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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 6    Issue 2   16-30 June 2011

The Capture of ‘the Butcher of Bosnia’

General Ratko Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serb Army who masterminded the gruesome massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in Bosnia in July 1995, was finally arrested by the Serbian security forces on 26 May, 2011, and is now facing trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Bosnian War 1992-95

On June 28, 1389, the Serb prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic and his forces were crushed by the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Kosovo, beginning five centuries of Ottoman rule in the Balkans. Bosnia became an Ottoman province in 1463. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, which resulted in the defeat of the Ottoman forces, Bosnia and Herzegovina were assigned to Austria-Hungary. After World War I the region was annexed to Serbia. By the end of World War II in 1945, the territory became a part of communist Yugoslavia.

The former Yugoslavia, whose boundaries stretched from Central Europe to the Balkans, consisted of a conglomeration of six regional republics and two autonomous provinces, which were created largely on ethnic distinctions. The six republics included Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro. The two autonomous provinces, which were part of Serbia, were Kosovo and Vojvodina.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia began in 1991. Slovenia and Croatia were the first to break away from the federation. The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence on 15 October 1991, and was formally recognized by the European Union and the United States in April 1992. The Bosnian Serbs, however, were extremely unhappy with the declaration of independence and were determined to remain with Yugoslavia. In fact their desire was to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a part of Greater Serbia. The declaration of independence was followed by a fierce struggle for territorial control among the three major groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina: the Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks, who constituted about 43% of the population, the Bosnian Serbs, the followers of Orthodox Christianity who made up about 31% of the population, and the Catholic Croats who constituted 17% of the population. The Bosnian Serbs, aided and abetted by Serbia and the Yugoslav army, took control of nearly 70% of the territory. By 1993 the Bosnian Muslim government was besieged in the capital Sarajevo.

The civil war that engulfed Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995 involved large-scale killing of Bosnian Muslims, forced deportations, torture in concentration camps and mass rape of Muslim women by Serb soldiers. More than 296 Bosnian Muslim villages were burned down or destroyed by the Serb forces. Houses and apartments belonging to Muslims were systematically ransacked and burned down. Civilians were attacked, tortured and killed. The Bosnian Serbs sought to create ethnically pure areas with no presence of Muslims. Systematic ethnic cleansing involved forced expulsion and killing of Muslims and destruction of their homes as well as mosques, cemeteries, madrasas and Sufi hospices. Young Muslim women and girls were kept in detention centres under appalling conditions, where they were humiliated, tortured and repeatedly raped by Serb soldiers.

The estimates of the number of victims during the Bosnian war include around 100,000-110,000 killed and 1.8 million displaced. Most of the victims (66%) were Bosnian Muslims, followed by Serbs (25%) and Croats (8%). More than 83% of civilian victims were Muslim. Some 30% of Muslim civilian victims were women and children. The estimates of Muslim women raped by Serb soldiers range between 20,000 and 50,000. According to the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia at The Hague, the crimes committed during the Bosnian war of 1992-95 amounted to crimes against humanity. The war crimes, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and genocide that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-95 had the active support and involvement of the Bosnian Serb Army, paramilitary forces and police. Furthermore, they had the active connivance of the Orthodox church, media and civil society. Radovan Karadzic was blessed by an Orthodox priest on the eve of the Bosnian war in March 1992. Significantly, Russia secretly provided heavy weapons to the Bosnian Serbs.

The horrifying atrocities committed on Bosnian Muslims were masterminded by Slobodan Milosevic, president of Serbia, and the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Milosevic was brought before the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia for trial. He died in 2006 while the trial was underway. On 13 October 1991 Karadzic had declared: “In just a couple of days, Sarajevo will be gone and there will be five hundred thousand dead, and in one month Muslims will be annihilated in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Karadzic was indicted by the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia at The Hague for genocide and crimes against humanity. For 13 years Karadzic was at large, secretly protected by the powerful networks of former and current members of the Serbian security forces. He disguised himself as a practitioner of alternative medicine in a quiet corner of Belgrade. He was finally arrested by the Serb forces on 21 July 2008 and brought to The Hague to face trial.

Ratko Mladic

Ratko Mladic was born on 12 March 1943 in Bozinovici, a village in Herzegovina. His father Nedja was killed in 1945 by a member of the fascist Croatian group Ustase, which had sympathies with Hitler. Mladic went to a high school on the outskirts of Belgrade and then to Yugoslavia’s military academy, from where he graduated in 1965. He then joined the Communist Party and was sent to Macedonia, where he commanded a platoon, then a tank battalion and then a brigade. In 1991 he became deputy commander in Kosovo, an autonomous province within Serbia where the majority of the population consisted of Albanian Muslims. In 1992 he was transferred to the newly formed Bosnian Serb Army, thanks to his growing reputation for ruthlessness. In 1992 he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army by the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.

