Serbs Intended & Planned the Destruction of Bosniak People
The aim of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was to destroy the Bosnian Muslims
Author: Florence Hartmann
Interviewed by Dani (Sarajevo)
Translated by the Bosnian Institute, UK on 16 August, 2007
Florence Hartmann covered the former Yugoslavia for Le Monde, later became the most prominent spokesperson for the Hague Tribunal, and is the author of a study of Slobodan Miloševic entitled La diagonale du fou [The fool’s/bishop’s diagonal], expanded edition Paris 2002. She recently visited Sarajevo to take part in a Conference on research into crimes against humanity and genocide.
Dani: Not many people know that you were the first journalist to discover the existence of a mass grave at Ovčara in 1991. What did you speak about at the conference?
Hartmann: My experience as a journalist covering the area of the former Yugoslavia before the war, and the six years I spent working for the Hague Tribunal, encouraged me to remind the conference of certain essential facts which permit one to understand the nature of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Since the theme of the conference was prevention of genocide, it was important to recall that there were many signs pointing to what would happen in that war. Unfortunately the observers, including in the main the international community, chose to disregard the evidence and failed to act in a manner that might have prevented or halted the unfolding criminal enterprise.
Dani: At the start of the 1990s, you came to Bosnia as a reporter for the Paris daily Le Monde. Were you already then able to foresee the scope of the crime? In other words, were you able to recognise the genocidal intention?
Hartmann: Yes, in part. Some of Karadžić’s statements, such as the one he made in front of the Bosnian parliament building, were public and as such reported upon; but there were also ones that at the time were known only to the chief actors within the international community, because the Bosnian government made available to them the intercepted conversations between Karadžić and his collaborators who took part in the Great Serb project.
It is necessary, of course, to bear in mind that the intention associated with the crime of genocide need not be publicly stated by the perpetrators and their collaborators. The specific intention, therefore, is proved by the perpetrators’ words and deeds. The plan to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina was clear and precisely formulated in early 1991. Today, however, thanks to investigation undertaken by the Hague Tribunal, all the 250 intercepted conversations have been made publicly available.
Dani: The International Court of Justice has decided otherwise. That is to say, in its judgment in the case of the charge made by Bosnia-Herzegovina against Serbia and Montenegro it found that genocidal intent was present only in the area of Srebrenica. How do you explain this?
Hartmann: The war plan included the destruction of the Bosnian Muslims within a limited geographical area, i.e. within part of the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the aim of joining that part to Serbia. Milošević was the initiator and the moving force behind the execution of the plan to secure for the Serbs certain areas in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was Serbia’s political leader and was considered and admired by them as the leader and protector of all ethnic Serbs living on the former Yugoslav territory. He utilised Karadžić to formulate and articulate their joint intentions. In a conversation between Milošević, Karadžić and Babić conducted in July 1991, Karadžić said that ‘the Muslims should be expelled from the valleys in order to join together all Serb territories in Bosnia-Herzegovina’. Milošević and his collaborators made their intentions clear even before the start of the Yugoslav crisis. It was obvious that the inclusion of territories of other republics, and changes to the established borders, carried with them a high risk or likelihood of violence. They needed to use violence in order to achieve their aim, especially in an ethnically mixed country such as Yugoslavia. In other words, everything was known and predictable, but nothing was done to prevent it.
Dani: In the research you have conducted and in the articles you wrote during the war, and later in your books and publications, you analysed the speeches, conversations and writings of the actors involved in the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What are the most striking ones in your view?
Hartmann: The genocidal intentions of Karadžić and other Bosnian Serb leaders expressed especially in the speeches delivered at the 16th session of the Bosnian Serb assembly of 12 May 1992, and – as I have already mentioned – the conversations of Karadžić and others intercepted during 1991 and 1992. It is The six strategic aims of the Serb people, however, published on 12 May 1992 in the RS Official Gazette, that represents the clearest manifestation of the plan to remove non-Serbs from official positions in all the marked areas, and to physically remove non-Serbs from them regardless of whether they formed an ethnic majority in these areas or not. Bearing in mind the context of the growing desire on the part of Karadžić and his collaborators to destroy the Muslims in Bosnia, and everything that followed as a result, these documents can be seen as setting off the machinery for the implementation of the genocidal plan by the Bosnian Serb leaders.
