By Sophie van Leeuwen
The Srebrenica massacre (1995) is seen as the worst crime in Europe since World War II. More than 8,000 men were murdered. 20 years later ICTY Prosecutor Serge Brammertz opens up during a meeting with the international press in The Hague.
20 years later, what lessons have you learnt?
“A lesson we’ve learnt is: If you arrive late on a crime scene, bodies are moved from a primary to a secondary grave. They were split up. Parts of one body could end up in five different places. Mothers only found one part of their son.
“This is a cruel and painful result of starting investigations too late. We started the year after the genocide in Srebrenica. Arrest warrants against Karadzic and Mladic were issued in 1996. There was a focus on peacekeeping, not on accountability.
“This has extremely negative effects in the courtroom. It can lead to an absence of accountability. Many crimes still have to be investigated. More than 5,000 people should be part of ongoing – local – investigations in the former Yugoslavia.”
Did you improve reconciliation in ex-Yugoslavia?
“For me personally, it’s disappointing that politicians in the former Yugoslavia are still publicly denying a genocide took place, despite videos that show killings. The genocide is well documented. People are obviously not ready to accept the wrongdoings of the past.
“If you can’t even agree on a common history, how can you agree about the future and the past of your country? Reconciliation can never be imposed. It has to come from within a society, like an agreement on history books. Education, education, education.
“The ICTY will not lead to reconciliation, only to accountability. Accountability is a precondition to give reconciliation a chance. Without that, a society can’t move forward. But I don’t see a solution in the immediate future.
“I do see progress in the region. Like in Serbia, eight people were recently arrested for alleged responsibility for crimes in Srebrenica. There are a number of cases against Bosnian Serbs in Belgrade. But to say reconciliation is a reality is an understatement.”
Any lessons for the Dutch?
“I will never speak about the role of the Dutch peacekeepers or the United Nations in Srebrenica. But did the international community fail in Srebrenica? I think we all agree.
“But I believe it’s too simple to make soldiers responsible for their failure to protect the people of Srebrenica. They weren’t enough soldiers on the ground.
“I hope 20 years on is an occasion to reflect on what happened, not only in Yugoslavia but also today. Never in history have there been so many tribunals. We’ve never seen so many conflicts and displaced people. The number of civilian victims, for example of ISIS and Boko Haram, is going up.”
What could the ICC learn from you?
“We’ve been working for 20 years in only one situation, the former Yugoslavia. In the middle of Europe, countries want to be part of the European Union. We have the support of the EU and the US. We share the same agenda. Fugitives have been arrested.
The problem of the ICC is that it has eight situations, and the indictments represent maybe 0.01 percent of the crimes. You need support on the local level. You need to force a political solution. As long as this does not happen, it’s hard to succeed in your mission.”
Lead image: Marking the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in 2014 (Photo: Fehim Demir/EPA)