Unembarrassed by an obvious lack of familiarity with the subject, this ‘tenured full professor’ of history at the University of Arizona recycles propaganda about the events at Srebrenica that has long been recognized as promoting misunderstanding and antagonism.
Origin of the Srebrenica massacre
My “Part I” response to Prof. David Gibbs can be found
In his book, ‘First Do No Harm‘, Prof. Gibbs downplays Bosnian Serb war crimes, denies genocide and blames the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) victims for instigating the massacre that followed the fall of the town in July 1995. On p. 160, he declares that: “The origin of the Srebrenica massacre lay in a series of Muslim attacks began in the spring of 1995.”
Before making this unequivocal assertion, he might have done well by studying the conclusions of the United Nations report on “The Fall of Srebrenica. ” The report addresses some of the major issues surrounding events that led to the fall of Srebrenica, including allegations that the Bosniak defenders of Srebrenica ‘provoked’ the Serb offensive by attacking out of the safe area:
“Even though this accusation is often repeated by international sources, there is no credible evidence to support it. Dutchbat personnel on the ground at the time assessed that the few ‘raids’ the Bosniaks mounted out of Srebrenica were of little or no military significance. These raids were often organised in order to gather food, as the Serbs had refused access for humanitarian convoys into the enclave. Even Serb sources approached in the context of this report acknowledged that the Bosniak forces in Srebrenica posed no significant military threat to them… The Serbs repeatedly exaggerated the extent of the raids out of Srebrenica as a pretext for the prosecution of a central war aim: to create a geographically contiguous and ethnically pure territory along the Drina, while freeing their troops to fight in other parts of the country. The extent to which this pretext was accepted at face value by international actors and observers reflected the prism of ‘moral equivalency’ through which the conflict in Bosnia was viewed by too many for too long.” (UN, ”The Fall of Srebrenica” p.103-104.)
In another standard reference source, Human Rights Watch (HRW) finds the origin of the Srebrenica massacre in the Bosnian Serb leadership’s hatred of their Bosniak compatriots:
“The 1995 massacre in Srebrenica occurred because Bosnian Serb leaders, intoxicated by hatred and an illusory sense of omnipotence, lashed out savagely against the country’s Muslim population. But the international community also bears responsibility for the worst crime in Europe since World War Two. After promising protection to the inhabitants of Srebrenica, the United Nations and NATO allowed the ’safe area’ to fall.” (HRW, “The Legacy of Srebrenica“, 10 July 2005)
A preeminent scholar and Holocaust survivor, Judge Theodor Meron, had the privilege of sitting as the presiding Judge in the appeal of Radislav Krstić – a landmark ruling that put to rest any doubts about the legal character of the massacre. The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) unanimously ruled that the Srebrenica massacre was a crime of genocide:
“By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the forty thousand [40,000] Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general…. the law calls the massacre at Srebrenica by its proper name: genocide.” (ICTY Press Release, “Address by ICTY President Theodor Meron“, 23 June 2004).
Gibbs’ Sources, Genocide Deniers
Having assigned the fundamental blame for what happened in July 1995 to the victims of genocide, Prof. Gibbs takes issue with the judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) without offering any evidence of his own expertise in the field of international humanitarian law. He dismisses the Krstić judgement as an exaggeration.
