Genocide is not a matter of numbers

Author: Emir Suljagic with Mirsad Tokaca of the Research and Documentation Centre (Sarajevo)
Uploaded: Thursday, 19 January, 2006

Mirsad Tokaca is nearing completion of his vital research into B-H's war losses, and discusses the immplications of his findings here in conversation with Emir Suljagic, Srebrenica survivor and author of 'Postcards from the Grave' (2005)

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.

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