Genocide is not a matter of numbers
by Mirsad Tokaca
Emir Suljagić talks to Mirsad Tokača, head of the Research and Documentation Centre (Sarajevo)
Suljagić: By March 2007 your Centre will have completed the task of compiling a register of all victims of the last war. Can you tell us how many people really died between 1992 and 1995?
Tokača: As of 15 December 2005, our list contained 93,837 names of civilians and soldiers, comprised of 63,687 Bosniaks, 24,216 Serbs, 5,057 Croats and 877 others. Over the preceding two months this number had grown by 2,000. This is a project which in fact will never be completed. The idea is that by the end of March 2006 we should formally end our research and produce a written report. But if by that time, say, 5, 000 new names appear on our list, we shall naturally continue our work.
What conclusions can be drawn on the basis of the data assembled thus far? During which period did most people die? Is there a pattern applicable to the country as a whole? What is the structure of the victims?
For the purposes of our research, we divided the country into six regions: the areas adjoining the rivers Drina, Una, Sava, Bosna and Vrbas, plus Herzegovina, because that is how the country was divided up at the time. Analysis of the data shows a temporal distribution of deaths: i.e. we were able to establish whether people were dying at a steady rate or not between 1992 and 1995. The research that I conducted for the Tribunal thus showed that in the Drina area most people were killed in the first four months of the war, i.e. between April and August 1992. There followed a kind of lull until Srebrenica. The military casualties show a time pattern quite different from the civilian one. Srebrenica, for example, is usually linked to July 1995, but the people who died there did not all come from Srebrenica - many of them came from Zvornik, Vlasenica and Bratunac - before the story of the Drina area ended in a condensed form there. Our research also reveals the age and gender make-up of the victims: in 1992 in these four municipalities, for example, 427 children were killed in 1992, 80 in 1993, 4 in 1994 and 731 in 1995.
Do these numbers support the belief that what happened amounts to genocide?
These numbers only strengthen my belief that 1992 was the decisive year, that genocide took place then. Genocide is not a matter of numbers, especially following the conviction of Radislav Krstić. The Convention on Genocide likewise does not specify numbers, but speaks of the intention to destroy or kill a specific group, or indeed to expose it to conditions leading to its demise. Such demise, moreover, does not mean that the victims must be physically exterminated, but that they are forced to leave their habitat. In other words, that the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot live in their homeland, that inhabitants of Zvornik no longer live in their town, and so on. This indeed was the intention of the aggressor. The figures only encourage me in the conviction that genocide is not a question of numbers: it is a matter of the identity of the victims, the way in which they died, and when they died. Take, for example, the question of Zvornik. Our research shows that the crime occurred over the period of April to August 1992, that the killing reached its peak in May-June and the population’s disappearance in June-July, and that the two phenomena wholly fit together. The same picture is repeated not just in Srebrenica, but also in Bratunac, Vlasenica, Sarajevo and Prijedor. I am speaking here about civilian casualties, which occur in inverse proportion to the rising resistance: as resistance grows, the number of casualties declines.
Your research has destroyed the myth held by the Bosniaks which is that 200,000 of their co-nationals perished in this war. It was Alija Izetbegović who first mentioned this number in 1993, at a press conference held during one round of the negotiations in Geneva. How do you explain the difference between the real and the perceived numbers?
I have always thought that the earlier figure was too high. This is what prompted me to start my research. A myth about the victims is a myth against the victims: it is the greatest disservice we can do to them. Changing the numbers will not change the nature of what happened. The numbers prove the intention. The fact that the figure of 200,000 was not reached is due solely to the courageous resistance of this country’s citizens. When we started our research, we were confronted with a very rapid growth of our data base. But our analysis soon also revealed a large number of repetitions: the lists supplied by official bodies often contained duplicated names. The figure of 200,000 was a consequence of the fact that information was reaching Sarajevo from various sides, and some officials simply added the totals up. Thus, for example, our data bank contains the names of 300,000 people, but that is not the number of dead.
Some recent press reports suggest that the number of military casualties is higher than that of civilian ones. Is this true, and if so what would it imply?
No, the number of civilian casualties was greater at all times. In the case of the Bosniak dead, for example, over 50% are civilians.
But what about the thousands who were listed as soldiers, but were in fact civilians? In the case of Srebrenica, for example, thousands were listed as soldiers, since that was the only way for their families to survive, given that the state did not have the means to look after civilians. How are these dead classified?