During the two and a half year siege of Sarajevo under his command, more than 10,000 Bosnian Muslims, including 1500 children, were killed. He instructed his snipers to shoot Bosnian Muslims without hesitation. On several occasions he threatened to bomb Srebrenica if the Muslim population failed to surrender their weapons. Mladic had a deep-seated and virulent hatred for Muslims in general and for Bosnian Muslims in particular. He often spoke of the “threat of Islamization” in Europe. Notes written by Mladic in the 1990s, which were discovered in his home in 2010, reveal his mentality and the intensity of his hatred for Muslims. In a note written on 29 January 1994, he scribbled: “You have to thrash the Muslims for long enough that the whole world sees that it does not pay to fight against Serbs. The most important point is Sarajevo; that is the brain of their state. With the blockade of Sarajevo, we have established our state….Our interest is the founding a pan-Serbian state.” A note written on 18 September 1995 reveals that in Belgrade, Serbian general Dragan Radenovic offered Mladic, on behalf of the Russians, weapons with tremendous destructive power, priced at $52,000 per unit. The note mentions that the weapons would be sold to the Bosnian Serbs via a third party, and the Russian secret service would, in addition, send numerous other military items, with the approval of the then Russian president Boris Yeltsin.

Mladic was indicted by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia for genocide and war crimes in 1995. In 2001 he was finally forced to retire by Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia’s prime minister at the time. Deeply depressed by allegations of war crimes against her father, Mladic’s daughter, Ana, who was a medical student at Belgrade University, committed suicide in March 1994.

Mladic has widely been seen as a war hero by the Serbs, and his portraits continue to adorn cafes, bars and souvenir stalls all over Republike Srpska. More than 700 Serbs took out a protest rally in Belgrade on 29 May 2011 against the arrest of Mladic and his extradition to The Hague. The protesters rampaged through the city centre after the rally, sang Serb nationalist songs, overturned rubbish bins and broke traffic lights.

The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia has hundreds of documents and witness reports that clearly implicate Mladic in the genocide of Bosnian Muslims during the siege of Sarajevo and especially at Srebrenica. He was arrested, after 16 years of hiding, in the farming town of Lazareo, north of Belgrade. Announcing his arrest, the Serbian president, Boris Tadic, said that Mladic’s arrest represented the closing of a dark chapter of Serbia’s history and a removal of the mark of shame that had stained the Serbian people for two decades. Significantly, after his arrest, Mladic said that he had been visited several times in the past years by many Serb Orthodox priests.

The question being asked in many quarters is why the Serbian government took so long to arrest Mladic. It is well known that he was moving about freely, playing ping pong, attending parties and toasting friends. The fact of the matter is that he was protected by friends and supporters in the Serbian military and intelligence services. The arrest of Mladic should be seen against the backdrop of Serbia’s bid for membership of the European Union. The European Union had insisted that unless Serbia apprehended all those who have been charged with war crimes and genocide and handed over for trial before the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Serbia’s application for membership would not be considered. Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor of the United Nations’ Tribunal at The Hague, was expected to release a report a few days before Mladic was caught, in which he was expected to say that Serbia was not cooperating with the international effort to apprehend Mladic. Such a report would have damaged Serbia’s prospects for the EU’s membership. Furthermore, it was no coincidence that the arrest of Mladic was announced on the day the European Union’s policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was scheduled to visit Belgrade.

The Srebrenica Massacre

In April 1993 the United Nations declared Srebrenica a ‘safe area’ under UN protection, with a 400-strong contingent of Dutch peacekeepers, Dutchbat. In July 1995, Mladic visited Potocari, a village in Srebrenica, where more than 28,000 Bosnian Muslims had taken refuge with the United Nations Dutch peacekeeping force. Riding a horse, he looked closely at the faces of men and boys in the crowd and exclaimed with glee, “There are so many! It is going to be a mezze (feast). There will be blood up to your knees.”

In the next few days, from 13th to 19th July, the Bosnian Serb army separated the men and boys from the crowd, loaded them onto buses and trucks, took them to deserted spots and shot them in cold blood. Intercepted radio transmissions indicate that Mladic was present at most of these executions. In many cases the victims were blindfolded and their hands were tied behind their backs. The dead bodies were dumped in freshly dug graves. In some cases, earth-moving equipment was used to remove the dead and to dump them in mass graves.