Despite the multitude of evidence that Serb forces committed genocide in Srebrenica, Prof. Gibbs finds comfort in a personal opinion of another genocide denier:
“I agree with Katherine Southwick’s criticism of the ICTY judgement, which was published in the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal… Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it ‘genocide’ needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime.” (‘First Do No Harm‘, p. 281, note 101)
To advance his ideological agenda, Prof. Gibbs cites discredited statements of former UN Protection Force commander, General Philippe Morillon – a biased source for any serious consideration – who, unsurprisingly, also happens to be genocide denier. In support of his view that the inhabitants of Srebrenica were responsible for their fate, Prof. Gibbs presents Gen. Morillon as a ‘reliable’ source of information about Srebrenica and Naser Orić. Consider the following version of Serbian propaganda history that may appeal to misguided readers:
“Orić engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed [Serb] villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region… I wasn’t surprised when the Serbs took me to a village to show me the evacuation of the bodies of the inhabitants that had been thrown into a hole, a village [of Kravica] close to Bratunac.” (‘First Do No Harm‘, p.154, citing statements of Gen. Philippe Morillon)
The Court: Orić committed no massacres
Gen. Morillon uncritically and sweepingly assigns blame for creating “hatred that was quite extraordinary in the region” to Naser Orić’s attacks on Serb villages “during Orthodox holidays”. Gen. Morillon is presumably referring to a specific attack by Bosnian army forces led by Naser Orić on the village of Kravica – a Serb military stronghold – during the Orthodox Christmas holiday, 7-8 January 1993. At the same time, he avoids to mention that Serb crimes around Srebrenica started in April 1992 (some 8 months before Orić’s attack on Kravica). In the first three months of the Bosnian war (April – June 1992) Serb forces destroyed 296 Bosnian Muslim villages around Srebrenica and slaughtered at least 3,166 Bosniaks. Therefore, it is more than obvious who was responsible for this “degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the region.” It was the Serbs.
The Hague Tribunal found no convincing evidence that Bosniak forces were responsible for the destruction and casualties in Kravica and a number of other Serb villages (Šiljkovići, Bjelovac, Sikirić, Fakovići and Divovići) because the Serb forces used artillery in the fighting in those villages. In the case of Bjelovac, Serbs even used warplanes. Not excluding the military justification for the Bosniak attack on Kravica, the Tribunal noted that,
“… the village guards [in Kravica] were backed by the VRS [Bosnian Serb army], and following the fighting in the summer of 1992, they received military support, including weapons and training. A considerable amount of weapons and ammunition was kept in Kravica and Šiljkovići. Moreover, there is evidence that besides the village guards, there was Serb and Bosnian Serb military presence in the area.” (ICTY, Orić Trial Judgement, para. 664).
Certainly a number of Serb civilians died in the Kravica attack (11, perhaps 13). But Morillon’s reference to the massacring of ‘all the inhabitants’ of an unspecified number of Serb villages is inaccurate, and more so is his failure, like Gibbs’, to make appropriate reference to the context in which the attack on Kravica took place — the Serb ethnic cleansing of the Drina Valley at the start of the 1992-1995 war, the siege of Srebrenica and the desperate struggle for survival of the starved inhabitants.
As for the civilian casualties in the Kravica incident, there was no massacre. The death of 11 or 13 Serb civilians caught in the cross-fire between enemy soldiers does not constitute massacre. In legal terms, the massacre is understood as the intentional killing of a larger group of helpless people (including prisoners of war) – in a particularly gruesome manner – for no ‘valid’ military objective, other than to inflict death. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at the Hague reviewed Serbian accusations against Naser Orić extensively, but found no evidence that his troops committed any massacres against Serb civilians in villages around Srebrenica. In the Orić’s trial judgement, the judges used the term ‘massacre’ only once, referring in fact to Serb propaganda prior to the outbreak of conflict:
“Influenced by Serb propaganda predicting an imminent massacre by Bosnian Muslims, many Bosnian Serbs left the town of Srebrenica in March and April 1992″ (ICTY, Orić Trial Judgement, para. 95).
When Serbs retook Kravica in March 1993, Philippe Morillon attended the funeral of Serbian soldiers and civilians in the village. During his stay in Srebrenica, he never bothered to attend funerals of Bosniak soldiers and civilians killed by Serb forces who regularly attacked Bosnian Muslim settlements from Kravica.
Why was Kravica attacked?
