War Crimes: U.N. Commission Charges Serbs with Genocide and Crimes against Humanity

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War Crimes: U.N. Commission Charges Serbs With Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

By R. Clemente Holder

A case study of "ethnic cleansing" by Bosnian Serbs in the Prijedor district in the extreme northwest portion of Bosnia-Herzegovina was released June 1 by the five members of a United Nations commission established by the Security Council to lay the groundwork for war crimes trials in the former Yugoslavia. The study by the Commission of Experts, which was established on Oct. 6, 1992, details the killing or deportation of more than 52,811 people and the destruction of non-Serbian houses in the district.

The commission, headed by Cherif Bassiouni, Egyptian-born professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago, said its Prijedor findings were based on 300 to 400 statements by survivors, as well as accounts from the local Serb media and other sources. The final report, based on 65,000 pages of documents, 300 hours of videotape and a computerized database, was submitted to the U.N. International Tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslav federation established in the Hague.

The commission urged the Security Council to name a replacement for the first prosecutor, a Venezuelan former attorney general, who resigned before taking office when the U.N. cut the budget he had been led to believe the tribunal would receive. When named, the lead prosecutor will assess the evidence submitted by the commission, prepare indictments and prosecute any of the accused who can be brought before the tribunal.

"The crimes committed have been particularly brutal and ferocious in their execution," the commission reported. "The magnitude of victimization is clearly enormous...It is unquestionable that the events in Opstina (county) Prijedor since April 30, 1992 qualify as crimes against humanity. Furthermore, it is likely to be confirmed in court under due process of law that these events constitute genocide."

The Prijedor study is one of a number of reports prepared by the commission which suggest that Serb "ethnic cleansing" was concentrated in an arc of territory extending from Foca and Gorazde in the extreme southwest of Bosnia-Herzegovina, north through Zvornik, Brcko and Banja Luka to Prijedor. All of these areas form a continuous arc running along the border with Serbia and then extending across northern Bosnia to link up with Krajina, the area of Croatia seized and still held by Serb forces.

The pattern suggests that the purpose of the atrocities was to spark a mass, voluntary exodus of Muslims and Croats from areas in which Muslims constituted a majority, but which the Bosnian Serbs hoped to annex to their breakaway Bosnian Serb state, or to Serbia itself. …