The first strategic aim – the separation of the Serb people from the other two ethnic communities – was announced by Karadžić at the 16th session: ‘We can’t live in a unified state. We know it very well: wherever fundamentalism comes in, one can no longer live, there is no toleration. Serbs and Croats, given their birthrate, cannot control the incursion of Islam into Europe; in a united Bosnia, within 5 or 6 years the Muslims will go over 51% … This conflict was instigated with the intention of removing the Muslims.’
Still earlier, on 12 October 1991, Karadžić had a long discussion with Gojko Đogo. During the conversation Karadžić repeated five times that in the event of war the Muslims would disappear. Allow me to quote him at least in part: ‘They don’t understand that there will be bloodshed and that the Muslim people could disappear. Misguided Muslims, who do not know where he [Izetbegović] is taking them, that they could disappear’; and again: ‘they will disappear, this people will disappear from the face of the earth’.
A mere day later, on 13 October 1991, Karadžić, talking to Momčilo Mandić, said: ‘Within a few days there will be no Sarajevo, and there will be over 500,000 dead; within a month the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be destroyed!’
Again, on 15 October 1991, Karadžić foresees the extermination of the Muslims in the event of war. Talking to Miodrag Davidović and his own brother Luka, Karadžić said: ‘In the first instance, none of their leaders will remain alive, they will be killed within 3 or 4 hours. They will have no chance of surviving.’
On the same day, in his well-known speech in the Bosnian parliament, i.e. in a public speech, Karadžić again said: ‘The path along which you wish to take Bosnia-Herzegovina is a highway to the hell and suffering that Slovenia and Croatia have already experienced. Don’t think that you are not taking Bosnia-Herzegovina to hell and the Muslim people possibly to disappearance!’
At the start of the war, in April 1992, the crimes started to happen systematically and across a wide area, especially in Prijedor, Brčko, Sanski Most, Zvornik, Bratunac, and later in Srebrenica, as part of a genocidal campaign conducted across the whole desired Serb state in Bosnia. The evidence on repetition, on the model and on the system are indicative of the presence of a genocidal plan or campaign conceived at the leadership level. This should have drawn the attention of the international community, with the aim of taking the necessary measures designed to prevent the Serb leaders from realising not just their military aims, but also their genocidal ambitions.
The clear genocidal intention of the Bosnian Serb leadership in connection with Srebrenica was revealed during the war. At the 33rd session of the RS assembly, held on 20 and 21 July 1993, Karadžić stated that if the Bosnian Serbs entered Srebrenica, there would be ‘blood up to the knees’! A year later, in 1994, Karadžić said this about the enclaves: ‘If the international communities treats us like wild beasts, then we will also behave like wild beasts!’
During a meeting with British general Rupert Smith on 30 April 1995, he repeated such phrases: if the international community treats the Bosnian Serbs like wild beasts in a cage, then they will behave accordingly.
According to the well-known evidence that Miroslav Deronjić gave to the ICTY, Karadžić said on 9 July 1995 in Pale, following a meeting with Jovica Stanišić: ‘Miroslav, they must all be killed… All and every one you find there.’ For his part, Mladić openly stated this intention during a meeting on 11 and 12 July at Hotel Fontana. Mladić offered the Bosniaks the choice: ‘survive or perish’.
Dani: Nevertheless, in your book Milošević – the Fool’s Diagonal you have shown beyond doubt that Milošević was the main link in the chain of decision-making and command.