Like other Serb villages around Srebrenica, the heavily militarized Serb stronghold of Kravica was used as a ‘launching pad’ for brutal attacks on neighbouring Bosniak villages and the town of Srebrenica itself. In the case of Kravica, the Hague Tribunal established it was the Serbs who attacked first:
“The fighting intensified in December 1992 and the beginning of January 1993, when Bosnian Muslims were attacked by Bosnian Serbs primarily from the direction of Kravica and Ježestica.” (ICTY, Orić Trial Judgement, para. 662)
The Bosniak attack on Kravica was a response to the village’s use as a base for constant Serb attacks on Srebrenica and surrounding Bosnian Muslim settlements, including the Serb blockade preventing humanitarian aid from entering the enclave. According to the Hague Tribunal,
“Between April 1992 and March 1993, Srebrenica town and the villages in the area held by Bosnian Muslims were constantly subjected to Serb military assaults, including artillery attacks, sniper fire, as well as occasional bombing from aircrafts. Each onslaught followed a similar pattern. Serb soldiers and paramilitaries surrounded a Bosnian Muslim village or hamlet, called upon the population to surrender their weapons, and then began with indiscriminate shelling and shooting. In most cases, they then entered the village or hamlet, expelled or killed the population, who offered no significant resistance, and destroyed their homes. During this period, Srebrenica was subjected to indiscriminate shelling from all directions on a daily basis. Potočari in particular was a daily target for Serb artillery and infantry because it was a sensitive point in the defence line around Srebrenica. Other Bosnian Muslim settlements were routinely attacked as well. All this resulted in a great number of refugees and casualties.” (ICTY, Orić Trial Judgement, para. 103)
Serbs from Kravica had played a key role in earlier atrocities around Srebrenica such as the massacre of Bosniak civilians at Glogova in May 1992. In 1992, approximately 350 Bosniak civilians – unarmed men, women and children – were held as prisoners in a detention camp located in an abandoned Serb Orthodox church in Kravica. Serbs tortured, raped and killed Bosniak prisoners including women and underage girls.
The Serb leadership had the avowed objective of making conditions of life intolerable for the remaining Bosniak population of the Drina Valley. When the soldiers under Orić’s command attacked Kravica they were followed by large numbers of starving Bosniak civilians from the besieged enclave in search of food (the so-called “torbari” or “bag people”). The Hague Tribunal described the circumstances which led these people to accompany military raids:
“Between June 1992 and March 1993, Bosnian Muslims raided a number of villages and hamlets inhabited by Bosnian Serbs, or from which Bosnian Muslims had formerly been expelled. One of the purposes of these actions was to acquire food, weapons, ammunition and military equipment. Bosnian Serb forces controlling the access roads were not allowing international humanitarian aid most importantly, food and medicine to reach Srebrenica. As a consequence, there was a constant and serious shortage of food causing starvation to peak in the winter of 1992/1993…. Numerous people died or were in an extremely emaciated state due to malnutrition… Threatened by starvation, almost everyone from Srebrenica participated in searches for food in nearby villages and hamlets under Bosnian Serb control. These searches were very dangerous; many stepped on mines or were wounded or killed by Serbs. […] Hygienic conditions throughout the Srebrenica enclave were appalling. There was a total absence of running water. Most people were left to drink water from a small river which was polluted. Infestation with lice and fleas became widespread among the population. The Srebrenica war hospital … lacked almost all the essentials. […] Patients suffered in dreadful conditions, as no disinfectants, bandages, aspirins or antibiotics were available with which to treat them. Limbs were amputated without anaesthesia, with brandy being administered to ease the pain… ” (Oric Trial Judgement, para. 104, 110, 112-114.)
Gibbs’ sloppy research
Critical of the ICTY’s assessment of the scale of the crime of genocide, Prof. Gibbs is less rigorous in examining the sources of the “Orić legend” on which he bases his assessment of the nature and scale of the crimes that he believes were at the origin of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. He makes no attempt to distinguish between Serb military and civilian casualties, nor does he try to assess the balance of casualties between the two sides.
