BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Bringing the perpretrators of ideologically-motivated mass crimes to Justice

Radovan Karadzic made his appearence today at the ICTY where he listened to his indictment. This happened one day after two generals, Antonio Bussi, 82, and Luciano Benjamin Menendez, 81, former members of the military junta that between 1976 and 1983 terrorized Argentina, were sentenced to life imprisonment by an Argentinian tribunal

For many years, the families and friends of those whom they sent to death demanded justice. Too many people preferred to simply forget about it, but they kept demanding justice. The courage and dignity of the mothers of Plaza de Mayo always impressed me, and when I heard about the women from Srebrenica their example immediately came to my mind.

For 30 years they kept asking for justice, fighting oblivion, not allowing anyone to forget what the expression ‘Dirty War’ meant… and these were mostly simple uneducated women, whose strength came from their sense of justice and from the fact that, having already lost what most precious they had, intimidation and fear could not silence them.

…dirty war, ethnic cleansing, somebody invented these expressions, as I was writing them I noticed how they mirror each other. What do they have in common? Their fascist essence.

Last time I was in Serbia, a person with whom I had a very interesting conversation about the question of facing the past told me about a current that I didn’t know about, who is advancing the idea that the best choice is not to face the past at all. These people, who don’t consider themselves nationalists. Those who consider themselves nationalists don’t really deny the past, because in fact they are proud of it, they are just sorry that they didn’t go far enough.

This is an argument that is being discussed among so-called moderates, who are using the Spanish case as an example. It goes like this: look, Spain didn’t face the past, and that didn’t prevent the country from becoming a democracy and a wealthy and powerful country. I will not go into this question in detail now, I’ll just remind the readers that this an argument that reveals either ignorance or the wish to falsify the truth. Spain didn’t face the past because those who didn’t want such process to happened managed to prevent it for 30 years, but now the issue is finally being tacked. Here, here and here for more…(in castellan and galego, sorry for the non speakers, the english version in wikipedia is not updated, but here’s an article from the Guardian) (I will return to this subject latter).

Those who benefit from this kind of approach, not only in former Yugoslavia or Spain or Latin American, believe that time will work in their favour.  It does, but only if the voices of the victims is silenced or ignored.

The case of the Argentine generals proves that it doesn’t have to be like that. I believe there are valuable lessons to be drawn from this. Justice will never be entirely accomplished, but at least it will be harder to falsify the past.

(photos from BBC, what’s in common between these three men, besides the fact that they are monsters? they don’t scare anyone anymore)


Filed under Bosnia, Duty of memory, Genocide, Justice, Serbia, Spain, Srebrenica, Violence, War

11 responses to “BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Bringing the perpretrators of ideologically-motivated mass crimes to Justice

  1. Yes, the bastard was joking in the courtroom and provoking judges. He was insulting the court and judges sat quietly and listened to his diatribe. He should be released from jail and put into the custody of Srebrenica genocide survivors who, then, can skin him alive. Actually, I’ll do it for free. As my friend said (and he is half Serb half Bosniak from Sarajevo), he said: “He [Karadzic] should be skinned alive! I’ll skin him!” And I agree with him.

  2. Right on about Spain (and I’m Spanish), burying the past and pretending it doesn’t exist has consequences for the health of a democracy in the long run.

  3. sarahfranco

    Thank you for the comments.

    Daniel, how can a person feel other thing than outrage? I saw his attitude too, I was going to write about it but then I decided that it made more sense to join together his and the Argentines trial, so that I could talk about the need to face the past and seek justice. I don’t believe in ‘facing the past’ through truth and reconciliation commissions, only through justice and through ethically committed scholarly research, because the move towards reconciliation (even the word I don’t like, because reconciliation can only come after forgiveness, which is only possible after repent) has to be lead at the political level, and to lobby to pressure political decision-makers, we need to be supported by irrefutable facts, so that the truth is not falsified or ignored.

    In this sense Elia’s comment confirms my own perspective.

    In the case of Argentina and Chile, what has always impressed me most was the case of pregnant women killed after have given birth, and then their children being given to fascist families. There is some parallels with the bosnian case here too, in this case it was not forced impregnation (although rape was also massively used as torture), but it was highly sadistic too.

    Some of the grandmothers managed to find their grandchildren, who then discovered that all their identity was based in monstrous lies. Some of those children (then young adolescents or adults) refused to accept he truth.

    In the case of Spain, the children of the republicans and communists were put in orphanages where their names and birth registries were falsified and were then submitted to brain washing in order to loose all memory of their families. I saw one case of a woman whose father was always teaching her her name and family name and telling not to forget, she managed to not forget, but she was forced to spend more than 60 years with her fake identity, because the real one had been erased.

    In the future other cases will happen, unless we keep a close eye on early signs, and even so…

  4. Owen

    At one level not facing the past may work for people who weren’t affected by what happened. But it means turning your back on justice. And that is something that the victims must consent to. If they don’t, then justice is conditional and deniable.

    The kidnapping of the children of the “disappeared” in Argentina and their placement with families associated with the institutions that murdered their parents was one of the most wicked crimes of the twentieth century.

    Those children will have grown up in families that may have been warm and happy but their identities have been constructed over a minefield of lies, ready to explode with a false step or a change of climate.

    And of course, as with the Spanish woman you describe, the comfortable present turns into the unredeemable past.

  5. Owen

    What is so cheering about the convictions of Bussi and Menendez is that they come at the end of a long process that included the Ley de Punto Final and Menem’s pardons. The fact that eventually, despite so much manipulation and subversion of the Argentine legal system by the culprits themselves and their friends, the structural denial of justice was eventually overturned and they have not been allowed to escape responsibility for their actions.

  6. sarahfranco

    my question is whether it is possible to build a healthy democratic society by turning our backs on justice. I think there are certain values that cannot be sacrificed.

    the shift from the approach that favoured ‘amnesty’ to one that considers that justice cannot be ignored is happening, but this is a very recent evolution.

    until recently, when a tyrant was deposed, either he was killed immediately or he was sent into exile.

    then the new regime would say: ‘if we let the main responsible go, it doesn’t make sense to persecute his executioners’.

    then this would be the excuse not to face any of the abuses of the previous regime.

    in the cases where the ‘ethnic’ element appears the problem becomes even more complicated.

    but still I think we cannot build a society where justice is subjected to criteria of opportunity.

  7. Será que há de facto justiça neste mundo com tanta impunidade pelos quatro cantos?

    Is there any kind of justice in our world when we see so many deplorable situations all over the four corners of our planet?

  8. Que tiranos sinistros. E estes são conhecidos, mas há muitos mais anónimos…

    Those tyrans are dreadful. And there so many more just anonymous…

  9. sarahfranco

    if you look at it on the opposite sense, every small victory is a step further.

    while there are so many people trying to obstruct justice, as Owen highlighted, every single case becomes a source of hope for those who care for justice.

  10. Owen

    Absolutely, Sarah, look where we are now after first the Akeyasu verdict, then the Krstic verdict and then the ICJ. Nowhere near the end of the road, but a long way further down it than might have seemed possible.

  11. sarahfranco

    20 years ago, if you talked about bringing this kind of people to justice, people would just laugh at your face and call you naif, utopic or full.

    now, despite its flaws, it’s there…and there is too many people committed in not letting the process go backwards.

    any average european citizen nowadays knows that he can appeal to the European Court of human Rights if they believe national systems denied them justice.

    therefore, normal people will be willing to support international justice as long as it seems credible to them.