Hartmann: The essential part of my research was the role played by Belgrade, i.e. concretely Milošević’s regime. Also during my later work for The Hague tribunal, which started a few days after Milošević’s fall, I carefully followed up all the new evidence that emerged as part of his case and in other trials. Milošević always took care to minimise public knowledge about his role in, and influence on, the events in Croatia and Bosnia, which is visible also in many of the intercepted conversations during 1991. I recorded and recalled how in one of the intercepted conversation of December 1991 he warned Karadžić not to speak about a new concept of Yugoslavia, about Great Serbia, for example, but rather to use the expression ‘continuity of ex- Yugoslavia’! He put it like this: ‘Take care, it would be dangerous if they started to think that something new was being created.’ This is especially important when we recall that at that time Cyrus Vance was saying to Milošević: ‘You’ll never get Republika Srpska.’ During the first years of the war, the prospects for legalising the seizure of parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina territory were nil. Milošević felt already in June 1993 that ‘the Bosnian war option has been exhausted’. At a meeting at the highest level held in Belgrade he explained why: ‘They have taken all that is required.’ ‘They’ referred to his collaborators, but they did not in fact have all that they wanted. At some point in mid 1994, Milošević understood that the international community was willing to recognise the gains of war. He told his accomplices at a meeting in Belgrade: ‘They have offered us to extend our territory by a quarter and to legalise that. And to have a confederation straight away.’ But their plan demanded creating compact territory. The enclaves of Srebrenica, Goražde and Žepa stood in the way of this plan. It was this desire and determination to have a compact territory that determined the fate of the enclaves in the summer of 1995. In other words, the tragic events that followed were not a chaotic consequence of localised activity, but a consequence of careful planning and anticipation on the part of the Serb political leaders. This is why I insist that everything was predictable and as such could have been prevented. In January 1995, before the mass killings in Srebrenica, Milošević stressed that the international community would offer a solution – in the ratio of 50-50 – exclusively on the basis of the fact of military victory. Without military victory, he said, the international community ‘would never propose a 50-50 division of Bosnian territory, which never in history belonged to the Serbian state’. After the genocide in Srebrenica but before Dayton, in August 1995, Milošević declared that it would not be necessary to swap the enclaves for other territory, because they would be assimilated into Serb territory without struggle. He then thanked Mladić and his officers for completing ‘their task with honour’. And he added: ‘if the Muslims refuse a peaceful solution, they will be told they will be left alone with Mladić’s sword hanging over them.’ Immediately after Dayton, Milošević said: ‘We have created Republika Srpska on a territory where there never was a Serb state. This is a historic achievement. A great victory has been achieved and the result is Republika Srpska, a republic on half of the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. … We have persevered and 50% has been entered into the books.’
Dani: But why was genocide not prevented? I am sure you do not go in for conspiracy theories. What in your view is the reason that permitted a genocide to take place before the eyes of the world?
Hartmann: In most cases, including Bosnia, preventing genocide in good time demands observation, recognition of signs, especially when the intent is clearly formulated at the very start of the war. No one was surprised by what happened in Bosnia – anyone who wanted could have foreseen the circle of violence and the intention to destroy the ethnic group called Bosniaks. Prevention of genocide thus depend on outside political will. In the case of Bosnia, the intention was clearly articulated and the great powers knew about it. That the genocide was not prevented was due to the lack of political will. I wish to stress that the absence of political will runs against legal obligations deriving from the Convention on Genocide, and that states which have signed it have a duty to intervene and prevent genocide. Avoidance of these obligations by the international community, and in the first instance the United States and the European Union, was accompanied by purposeful shunning of the use of the term genocide, which denied the genocide in Bosnia, just as was done in Rwanda in 1994.
Dani: You attended together with the other conference participants the commemoration and funeral of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre, and visited the Memorial Centre and the Black Room in Potočari. I must admit that I overheard your conversation with Hasan Nuhanović about the events in Potočari in the summer of 1995. Can you tell me what it was about?
Hartmann: was my second visit to the Memorial Centre. I went there first as spokesperson for the Hague Tribunal in 2003. Due to the protocol, I was then unable to walk round the area of the electric battery factory. What astonished me was that the UN base was sufficiently large and had enough capacity to accept the approximately 30,000 Srebrenica inhabitants who set off for Potočari seeking protection by the UN Dutch battalion. This is why I asked Hasan whether the present-day fence and perimeters are the same as those in 1995. Hasan confirmed this. After all, he described it in his exceptional book Pod zastavom UN-a [Under the UN Flag]. Of all the many questions that remain unanswered, related to the responsibility of the international community for what happened in Srebrenica, there is the fact that the UN troops did not open the gates to let in those who had fled to Potočari, to await there a political solution of the situation. They instead permitted and helped the separation of the men from the women and children. Separation of men from women and children is the widely recognisable first phase of a mass crime. This is unforgivable and shameful, because it was not a question of any military inferiority of the UN forces, as UN representatives and Western government have insisted ever since. If that had been done, it is likely that several thousand lives would have been saved.
Dani: Your unexpected departure from the Hague Tribunal caused much speculation as to the reasons. In your statements you stressed your desire to become once again an investigative journalist. What are you writing now?
Hartmann: The reason why I left the tribunal are to be found in its internal relations. I must admit, though, that I am very pleased about returning to my profession and journalistic investigations. One result of it is the book which I plan to publish in September. Its subject is one with which I have been dealing for a long time: the relationship between international politics and international justice. I have written it in the hope that it may help and stimulate a younger generation to continue the struggle for the truth even after the closure of the Tribunal. We do not have the right to stop and close our eyes before the facts which we now know. Because of the truth, and because of the future generations. There will, of course, be a Bosnian translation.