“Their souls are steeped in atrocities and hatred, so they feed on our blood and our bodies,” people said. “But they can’t possibly annihilate all of us.” The picture of a man made to drink dirty motor oil is unforgettable. Or a guard firing into the back of a defenseless man’s head and forcing every witness to applaud. The fear petrified upon the scorched face of Durat, who use to be a goalie on the Prijedor soccer team, as the guards pushed his head through a burning tire. A scrawny, dried-up skeleton of a man tearing apart a dead pigeon for food. A son weeping as he is forced to watch the bloodthirsty monsters plunge daggers into his father’s body.
Their suffering found a place to reside between sunset and sunrise. The stench of dead and decaying bodies. No, none of this could ever be forgotten.
Lest we forget….