Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Bosnia: Annan Peace Prize Angers Srebrenica Survivors
Survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre are protesting bitterly against the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations and its secretary general Kofi Annan who, they say, should go on trial for abetting the slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.
The bloodbath conducted by Bosnian Serb forces was rated the biggest single massacre in Europe since World War Two. Memories are still strong of the 400 Dutch soldiers serving with the UN who stood by and let it happen in what was supposed to be a UN "safe haven".
The massacre counted as the organisation's biggest embarrassment since its foundation.
The peace prize committee cited the UN and Annan for promoting human rights, combating poverty and bringing new life to a world body that has been paralysed by Big Power squabbles for much of its existence.
"Kofi Annan was the head of all the UN peacekeeping missions at that time,
and he should be held responsible together with all the others in the UN who
declared our town their safe area, disarmed us, and then did nothing to
prevent the massacre," said Sabaheta Mujic, a 48-year-old teacher from
Over the past few years, the UN as well as several of its member countries have investigated the role and activities of the UN before, during and after the fall of the enclave. The secretary-general himself commissioned and made public extensive reports on UN failures over Bosnia and Rwanda, reports that served as unique apologies on behalf of troops wearing the blue helmet.
"We understand why the mothers of Srebrenica have criticised the award. We respect their right to disagree," said UN spokesman Stefo Lehman. But he said Annan's report "clearly stated that the UN bears responsibility for what happened and called the Srebrenica massacre one of the darkest chapters in UN history."
Lehman stressed that not only did Annan show enough confidence to undertake the reviews but also sought to focus on lessons learned. "The important thing now is to learn from Srebrenica so that we never again make the same mistake," he said.
Most local and Western experts concede that the 400 Dutch soldiers deployed in Srebrenica at the time could not have repelled the advance of Bosnian Serb forces. However, many analysts insist it was the fault of the UN command which provided too few soldiers and too little equipment to protect the "safe haven".
In addition, some experts blame the decision by senior UN commanders not to call for already-prepared NATO air strikes. The commanders were believed to have feared the attacks would make the Serbs take Dutch soldiers hostage.
In the view of Srebrenica survivors, the findings of these official investigations were never properly made clear and the apologies limited to "vague excuses by UN officials". There was speculation that some of the evidence - like photo and video material made by UN soldiers in Srebrenica - was deliberately destroyed in order to protect the UN from further embarrassment.
"The world is a messy place and, unfortunately, the messier it gets the more
we have to work," Annan, a Ghanaian diplomat, was quoted as saying, describing the UN as an indispensable organisation.
"That 'indispensable' organisation did nothing when we needed it most. Its Dutch soldiers watched as Serb soldiers were snatching our sons from our
hands and taking them away," said a 57-year old Mejra Custic. Her three
sons are still missing and are presumed dead.
"Sometimes it seems to me that the world is deliberately ridiculing us, that
it deliberately does not want to arrest those who ordered and committed the
crime, " Custic said." And now it seems to be deliberately rewarding those who allowed the crime to occur."
Custic's comment reflected the opinions of tens of thousands of Srebrenica
survivors - mostly women and elderly - as well as of a major portion of
Bosnian public. This anger is additionally fuelled by the fact that only some
1,000 bodies of Srebrenica victims have been found so far.
A further 7,000 people are still missing and the bodies of most of them may never be found. Many corpses were dragged away by wild animals, others dumped in the Drina river, or hidden in numerous unmarked mass graves.
News of the Peace Prize reopened all these old wounds and brought renewed fierce demands for the UN to finally take full responsibility. Anti-UN feelings in Bosnia were so strong that associations of Srebrenica
survivors last year pressed charges against top officials, who ran the UN back in 1995, at The Hague. The tribunal declined even to examine these cases, citing it was not within its mandate.
"We don't see why a single person in the UN should get the Nobel peace
prize," said Hajra Catic, chairwoman of the Srebrenica Women Association.
The association is working on so-called "Srebrenica Dossier", collecting evidence on the responsibility of all representatives of the international community who were linked to Srebrenica. Annan could also be
on that list, Catic said.
Hidajet Hedasevic, a member of the association, explained that in January
they had begun collecting evidence about UN personnel responsibility in order to press criminal charges. The work should be finished by the end of the year and will then be submitted to lawyers.
"I think that the UN has lost its high reputation and that there is a desire to
compensate by giving them the Nobel prize, so that their authority may be
restored and help the organisation in the current international fight against terrorism," Hedasevic said.
But Nura Begovic, a 45-year old Srebrenica survivor, does not want to look
at the "big picture". For her, the UN is simply guilty and there should be no more talk about it.
"While bodies of our beloved are being exhumed, somebody has decided to give Kofi Annan and the UN the Nobel Peace Prize. He is a war criminal and he should have prevented the massacre of civilians in an area for which he took responsibility," she said. "He should be held accountable before an international court for not doing anything."
Nermina Durmic-Kahrovic is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Tuzla and a regular IWPR contributor
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