UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The chief prosecutor of war crimes in former Yugoslavia and genocide in Rwanda warned Wednesday that denial of these crimes is now widespread and efforts are underway to rewrite history.
Serge Brammertz told the U.N. Security Council there is a refusal by officials and others to accept the facts gathered by U.N. tribunals documenting ethnic cleansing and other crimes in former Yugoslavia and genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
Fifty years after the Holocaust in World War II that killed 6 million Jews and many thousands of others, he said a new generation came to understand the meaning of genocide in Rwanda. The African nation's government estimates more than 1 million Rwandans perished in three months of machete and gunfire attacks mostly aimed at the country's minority Tutsi population by extremist Hutus
Brammertz said the conflicts in former Yugoslavia taught the world "a new vocabulary for the horrors inflicted on innocent civilians — ethnic cleansing." In case after case, he said, the tribunal found that senior political and military officials "implemented criminal campaigns of ethnic cleansing."
Citing the mass graves discovered around Srebrenica in Bosnia, Brammertz said his office "proved beyond reasonable doubt that genocide was committed in Srebrenica in 1995 through the execution of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. Yet, today, genocide is denied. Ethnic cleansing is denied. The individual guilt of senior political and military leaders is denied."
Bosnia's 1992-1995 civil war that killed an estimated 100,000 people ended with an agreement that split the country into two semi-autonomous mini-states along ethnic lines, one shared by Bosniak Muslims and Croats and the other, known as Republika Srpska, for Serbs, which Brammertz sharply criticized.
He said that in recent days the Serb area's education minister declared he would ban textbooks teaching students "about the recent past, including the Srebrenica genocide and the siege of Sarajevo" — facts taught around the world "but not in the country where the crimes were committed."
Brammertz also criticized Thursday night's scheduled performance in Mostar of an "ultranationalist singer" at a benefit concert for six Bosnian Croat political and military leaders convicted of persecuting, expelling and murdering Muslims during Bosnia's war.
He called these "unacceptable provocations," the latest in a long list, "an insult to the victims, to this council and to all who believe in justice."
Over the last few years, he said, he has informed the Security Council "of the ongoing denial of crimes and glorification of convicted war criminals."
"The message of denial and revisionism is loud and clear: 'We recognize our victims, but not yours. Your war criminals are our heroes,'" Brammertz said.
The prosecutor warned that "when irresponsible officials use division, discrimination and hate to secure power, conflict and atrocities can gain a logic of their own."
Two decades ago this led to genocide and ethnic cleansing, and it remains true today, he said.
With the closure of the Rwanda tribunal and the upcoming closure of the Yugoslav tribunal, Brammertz said that "it is now more important than ever to address this challenge."
He stressed that for a peaceful future, "there must be a shared agreement on the recent past."