Rhetoric versus Facts

The post below, on The Srebrenica Genocide Blog since 2004, features the transcript of a speech by former ICTY Chief Prosecutor Theodor Meron made at the anniversary that year of the fall of Srebrenica to the Bosnian Serbs.  

It contains many misleading statements.  We have included our comments in red type.


August 20, 2009

[Reading Time: 5 minutes. Highly Recommended]

“By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the forty thousand Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica… “ – Judge Theodor Meron [Polish-American Jew]

(The last sentence above is clearly untrue.  After taking the town of Srebrenica without a battle, General Mladic immediately agreed to transport 26,000 women and children gathered at Potocari to waiting refugee facilities behind Bosnian Muslim lines    near Tuzla)

In 2004, Presiding U.N. Judge Theodor Meron – who is Polish-American of Jewish descent – delivered a historic speech at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial located in Potocari (near Srebrenica). His speech was both moving and inspiring, but also educational. We hope you read it carefully and learn from it.


It is with honour and humility that I stand today at the Potocari Memorial Cemetery. This place is a daily reminder of the horrors that visited the town of Srebrenica during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The crimes committed there have been well documented (this is not true – they haven’t been documented at all.  Allegations were made by people saying they were survivors of Srebrenica and by international media.  Almost no effort has been made to verify these accounts because the ICTY completely failed to mount any kind of impartial investigation) and have been recognized – and roundly and appropriately condemned – by the United Nations, the international community in general, and by the people of the region of former Yugoslavia (all on the basis of the unchecked stories). These crimes have also been described in detail (mainly by anonymous witnesses, giving evidence remotely) and consigned to infamy in the decisions rendered by the court over which I preside, the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia. (A court happy to reach verdicts on uncorroborated, uninvestigated accounts, many of which were contradictory in detail).

I have had a special wish to visit the Potocari Memorial Cemetery because earlier this year I had the privilege of sitting as the Presiding Judge in the appeal which, for the first time, judicially recognized the crimes committed against the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 as genocide. In that case, named Prosecutor versus Radislav Krstic, the Appeals Chamber of our Tribunal convicted one of the leaders of the Bosnian Serb assault on Srebrenica, General Radislav Krstic, for aiding and abetting genocide. (This was on the ridiculous basis that the Bosnian Serb leadership conceived a plan for genocide only on the day that Srebrenica fell to General Mladic.  General Krstic, who had been seriously ill in hospital during the previous two weeks, and was not near Srebrenica when it fell, was nevertheless deemed to have been part of this plan though at this stage he had not even taken up what was a new posting for him). The Appeals Chamber also found that some members of the Main Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army harboured genocidal intent against the Bosnian Muslim people who sought safety in the enclave of Srebrenica, and that these officials acted upon that intent to carry out a deliberate and massive massacre of the Muslims in Srebrenica. (This was apparently based on some uncorroborated transcripts of what were claimed to be intercepted Bosnian Serb military communications.  As the original recordings of these communications had mysteriously been destroyed, these transcripts were worthless in evidential terms).The judgment which the Appeals Chamber has pronounced will be of importance not only in acknowledging the crime committed in Srebrenica for what it is, but also in developing and enhancing the international criminal law’s understanding of genocide. By discussing and elaborating the legal requirement of genocide, and by explaining how they applied it in the circumstances of Srebrenica, the Appeals Chamber has facilitated the recognition – and, I hope, the prevention – of this horrible crime. (Quite the contrary: by replacing the clear-cut definition of genocide in the Genocide Convention with new, woolly concepts devised by Madeleine Albright’s legal advisers the ICTY set back the cause of international law by generations).

Many victims of this crime lie here, in this cemetery. In honour of their memory, I would like to read a brief passage from the judgment in Krstic, the passage which discusses the gravity and the horrific nature of the crime of genocide, and states unhesitantly that its perpetrators will unfailingly face justice.