Deniers are entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. Approximately 95 percent of all victims around Srebrenica (1992-95) were Bosniaks, according to the Research and Documentation Center. All attempts to equalize the demise (military defeat) of the Serb war criminals around Srebrenica in January of 1993 with the genocidal suffering of the Bosniak people in/and around Srebrenica (from 1992-1995), amount to nothing more than a case of moral equivalence and a gross distortion of historical facts. The brutal siege of Srebrenica was described by the United Nations itself as a “slow-motion process of genocide.“‘ (United Nations, “Report of the Security Council Mission Established Pursuant to Resolution 819 (1993),” S/25700, 30 April 1993.)
Serb soldiers who died in the pursuit of criminal enterprise — by participating in the siege of Srebrenica, attacking the enclave, and committing war crimes against the Bosniak civilians in/and around Srebrenica) – cannot be considered ‘victims’ of massacres.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) at the Hague Tribunal has described how the scale of the alleged suffering endured by the local Serb population around Srebrenica had been deliberately distorted:
“… the OTP is always very careful in the use of the word ‘victim’. Military or police casualties from combat should not be considered victims in a criminal investigation context in the same way people are victims from war crimes, such as summary executions. Before speaking about the whole area of Podrinja, including at least the municipalities of Srebrenica, Bratunac, Vlasenica and Skelani, I would comment on the various figures circulating around the Kravica attack of January 1993. The figures circulating of hundreds of [Serb] victims or claiming that all 353 inhabitants were ‘virtually completely destroyed’ do not reflect the reality. During the attack by the BH army on Kravica, Jezeštica, Opravdići, Mandići and the surrounding villages (the larger area of Kravica), on the 7th & 8th January 1993, 43 people were killed, according to our information. Our investigation shows that 13 of the 43 were obviously civilians. Our findings are matching with the Bratunac Brigade military reports of battle casualties which are believed in the OTP to be very reliable because they are internal VRS [Bosnian Serb Army] reports. For the whole region, i.e. the municipalities of Srebrenica, Bratunac, Vlasenica and Skelani, the Serb authorities claimed previously that about 1400 [Serb] people were killed due to attacks committed by the BH Army forces for the period of May 1992 to March 1995, when Srebrenica was under the control of Naser Oric. Now the figure has become 3,500 Serbs killed. This figure may have been inflated. Taking the term ‘victims’ as defined previously, these figures just do not reflect the reality.” (ICTY, Weekly Press Briefing, 6 July 2005)
The most up-to-date analysis of Serb casualties in the region comes from the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Centre (IDC), a non-partisan institution with a multiethnic staff, whose data have been evaluated and accepted by an international team of experts. They put the number of Serb military casualties in the attack on Kravica at 35 killed along with 11 civilian victims. The IDC’’s extensive review of casualty data around Srebrenica found that Serb casualties in the adjoining Bratunac municipality — where majority of military operations took place — amounted to 119 civilians and 424 soldiers; about one third (or 139) of Serb military losses — listed as casualties of Naser Orić’’s attacks around Srebrenica – had in fact died elsewhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Furthermore, a number of Serb war criminals who died in the process of terrorizing and killing more than 10,000 Sarajevo residents were presented as victims of Orić’s attacks around Srebrenica:
“Under the Dayton Peace Accords, the suburbs of Sarajevo held by the VRS were to be re-integrated into the city of Sarajevo . The then leadership of the RS [Republika Srpska] called on the local Serb population to leave Sarajevo and even take the graves of their loved ones with them. In fact, such a large majority followed the instructions that parts of the city of Sarajevo remained deserted for months. The remnants of their loved ones have been buried in Bratunac after the war, but their deaths are presented as the result of actions taken by the Bosnian Army units from Srebrenica.” (The Research and Documentation Center, “Myth of Bratunac,” 7 June 2010)
Philippe Morillon’s Lack of Impartiality
The French UNPROFOR commander, General Philippe Morillon, is perhaps best known for his pledge to the besieged inhabitants of Srebrenica that the enclave would be protected by the international community. He gave that pledge shortly after a fact-finding visit to the nearby towns of Cerska and Konjević Polje on 5-6 March 1993 following reports of massacres a few days earlier. The enclave of Cerska had been overrun by Serb forces on 2 March 1993. After spending some minutes walking around the village and seeing no dead bodies, Philippe Morillon sent the controversial message back to the UN, ”Je n’ai pas senti l’odeur de la mort” (I didn’t smell the odour of death.)
