|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’, Association of Witnesses
and Survivors of Genocide
The President of the association “Mothers of Srebrenica” said today that, while being removed from the General Assembly this morning, she had felt as powerless as she had when collecting the bones of her murdered son in Bosnia and Herzegovina some 18 years ago.
Addressing a Headquarters press conference through an unofficial interpreter, Munira Subasic said she had died in 1995, and wondered whether being alive today was worthwhile when she had not been allowed to speak for herself as the General Assembly discussed the justice due to her and others.
Accompanying Ms. Subasic were Murat Tahirovic and Nikola Findrik of the Association of Witnesses and Survivors of Genocide, as well as Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein and Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representatives of Jordan and Liechtenstein, respectively, and co-sponsors of the press conference.
Ms. Subasic said that she and her companions were to have spoken during the Assembly’s thematic debate, “Role of Criminal Justice in Reconciliation”, organized by Assembly President Vuk Jeremić (Serbia). All they had asked for was five minutes, but the President had not allowed it, although the Mothers had fulfilled all the requirements, submitted the necessary documents and requested, in writing, permission to speak. The only thing not requested of them had been a blood test, she added.
Recalling that the Assembly President had told them to enter the hall as “silent observers”, she said they had complied in order to demonstrate respect for all those who had done “good works” over the past 18 years, but the association had not forgiven the perpetrators of the genocide. Mr. Jeremić’s opening remarks had been offensive, she said, adding that his criticism of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and non-governmental organizations had made her feel “really bad”. It was then that she had put on a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Srebrenica Justice Is Slow but It Is Reachable”, whereupon the Assembly President’s security detail had surrounded her and very curtly ordered her to leave the room.
She went on to say that all she had intended was to send a message that the Republika Srpska had been “formed from the bones of our children”. She needed to remind the world of the enormous injustice done to the mothers of Srebrenica, but she had not been given the chance. Afterwards, she had had a good meeting with the Secretary-General, whom she had met seven or eight months ago in Srebrenica. “As mothers, we saw him there at that place of genocide,” she said, recalling that she had given him a T-shirt.
Two months ago, DNA analysis had uncovered the whereabouts of her youngest son, she said, recalling that two bones had been found — one in one grave and the other 25 kilometres away. He had been the twenty-second victim in her family. Although she had not given birth to a son without a head, arms or legs, now she must take him out of the earth that way, she said, wondering about the mothers who would never find their sons, whether Serbs, Croats or Bosnians.
It was difficult to see a perpetrator, perhaps one who had killed her son, wearing a uniform in Republika Srpska, or working in the enclave’s municipalities. Who could explain why [retired Major General Lewis] MacKenzie, First Commander of Sector Sarajevo, had raped “hundreds and hundreds of our daughters and girls” and also murdered them, she asked. Inviting him to speak today was a “shame of the United Nations, a shame for the entire world, shameful for humanity at large”.
Mr. Tahirovic and Mr. Findrik said they, too, had received calls informing them that the bones of a loved one had been found. It was crucial to ensure that the victims of Bosnia and Herzegovina got the justice they deserved, they said, agreeing that justice was slow, but reachable. “Please make sure that it’s not too slow.”
Prince Zeid recalled that the United Nations had been created in response to the paranoia and nationalism fuelled by two world wars and on the basis of the notion that collective existence was best served without such motivations or their companions — chauvinism and bigotry. Yet, in today’s debate, the opinions of war victims from the former Yugoslavia had not been invited. That was inexcusable, he emphasized. Justice could never be served, obtained or upheld unless victims were at the centre of discussion, and that must never be the case at the United Nations. Almost 18 years after the “European catastrophe that was Srebrenica”, the pain of that collective loss remained real.
Similarly, Mr. Wenaweser said the decision to hold the briefing flowed from a “strong commitment to accountability in this house”. The United Nations had a key role to play in promoting accountability in international criminal justice, and had done so over the past two decades. The establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia had been a first step to that end and the creation of the International Criminal Court had been the culmination. The issues should be considered in a balanced way, but unfortunately, that had not been possible today, he said.
Responding to a series of questions, Ms. Subasic said she was deeply disappointed about General MacKenzie’s appearance because of the “things he’s done from Belgrade to Bosnia”. It was “politics” to protect generals around the world, she said, adding that she accepted that with sadness. Importantly, however, there had been a trial, and MacKenzie himself knew he was guilty. Hailing the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, she insisted that all the perpetrators “should be named and marked as criminals”, adding that she would fight for that goal as long as she lived.
Mr. Tahirovic and Mr. Findrik also said they valued the Tribunal’s work, although they acknowledged it was not perfect. However, it should continue, they said, noting that over the past 20 years, it had handed down combined sentences totalling 2,000 years. Still, there were questions for the court to answer, such as why, at the end of its work, it was changing the rules that it had itself established.
Asked to elaborate on the events that had led to her removal from the General Assembly Hall, Ms. Subasic said she had had a feeling that security had been told to watch her, and had donned the T-shirt the moment she had felt the President was offending and hurting the victims by denying the genocide. How was reconciliation possible when he was hurting not only the victims of the genocide, but the Serbian mothers cooperating with those of Srebrenica? He was threatening to take away their pensions and the compensation for their losses, she said.
Also responding to questions, Prince Zeid said it was not unusual for representatives of key organizations to be given a voice when events were held to remember victims of crimes against humanity or genocide. In 2005, during the first United Nations commemoration of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel had been among the first speakers, he recalled, adding that the then Assembly President had taken great pains to construct the occasion carefully.
He said it had been his hope that the current President would likewise show great sensitivity by consulting broadly with Member States and taking their opinions on board. However, it had become clear that a distinct “flavour” and agenda had been set for the meeting, and that the President was exploiting his position for a narrower aim, he said, emphasizing that that was unacceptable. He went on to stress that he and Mr. Wenaweser had suggested the inclusion of several people conversant with the issues — General MacKenzie was not among them — but clearly, the President’s Office “was not interested”.
Mr. Wenaweser added that the meeting was to have discussed international criminal justice, but clearly the intent had been to have the discussion “go in one particular direction, which we very much regret”. As for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, he said that while he had not agreed with all its judicial decisions, it had done things correctly, and “not in a way that was clearly driving a political agenda”. It was important to recognize, in international criminal law, the importance of giving victims a voice, he stressed.
To several questions about seeking the support of other Member States to sit out the meeting, Prince Zeid said his contact list had been “very long”, going well beyond the Arab Group, but it seemed that many colleagues had believed that the discussion would be a broad academic analysis of a very important issue. Perhaps he had not been able to convince them that “all the signs were there, that this was motivated by something very narrow, and it is clear that it was motivated by the need to give an opportunity for others to directly attack the Yugoslav Tribunal”.
Acknowledging his disappointment, he said he could not blame other delegations for participating because he had been there during the wars, whereas they had not. “What I saw, they didn’t see. What I know to be sure, they may not be sure about.”
Asked about the “last-minute” decision by the United States not to participate, particularly whether momentum could have been built for a broader boycott had that decision come sooner, Mr. Zeid said he was “delighted” with the United States position. As the world’s super-Power, it had to answer to many parts of its Government, he added, pointing out that such decisions took time. However, he could have started his own campaign earlier and had only himself to criticize.
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