“Among the grievous crimes this Tribunal has the duty to punish, the crime of genocide is singled out for special condemnation and opprobrium. The crime is horrific in its scope; its perpetrators identify entire human groups for extinction. Those who devise and implement genocide seek to deprive humanity of the manifold richness its nationalities, races, ethnicities and religions provide. This is a crime against all of humankind, its harm being felt not only by the group targeted for destruction, but by all of humanity.

The gravity of genocide is reflected in the stringent requirements which must be satisfied before this conviction is imposed. These requirements – the demanding proof of specific intent and the showing that the group was targeted for destruction in its entirety or in substantial part  (as noted above, never achieved by the ICTY) – guard against a danger that convictions for this crime will be imposed lightly. Where these requirements are satisfied, however, the law must not shy away from referring to the crime committed by its proper name. By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the forty thousand Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general. (The pre-war inhabitants of Srebrenica – both Muslim and Serb – quickly left the area when conflict started in 1992.  The war time population was made up of some 6,000 soldiers of the 28th division of the Bosnian Muslim Army (ABIH) and people ordered to move there by the Bosnian Muslim government from elsewhere in Bosnia to preserve Srebrenica as a bargaining counter.  The civilian population was very badly treated by the 28th division, which forced them to pay black market prices for the food provided by the UN.  Many voted with their feet and left by night.  Srebrenica was not a natural community – just a collection of people who found themselves thrown together in adversity). They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity. (This has often been asserted, but never proved with solid primary evidence). The Bosnian Serb forces were aware, when they embarked on this genocidal venture, that the harm they caused would continue to plague the Bosnian Muslims. The Appeals Chamber states unequivocally that the law condemns, in appropriate terms, the deep and lasting injury inflicted, and calls the massacre at Srebrenica by its proper name: genocide. Those responsible will bear this stigma, and it will serve as a warning to those who may in future contemplate the commission of such a heinous act.” (The Appeals Chamber, made up of other ICTY judges, not a separate independent court, was always happy to endorse the court’s verdicts.)

Those who drafted, on the heels of the Second World War and the Holocaust, the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of genocide, were animated by the desire to ensure that the horror of a state-organized deliberate and massive murder of a group of people purely because of their identity will never recur in the history of humankind. The authors of the Convention hoped that by encapsulating the crime of genocide, by declaring unambiguously that it will not go unpunished, and by requiring the international community to do the utmost to prevent it, they will forestall forever attempts to annihilate any national, ethnic or religious group in the world. As the graves in this cemetery testify, (unfortunately no evidence has ever been provided by the ICTY to support their claim that 8,000 people were murdered at Srebrenica.  The figure itself seems mathematically impossible by a long stretch because, in addition to the 35,600 Srebrenica survivors documented by the UN at Tuzla, more than 3,000 further survivors can be accounted for elsewhere.) the struggle to make the world free of genocide is not easy and is not one of uninterrupted victories. But I would like to think that by recognizing the crimes committed here as genocide, and by condemning them with the utmost force at our command, we have helped to make the hope of those who drafted the Genocide Convention into an expectation and perhaps even a reality. As I stand here today, I can do little better than to repeat the solemn warning sounded by the Appeals Chamber of our Tribunal that those who commit this inhumane crime will not escape justice before the courts of law and the court of history.

Finally, I take this opportunity to call, once again, for the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to meet their obligations under international law to cooperate fully with the ICTY. It is simply unacceptable that the authorities in the Republika Srpska have yet to arrest and transfer any individual on their territory who has been indicted by the Tribunal. This situation cannot be allowed to continue and I would like to see a dramatic change in the Republika Srpska’s level of compliance with its legal obligations. It is hightime that the RS break with its tradition of non-cooperation and obstruction of the Rule of Law.

In this regard, I take note of the findings in the Republika Srpska Srebrenica Commission’s preliminary report, (the body set up by UN High Representative Paddy Ashdown when he rejected Republika Srpska’s first, excellent report and put a Bosnian Muslim in charge of writing this nonsense )which I see as a step in the right direction. It indicates a new readiness to come to terms with painful events of the past and to constrain revisionist tendencies. However, the process is far from complete.

SOURCE: The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the Hague, Netherlands http://www.icty.org/sid/8409.