According to the Bosnian Federal Commission of Missing Persons, 8,373 Bosnian Muslims, including 500 young boys under 18 years, were killed at Srebrenica. The worst massacre in Europe after World War II took place under the noses of the Dutch peacekeepers. In fact, just two days before the massacre, Mladic entertained General Bernard Janvier, Commander of the UN Protection Force, to a feast of suckling lamb. As the Serb army advanced towards Srebrenica, the Dutch peacekeepers, sensing grave danger to the Bosnian refugees, sent repeated requests to the UN officials to allow NATO warplanes to strike at the advancing Serb army, but the requests went unheeded. The Serbs took Srebrenica without a fight.

A video, shown at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia at The Hague on 2 June 2005, presents graphic details of the gruesome killing of six Bosnian Muslims by Serb paramilitary police in Srebrenica in 1995. The video, shot by a member of the group, shows six emaciated Bosnian Muslims being removed from a canvas-covered military truck from Srebrenica to Treskavica, a mountainous area in Serb-held territory. All six men were lined up with their hands tied up behind their backs and shot with machine guns. The footage also shows the group of Serb paramilitary police being blessed by an Orthodox priest before the start of the mission. The video was later broadcast on Serbian television, following which Serbia’s then prime minster, Vojislav Kostunica, announced the arrest of several of those caught on the video.

As of June 2011, the bodies of 6,594 victims of the Srebrenica massacre have been identified through DNA analysis of body parts recovered from mass graves. Of these, 4,524 bodies have been buried at the Potocari cemetery at Srebrenica.

In a landmark 2004 ruling, Theordor Meron, the American judge who presided over the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia at The Hague, observed: “By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica….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.”

The United Nations, especially the Dutch peacekeeping force stationed at Srebrenica, must shoulder a large share of responsibility and blame for their failure to prevent the massacre. In November 1999 the UN released a highly self-critical report on its performance during the Srebrenica genocide, stating, “Through error, misjudgement and the inability to recognize the scope of evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder.” Kofi Annan, the then Secretary General of the United Nations, said that the United Nations’ failure to prevent the massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica would “haunt our history for ever.”

In 1996 the Dutch government commissioned The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation to prepare a report on the role of the Dutch peacekeeping forces in Srebrenica. The institute conducted more than 900 interviews and collected hundreds of testimonies over a period of six years and submitted its report in April 2002. Hans Blom, director of the institute, stated in the report: “The events that occurred cannot be described as an act of vengeance that got out of hand. Although they occurred rapidly and in an improvised way, the scale and course of the murders clearly indicate that they were organized. Places of executions were sought, transport was arranged and troops were ordered to carry our executions.” The report also said that the conduct of Dutchbat was not beyond reproach. On 16 April 2002 the Dutch government resigned en masse, owning moral responsibility for the failure of Dutchbat to prevent the massacre.

A report by a committee of the French parliament, published in 2001, conceded that the fall of Srebrenica was a failure of France. The report also pointed out that General Bernard Janvier, who was Commander of the UN Protection Force, should have acted upon the repeated requests made by Dutchbat for air support against the advancing Serb forces.

The role of the United States in preventing the Srebrenica genocide in particular and in the Bosnian war in general was deplorable and intriguing. It is inconceivable that President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore were not aware of the advancing Bosnian Serb forces and the impending massacre and genocide at Srebrenica. The Economist wrote on 8 September 2001: “Perhaps it is conspiratorial to assume that America’s tardy reaction to Srebrenica reflected calculation rather than negligence. But the question needs asking.”

For three years the US and NATO dithered and did little to stop the atrocities inflicted on Bosnian Muslims by the Bosnian Serb forces. Shocked by the carnage at Srebrenica, the US and NATO finally decided to resume air strikes on Bosnian Serb positions. In the meantime, in early August 1995, Croatia launched a massive offensive against Bosnian Serb positions in Croatia. A simultaneous, combined Croatian-Bosnian Muslim attack in Bosnia routed Mldic’s forces, forcing him to come to the negotiating table. Following a deal at Dayton, Ohio in November 1995, the horrifying Bosnian war came to an end.

A petition has recently been signed by the families of the victims of war crimes and genocide in the Bosnian war, 1,600 non-governmental organizations, veterans and clergymen, asking for the institution of a regional commission, charged with the compilation of a complete registry of victims, including dead soldiers, volunteers and those who were targets of ethnic cleansing. The petition has been submitted to the leaders of all the successor states of the former Yugoslavia.

Mass graves of the victims of the Bosnian war are still being discovered. Thousands of people reported missing during and after the war are still untraceable. In many areas of Bosnia, where the houses of Muslims were burned and their inhabitants driven out or killed, the atmosphere of fear and apprehension is palpable. Occasionally, when some Muslim families return to their villages to resettle, they are either threatened by their Serb neighbours or targeted by Serb snipers.

