THE VITAL DETAILED EVIDENCE…HOW THE SREBRENICA HOAX STORY MATERIALISED OUT OF LIES AND POLITICAL AMBITION

By Felix Quigley

[with help from Mick Tanzeer]

August 1, 2008

Many agencies collaborating in putting together the Srebrenica Hoax story and like all such stories accidents and opportunism played a part. What is not known about is the role of the Dutch political class and how their lies met strong opposition, even very angry opposition, from the Dutch soldiers on the ground who were part of the “peace” keeping forced on them by NATO and the UN.

The report is written in careful official language but it damns all those who created this Monster Srebrenica Hoax story against the valiant Serb people fighting against Fscist Islamist Jihad and its US and British Imperialist promoters.

[start report here]

Investigations among Displaced Persons

These methodological problems, as well as the hindrances created by the Bosnian authorities, also confronted the interviewers who approached the Displaced Persons for information on behalf of various organizations. Important roles were assigned to UNHCR and the International Red Cross, but they were joined from Zagreb by a combined team of the Human Rights Office of Civil Affairs and the UN Centre for Human Rights. Furthermore various other bodies were active, such as the ‘Bosnian State Commission for the collection of information on war crimes’, as well as the Tribunal, Amnesty International and a number of smaller NGOs. Some of these were eager to publicize their findings as soon as possible. As early as 31 July, for instance, the US Committee on Refugees published an extensive report on the ‘death march’ from Srebrenica based on interviews conducted by its staff member Bill Frelick in Tuzla and the surroundings.[1]

Due to the nature of their work most of the organizations were cautious about publicizing politically sensitive information. UNHCR was less reserved in this respect and several times its spokespersons released details from the ‘unconfirmed reports’ by Displaced Persons. This included the suspicion that the VRS had used Dutchbat uniforms to mislead refugees.[2] Serious research, however, was commenced only on 21 July after Protection Officer Manca de Nissa had arrived in Tuzla. He submitted his report a week later, based on 70 interviews with both normal Displaced Persons and survivors of the march. Manca de Nissa did not however draw any conclusions about possible large-scale murders.[3]

It was much more difficult for an organization such as the International Red Cross to publicize findings. The strictly observed neutrality ruled out any statements that could be given a political slant. Another factor in this case was that the delegates were too familiar with the Bosnian propaganda and thus usually regarded the rumours issuing from Tuzla with great suspicion. In a communiqué on 14 July, three days after the fall of the enclave, nothing was said about missing persons or possible summary executions. Nevertheless, staff of the International Red Cross had already gathered much information by this time. Although the International Red Cross had no official access to the men who arrived in Tuzla from 16 July onwards, staff had in fact spoken to several of them. A communiqué of 19 July however mentioned only that the International Red Cross demanded of the Bosnian Serbs that it be given access to prisoners. Still no mention was made of deaths. But according to Christoph Girod of the International Red Cross the pressure was increasing.[4] Consequently, at a press conference on 31 July, Girod referred to the fact that there were 5000 to 6000 missing persons with the statement: ‘We have no indications of this whatsoever’. It was only on 14 August that the International Red Cross first dared to publicly mention the possibility of executions.[5]

The UN headquarters in Zagreb had also issued instructions that Displaced Persons be questioned about possible human rights violations (actually: violations of international humanitarian law). As early as 17 July a mixed team from Civil Affairs/Human Rights Office (HRO) and UNCHR had left for Tuzla Air Base on a fact-finding mission, i.e. to interview the Displaced Persons from Srebrenica. Ken Biser of Civil Affairs in Tuzla had already begun this task after an attempt to travel to Srebrenica, together with HRO staff member Peggy Hicks, had met with the resistance of the Serbs. From 18 July onwards Biser received the support of the team from Zagreb.[6]

A confrontation soon took place with a Field Delegate of the International Red Cross: ‘He bluntly told us that the ICRC was not happy with our work because it potentially interfered with its own work’. According to the delegates it was possible that people would not report certain information to the International Red Cross if they had already spoken to other researchers; they might think it was no longer necessary. The humanitarian debriefers of the two UN organizations ensured that they avoided the potential confusion between the two organizations by telling their respondents that they should afterwards also talk to the International Red Cross.[7]