According to survivor Sahma Muminovic, Serb forces massacred refugees trapped in the town’s schoolhouse. They bombarded the schoolhouse with artillery and tank shells before moving in and killing people. The victim’s bodies remained trapped under the rubble of a destroyed school.
Invited to attend a funeral of Serb soldiers in Kravica, Morillon was apparently too busy to investigate another report of the massacre. As the Serbs continued their offensive, they slaughtered 200 Bosnian Muslims fleeing Cerska, near Mount Rogašija. A group of 900 Bosniak refugees had split in two groups. A survivor, Besim Topalovic, told how the column he joined, numbering as many as 200 people, were all machine-gunned. Topalovic was fortunate to be the only survivor; the corpses fell on him and protected him from gunfire.
Despite Morillon’s denial of the Cerska massacre, the evidence from Bosnian Serb army tells a different story. The daily combat report obtained by the Hague Tribunal and dated 2 March 1993, describes how the columns of Bosniak refugees fleeing from Udrč and Raševo towards Konjević Polje “were hit with every available means.” In the cross-examination of General Vinko Pandurević, the prosecutor Peter McCloskey was able to show how the Bosnian Serb army attempted to cover-up the attack on the column by revising their own combat reports.
“There’s been an editing job by the corps, hasn’t there?” – the prosecutor Peter McCloskey asked. “Yes, that’s what we read here,” – responded the accused.
The revised version of the original report dated 2 March 1993 referred only to “soldiers.” The revised report also replaced “The columns were hit with every available means“ with “Fire was opened on the column.” (Popovic et al., Trial Transcript, 25 February and 26 February 2009).
Nevertheless the survivor’s report which reached Zagreb via an amateur radio link, had clearly described how the escapees were attacked and slaughtered with grenade launchers and machine guns. Gen. Morillon does not seem to have followed up this report.
Shortly after his failure to investigate the 1993 Cerska massacre and other Serb massacres of Bosniak civilians around Srebrenica, Gen. Morillon went on to say something in mid March 1993 that raised eyebrows of his own aide-de-camp. On March 15, during a meeting with the Serb generals Manojlo Milovanović and Zdravko Tolimir, Morillon referred to Srebrenica — home to some 80,000 emaciated Bosnian Muslim refugees — as a nest of terrorists. He told the Serbs:
“I know you wish to clean out this nest of terrorists. I will do it for you and save you many, many casualties.” (ICTY, Orić trial transcript, 5 December 2005)
Also, during the trial of Slobodan Milošević, Gen. Morillon touched on the subject of pro-Serbian bias, hinting his own lack of objectivity:
“Once again, in this context one has to explain why sometimes French forces were considered as too indulgent to Serbs. I’m a French general. I do not forget the statue which is in Belgrade, ‘Let us love France as France loved us’…” (ICTY, Milošević trial transcript, 12 February 2004)
Speaking of those who excited nationalism, he stood in defense of the Serbs, showing his lack of impartiality and openly defending the Serbian side from any type of criticism:
“This is the reason why I have continued to say that everywhere that Serbs should not be demonised but one should judge those who brought them there to that solution, to that impasse in this drama.” (ICTY, Milošević trial transcript, 12 February 2004)
On 3 September 2010 — appearing on Bosnian television after being heckled by survivors at the Srebrenica memorial complex in Potocari — Gen. Morillon repeatedly refused to acknowledge the 1995 Srebrenica genocide (interview available on FaceTV.ba).
So much about the shattered credibility of Prof. David N. Gibbs and his sources. No further commentary is necessary.