It is not part of my task to separate them out. If the state reports them as soldiers, then we classify them as military casualties. I too have evidence that not all of them were active soldiers. If, say, I have three sources, one of which is official, and if the official source insists that the dead person was a soldier, then what can I do? This is a problem for the state to solve. Back in 1995, immediately after Srebrenica, I drew the attention of certain officials to this problem. For many families, the fact that one of its members was filed as a soldier in the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina was a matter of sheer survival. When these people were confronted with the choice between existence and a lie regarding the status of the victim, they opted for the lie. The arrival of a family from Srebrenica in Sarajevo immediately after the war precisely represented such survival. The only ones who could count on some kind of state support were members of the armed forces, or rather their families. The authorities themselves, however, have failed to confront the problem of civilian casualties. This is my answer to your question. This is nothing new, after all. Throughout the past sixty years, in this country you could claim the status of a soldier on the basis of just two people’s testimony. I chose not to become involved with this problem. My task was to establish who was killed, to have at least that information. It is absurd, however, that none of our ministries of state have a data bank similar to ours. Why? Because it is easier that way to manipulate the number of dead. And we know that the alleged number grew rapidly after the war.
We are faced with the establishment of a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, involving among others Donald Hays, former deputy to the High Representative. So far as I know, parliament has formed a relevant working group. What is your view: does this country need such a commission, and if so what should be its character?
This is an old story. There are several ways of approaching the issue. I myself advocate the pre-eminence of justice, of the courts and police backed perhaps by some kind of specific official body. I hesitate to name such a body, since the idea of the commission has become compromised, thanks mainly to the people who have for years been associated with it. The idea that they should come to our country and tell us that we need a commission on the South African model is a stupidity, especially when this is raised at a critical juncture in the work of the Hague tribunal. Institutions of justice are crucial for the future of this country, but there are too many killers here. The question now is what kind of mechanism is needed, in order not so much to reach the truth as to have it accepted - given that so much of the evidence has already been established. So it would be better to form a commission on acceptance of the truth. The proposed law on forming a reconciliation commission submitted to parliament by Jakob Finci says that the commission would deal with events from 10 December 1990 on - i.e. from the first parliamentary elections - and that it would concern itself with infringements of human rights! I myself would not accept anything that did not take as its starting point the findings of the Tribunal and past UN resolutions, and that would not concern itself with investigating violations of international humanitarian law. For we are dealing with a war, a situation in which certain human rights can be legally suspended. I do not need the pretence that what happened was some infringement of human rights - what occurred here was genocide. If the projected commission, whatever its name is, does not concern itself with such issues, then what could it do? Another key question is whether the commission would simply identify a state of affairs, or whether on the basis of its findings it would recommend changes. The truth is that at this point in time we are living a life created by genocide. I want an answer to the question why I should live such life. As things are, we might agree about the results of the war, we might even agree about Omarska and Keraterm, and Čelebić too, but not about the causes of the war.
Do you have confidence in the ability of the state organs to conduct war crimes trials, especially in view of the fact that killers are present at all levels of the police force? One of the best known of these is Goran Nović, a former interrogator from Omarska, who today heads the SIPA training office.
Boban Š imić, who is currently on trial for war crimes, was until recently a policeman in Višegrad. Things here take place upside down. The High Representative talks about reform of the police ten years after the end of the war, instead of that having been the first thing to do. The criminal and corrupt forces should have been immediately disbanded, since the police took part in the key war crimes. So my answer is no. It is not possible for such a police to do anything worthwhile. Article 3, paragraph (e) of the Dayton constitution contains a provision for removal of all those suspected of committing war crimes from the administration. By contrast, the current proposal on establishing a commission for truth and reconciliation does not even include the possibility of their removal! Without ‘lustration’, without the removal of people who have committed crimes, we have no future.
Regarding the case being brought against Serbia-Montenegro before the ICJ, is Bosnia-Herzegovina fully prepared for it? The present state of affairs does not inspire much confidence?
We must ask ourselves who represents the state here and now. But first, let us remind ourselves that it has assumed all rights and responsibilities of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, including the case itself. It is thus something that has been inherited, regardless of whether it is sound or not. But the state has done nothing to prepare the case, and has indeed suspended funding for it, after which an association was established to collect the necessary money. This was done by leading politicians, those who claim to be defenders of the state and of the Bosniak people. Although the legal grounds for the Bosnian case to be funded from public money were secure, they abandoned them. Instead of saying: ‘We shall not pass the budget unless this is included.’ Hence, although our case is strong from the legal point of view, the people concerned with it seem to have given up in advance. Any normal state would form several supporting teams, but this is not true of us. Everything has been left to a few individuals. They do not care. We can only hope that the judges will understand what is going on. I hesitate to say this, but I fear for our future. My love for our country, however, is not based on illusions. I believe that justice is on our side, but the outcome depends also upon technical legal issues. We should do all we can to find the money to fight our case to a successful finish.
Translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 23 December 2005