This is a guest post by my friend, Professor David Pettigrew
Statement for Višegrad Stražište Cemetery, July 16, 2013.
“To the Memory of the Victims of the Višegrad Genocide: May Truth Lead to Justice.”
I am placing a wreath today at the memorial in Stražište cemetery in solemn memory of the victims of the genocide in Višegrad. I am doing so in cooperation with the University of Sarajevo Institute for the Research of Crimes Against Humanity and International Law; the Institute for Research of Genocide, Canada; and the Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Center, Chicago, IL, USA. I thank them for their support. I am also grateful to be joined in Višegrad by local citizens and activists including Bakira Hasečić and Bilal Memišević. Finally, I thank Prof. Dr. Smail Čekić for all his help with planning and arrangements.
In May 2012 sixty souls were laid to rest in Stražište cemetery. Their human remains had been exhumed from the Drina river and Lake Perućac beginning in August 2010. At that time, repairs on a nearby dam had caused the river level to drop. It then became possible for the first time, and perhaps for the last time, to find the victims who had been murdered on the Ottoman bridge and thrown into the river in 1992. Perhaps the perpetrators thought they had hidden the evidence of their crimes once and for all. However, due to the heroic efforts of Bosnia’s Missing Person’s Institute and the International Commission on Missing Persons, the bones of the victims were recovered from the riverbed. I know this because I accompanied the government exhumation team and I witnessed the discovery of the human remains. These were the very victims who were laid to rest in the cemetery in 2012, and whose memory we honor today.
It is important to note that non-Serbs in Višegrad suffered many atrocities during the genocidal aggression from 1992 to 1995. On two separate occasions Bosniak women, children, and elderly men were forced into houses that were set on fire. They perished in the flames. These are known and will be remembered as the Pionirska Street (June 14, 1992) and Bikovac (June 27, 1992) tragedies.
In the case that convicted two of the perpetrators, presiding ICTY Judge Patrick Robinson wrote that “In the all too long, sad and wretched history of man’s inhumanity to man, the Pionirska street and Bikavac fires must rank high.
At the close of the twentieth century, a century marked by war and bloodshed on a colossal scale, these horrific events stand out for the viciousness of the incendiary attack, for the obvious premeditation and calculation that defined it, for the sheer callousness and brutality of herding, trapping and locking the victims in the two houses, thereby rendering them helpless in the ensuing inferno, and for the degree of pain and suffering inflicted on the victims as they were burnt alive. There is a unique cruelty in expunging all traces of the individual victims which must heighten the gravity ascribed to these crimes.” Also, on this occasion, we must recall that one of the most heinous detention centers and rape camps was located in Višegrad. Finally, it must be said that in Višegrad the highest percentage of the victims of the aggression and war crimes were women and children.
We remember the Višegrad victims today, as we also remember the victims of genocide in Srebrenica, following the recent commemoration of the July 1995 genocide, as well as the victims of the genocide in Prijedor municipality who were murdered, and who suffered as well forcible displacement and imprisonment in concentration camps. We remember, indeed, the victims of the war crimes that were committed from Bihać to Sarajevo; from Mostar to Bijeljina.
Today we condemn and we resist the culture of genocide denial in Višegrad and in Republika Srpska by laying our wreath at the memorial in the Stražište cemetery. Our wreath reads: “To the Memory of the Victims of the Višegrad Genocide: May Truth Lead to Justice.” We would also like to recognize and honor the citizens and activists who created this memorial in the cemetery in order to tell the truth about the genocide. These citizens and activists have inspired us because they have kept their hearts open to the hope that the truth will lead to justice. We thank them for their courage. By our presence we stand with them and we affirm the right of all refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes without risk of intimidation, persecution or discrimination. We would like to express our hope for the future of a unified multicultural Bosnia and Herzegovina, operating as a democratic society under the rule of law, and fully integrated within the region. We owe nothing less to the victims of the Višegrad genocide.
David Pettigrew, PhD
Professor of Philosophy, Southern Connecticut State University,
Steering Committee, Yale University Genocide Studies Program,
International Team of Experts Institute for Research of Genocide, Canada,
Board Member, Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Center, Chicago, IL, USA
This statement has been published by Helsinki Committee For Human Rights in Serbia