Despite this uncertain and fearful situation in many villages and towns of Bosnia, an increasing number of local Muslims are determined to pick up the threads of their lives and to assert their religious and cultural identity. The town of Kozarac, which Karadzic hoped to wipe out, is bustling with activity once again. Many of the former inhabitants of the town have come back to live here to rebuild their homes. Many of the mosques which had been destroyed or burned are being rebuilt. One of the survivors of the massacre, Edin Kararic, says,” I don’t go to the mosque, but I like it that they are there, because every minaret is a finger up to the people who tried to put us out. It says, “We’re back!”.

(With inputs from the following sources: Bogdan Denitch: Ethnonationalism: The Tragic Death of Yugoslavia (Minneapolis1994);The Economist (8 September 2001, 26 May 2011); Guardian (10 June 2011); The New York Times (5 June 2001, 29 May 2011); The Independent (27 May 2011); Der Spiegel (26 May 2011); BBC News (26-27-28 May 2011); The New York Review of Books (5 October 1995, 26 May 2011); Al Jazeera English (26 May 2011)

GNP and Quality of Life: India, China, Bangladesh

The emerging economies, such as India, China, Brazil, Russia, Turkey and South Africa, are currently in the focus of international attention. Comparisons are often made between India and China, and there is much discussion and speculation these days about India overtaking China in GNP growth in the next few years.

During the past five years, India’s economic and financial integration with the global market has accelerated at an unprecedented pace. The country’s foreign reserves have risen to over an enviable $300 billion and raised annual economic growth from around 4% in the four decades before the early 1990s to more than 8% in the past five years. As a result of extensive economic reforms, the balance of payments has turned into a average surplus of almost $50 billion. India is today one of the world’s fastest growing economies. On a purchasing power party basis, India is today the fourth largest economy in the world after the US, China and Japan. It is on the verge of overtaking Japan to become the third largest economy in the world. It is estimated that India will overtake the US in about 2050, as measured in dollar terms. It is reckoned that India’s per capita income will increase to 35 times the present level by 2050. Projections by the McKinsey Global Institute suggest that if the country manages to maintain its current growth rate, income levels will almost triple over the next two decades and India will climb from its present position as the 12th largest global consumer market to become the world’s fifth-largest consumer market by 2025, surpassing the size of Germany’s consumer market.

In an important article ‘Quality of Life: India vs. China,’ published in The New York Review of Books on 12 May 2011, the distinguished economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen offers a comparative perspective on India, China and Bangladesh in respect of quality of life. Sen points out that there are significant differences between India and China not only in respect of per capita income but also the indicators of human development. According to the statistics provided by the World Bank and the United Nations, life expectancy at birth in China is 73.5 years, while in India it is 64.4 years. The infant mortality rate in India is 50 per 1,000, compared with just 17 in China. The mortality rate for children under five is 66 per 1,000 in India, and 19 in China. The maternal mortality rate in India is 230 per 100,000 live births, compared with 38 in China. Government expenditure on healthcare in China is nearly five times that in India. China’s adult literacy rate is 94 per cent, compared with India’s 74 per cent. The literacy rate for young women between 15 and 24 years of age in India is around 80 per cent, while in China it is 99 per cent. In India, only 66 per cent children are immunized with triple vaccine as against 97 per cent in China.

Sen points out that though economic growth has a highly significant bearing on human development, GNP per capita is not always a good predictor of quality of life. India’s GNP per capita ($1,170) is nearly twice as much as that of Bangladesh ($590). Yet, Bangladesh seems to fare better than India in respect of human development. Life expectancy at birth in Bangladesh is 66.9 years, compared with India’s 64.4 years. The proportion of underweight children in Bangladesh (41.3 per cent) is lower than in India (43.5 per cent). Mean years of schooling in Bangladesh are 4.8 years, compared with 4.4 years in India. Though India is ahead of Bangladesh in male literacy rate for the age group 15-24 years, the female literacy rate in Bangladesh is higher than in India. The mortality rate of children under five is 66 per 1,000 in India, compared with 52 in Bangladesh. Infant mortality rate in Bangladesh is 50 per 1,000 in India, while it is 41 in Bangladesh. While 94 per cent of children in Bangladesh are immunized with DPT vaccine, the comparative figure for India is 66 per cent.

It is remarkable that despite low GNP per capita, Bangladesh has made appreciable strides in respect of human development. A combination of factors, including the policies of the government and the concerted and sustained efforts of non-governmental organisations (such as the Grameen Bank) has brought about these results.

