A group of Bosnians and Americans of BiH origin, members of the ‘Working Group for Bosnia and Herzegovina’, sent a letter to the High Representative in BiH, Christian Schmidt, urging him to use his special powers to allow survivors of wartime atrocities mark the sites of their suffering. Pročitaj više
Schmidt is the international official overseeing the civilian implementation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement in BiH and has a special set of powers – the Bonn Powers – which allow him to, among other things, impose laws and fire officials.
In the letter, the Working Group for BiH warned that perpetrators of war crimes are often glorified, while survivors are banned or discouraged from setting up memorials to the victims in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska (RS) entity. It stressed that, in terms of the rule of law, restorative justice and reconciliation, it is crucial to defend the human right to memorialization.
“Survivors of the Omarska concentration camp in the Prijedor municipality, for example, are not allowed to erect a memorial to the victims. They were only allowed to gather at the sites for a few hours one day each year to give commemorative speeches and lay flowers in front of the infamous White House where detainees were tortured and killed,” the letter said.
Initiatives by the survivors to mark the White House as a memorial are being blocked, it said. The association also noted that there is a memorial erected for members of the Army of Republika Srpska in Prijedor although there is no such memorial for the many victims, including 100 children, killed in the area.
“At least 122 detainees at the Barutni Magacin concentration camp, near Kalinovik, were forcibly taken away to be executed on August 5, 1992, and 42 victims have not yet been found or identified. Family members are asking for the facility to be protected and for a memorial museum to be established in the main building that was used to hold the detainees, but their efforts have been denied,” the letter added.
The letter also says that the High Representative must be aware that at the entrance to Kalinovik, along the road towards the former prison camp, there is a three-metre mural of former Republika Srpska Army commander and convicted war criminal, Ratko Mladic, which is protected by a steel fence.
The association asked the High Representative to support survivors and family members and to use the Bonn powers to establish protected national memorials, which it suggested should be set up in Omarska and the Barutni Magacin warehouse in a similar way to how the Srebrenica Memorial Center was set up between 2000 and 2007, based on four decisions made by four High Representatives serving in BiH.
“There are many other places where crimes were committed in Keraterm and Trnopolje (in the municipality of Prijedor), in the house in Pionirska Street, in the house in Bikavac and the cemetery Straziste (in Visegrad), and in various locations in Foca that also need to be protected in accordance with by the desire of the survivors,” the association said.
Another place that needs to be marked as a memorial site is the Kostana hospital in Stolac, where a memorial plaque dedicated to the survivors of the wartime prison camp was vandalised, the association said, adding that local victims associations asked for it to be protected but that their requests have been denied.
“Glorification of war criminals, celebrating their crimes and banning memorials for victims in Republika Srpska can be seen as a strategy to intimidate and once again traumatize survivors to prevent them from returning to their homes and communities from which they were forcibly expelled,” the letter said.
It said that in this way, the RS continues to carry out activities that were started in 1992 in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity and “heinous efforts that have been condemned as genocide and crimes against humanity,” the association said, arguing that such practices violate Annex 7 of the Dayton Agreement, which guarantees the right to return of refugees.
The association also argued that the denial of genocide, the glorification of war criminals, and the celebration of genocide are clear indications that atrocities could take place again, which is why this is a matter of utmost urgency as such negative practices close the possibility of restorative justice and prevent a future for the survivors.
“The protected national memorials that we propose would, by their very existence, resist denial and begin to raise the level of knowledge and change the social consciousness in the Republika Srpska in the direction of possible reconciliation,” the letter said.
“With the use of the Bonn powers, we believe that protected national memorials recognizing the persecution and suffering of genocide victims will soon become a reality in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” concluded the letter which one of the members the Working Group for BiH, philosophy at the University of Southern Connecticut, David Pettigrew, forwarded to Schmidt.