Sen correctly argues that in order to make a reasonable and adequate comparison between India and China one needs to consider parametres that go beyond the conventional social indicators. These parametres include democratic participation, a multi-party system, free elections, uncensored media, freedom of expression and association, fundamental rights and freedoms and an independent judiciary. When one takes these factors into consideration, India seems to have a clear edge over China.

Sen leaves out one significant indicator of human development, which provides an important index of gender equality, and of which both India and China have an evident deficit: a balanced sex ratio at birth. Worldwide, the normal sex ratio at birth is about 950 female babies for every 1,000 male babies. Both India and China have a skewed sex ratio at birth, thanks to the deeply entrenched cultural preference for boys, China’s one child policy and the fairly widespread practice of female foeticide through ultrasound sex determination technology. In India, in 1961, for every 1,000 boys under the age of seven, there were 976 girls. Preliminar data from the 2011 census show that the figure has dropped to 914 girls, the lowest since 1961. Sex ratios at birth in 17 Indian states have declined in the past decade. The capital Delhi has a horrifying sex ratio at birth: 866 girls for every 1,000 boys. The sex ratio at birth in China is even worse: 875 girls for every 1,000 boys. In 2010 the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences warned that by 2020 one in five Chinese would be unable to find a bride because of the dearth of young women.

A decade ago, Amartya Sen drew attention to India’s missing women—estimated at 37 million—as a result of the neglect of the girl child and amniocentesis. An estimated 800,000 girls are eliminated in India every year, mostly through amniocentesis. The sex of the foetus can be determined through ultrasound technology from about 14 weeks. Ironically, the abortion of the female foetus is more rampant among the wealthy, educated and upper middle class families in the prosperous states of Haryana, Punjab and Delhi. This puts a question mark on the widely prevalent perception that higher incomes and education lead to positive changes in attitudes and behavior. There is a law, called the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, which outlaws sex-selective abortion, but the law is flouted by doctors and infertility clinics with impunity. There are some 40,000 registered ultrasound clinics in the country, and many which are unregistered. The market for sex determination is said to be worth at least $100 million a year. The complicity of the medical establishment in this sordid affair and the callous attitude of the authorities towards offenders are well known. Out of 800 court cases against doctors in 17 states, there have been only 55 convictions.

Appropriately, the issue of human rights is in the focus of international attention. This has been made possible through the sustained and committed efforts of international non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Amnesty International, which has completed 50 years of its establishment, was co-founded by Peter Beneson, a barrister by profession, and Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, one of Britain’s most high-profile lawyers, in 1961 in London. Now it has 80,000 volunteers spread across 85 countries, and three million members in 150 countries. People of 66 nationalities work at the organisation’s headquarters in London. Its annual report is reproduced in more than 25 languages.

Amnesty International’s logo is a candle wrapped in barbed wire, which is inspired by the ancient Chinese proverb “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” The organization takes no money from governments or political parties. Yet, it has a total annual income of £175 million, which comes from its membership.

Amnesty International at 50

Amnesty International has consistently sought to document and highlight the incidence of human rights violations around the world and to disseminate information about them through modern information and communication technologies. It revealed, through its independent investigations, that North Korea is holding more than 200,000 political prisoners in a series of prison camps. The organization highlighted the gross abuse of human rights in the case of Dr Agostinho Neto, an Angolan poet and doctor, who was flogged in front of his family in the 196os. He later became independent Angola’s first president. The organization has been highly critical of violations of human rights by governments, political parties, military dictators, religious establishments and social groups and organizations. It 2007 it supported access to abortion in cases of rape and incest and in situations where the life or health of the mother would be in danger. This invited the wrath of the Catholic Church, which does not permit abortion under any circumstances, and the Church urged Catholics to withhold donations to the charity. In 2005 the organization likened the Guantanamo Bay prison to a gulag, much to the chagrin of George W. Bush. The organization launched a scathing criticism of the United States for its flagrant violations of international law and human rights. The Swiss branch of Amnesty International called for the arrest and interrogation of George W. Bush for “criminal responsibility for acts of torture” on the eve of his visit to Switzerland. Bush cancelled his visit. Amnesty International was a major influence in the establishment of the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Amnesty International has been appreciated and supported by a number of prominent public figures and celebrities from around the world. Jean-Pierre Hocke, a former United Nations high commissioner for refugees, praised the organization, saying: “It’s a worn cliché, but if Amnesty International did not exist, it would have to be invented. It is simply unique.” In 1977 it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work. The Nobel citation said the organization “sprang spontaneously from the deep and firmly rooted conviction that the ordinary man and woman is capable of a meaningful contribution to peace.”

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