There were other problems too. The investigation was considerably hindered by the journalists present. Anyone could walk in and out of the relief camps. According to the Swiss investigator R. Salvisberg, UNCHR Bosnia coordinator based in Sarajevo, the journalists encouraged the Displaced Persons to say what they wanted to hear. In his eyes the media were engaged in ‘a sensational hunt’ for the worst crime, and this would then be published in the papers. As a result Salvisberg and his colleagues were constantly working in the wake of newspaper headlines and television sound-bites (however strange it sounds, televisions were soon present in the camp too).[8] The investigators noticed in the process that the journalists were strongly focussed on Dutchbat. This possible distortion made it difficult to discern what the Displaced Persons had experienced themselves and what they were repeating from other sources.[9]

Salvisberg’s team initially took a random approach, with evaluations taking place each day, after which the work became more systematic. The investigators chose a gentle, passive approach. They asked who wanted to talk to them, and then interviewed these people. According to Salvisberg they were not after ‘sexy stories like the ones in the press’.[10] A total of five women came forward who said they had been raped. In general the stories of those who had been transported away in buses were relatively ‘uneventful’. They had experienced few incidents. A picture gradually emerged, but the main question was whether the reported executions were isolated incidents or indications of a widespread phenomenon. It was also very difficult to gain a picture of the number who had been executed, but things certainly gave cause for concern, according to the investigator Peggy Hicks of the Human Rights Office of Civil Affairs in Zagreb.[11]

After about a week the investigators of the two UN organizations noticed that their respondents had been told what to say; they suspected that these instructions came from the Bosnian authorities. The gist of these prompted stories was that the Serbs and the UN (not specifically the Dutch) had been the bad guys, who had ‘sold out’ the people of the enclave. At this time Salvisberg had not yet heard any criticism of the actions of the people’s own Muslim soldiers. It was to be some days before the first stories emerged which also assigned blame to the Bosnian government.[12]

After a few days the team of investigators started looking for men who had entered the Safe Areas following the march. They visited a camp full of soldiers outside Tuzla. This proved a difficult affair: the authority of T. Mazowiecki, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights who arrived in Tuzla on 22 July, was required to facilitate this visit. This solved only part of the problem: the interviewers were not permitted to approach people themselves but were ‘accompanied’ by the Muslim authorities. ‘They were presented to us’, reported the investigator Hicks. This was supposedly to save the investigators’ time. ‘It made me feel very uneasy’, said Hicks later.[13]

Other investigators shared her experience. According to R. (Roman) Wieruszewski of the UNCHR office in Sarajevo, one of the consequences of this ‘accompaniment’ was that everyone with whom he and his colleagues spoke claimed that he had been unarmed. In later interviews conducted independently of the authorities the interviewees generally declared that of course they had carried weapons, otherwise they would not have survived the march.[14] Sometimes it was women who said that of course the soldiers had been armed. Salvisberg recounted: ‘They even laughed at us when we asked about this.’ He and the other researchers calculated that of the Muslim men, about one-third had been armed and about two-thirds had been unarmed. They gained the impression that there had been an element of organization in the distribution of the available weapons: ‘You get one, you don’t’, which according to them led to conflicts. Other Displaced Persons reported fights between the Muslim soldiers. There were also reports that Bosnian Muslims had executed Serbs.

The impression gained by the research team was that the soldiers had several prepared standard stories, such as a mass murder of 25 people conducted by the Bosnian Serbs, in which the respondent kept under cover or pretended to be dead. ‘We heard this story ten times or so’, said Salvisberg.[15] Although the reconstruction of the march presented problems, the biggest problem proved to be establishing what had happened to the group in Srebrenica and Potocari.[16]

In the first report send by Hicks on 21 July, she nonetheless concluded that there was sufficient basis ‘to believe that significant human rights violations occurred both before and during the transport from Srebrenica’.[17] Much remained unclear, however. In the final report finished by Hicks on 31 July, the issue of numbers remained open. She could do nothing else than to conclude that further investigations were required.[18] It was only in October 1995, following new revelations in the press, that even she realized what the probable scale of the murder had been.[19]

Typical of the problems in defining the events shortly after the fall were the statements made by two high-ranking UN officials in Tuzla. The Peruvian diplomat H. Wieland, the highest official of the UN Centre for Human Rights in the region, said on 23 July that ‘we have not found anyone who saw with their own eyes an atrocity taking place’.[20] On the same day, however, the Special Rapporteur for human rights, Tadeus Mazowiecki, also declared in Tuzla that ‘barbaric’ acts had taken place.[21] Thus for a long time it remained unclear what precisely had happened in Potocari and the surroundings, together with the fate of the thousands of men who had been missing since the fall. A major factor for those concerned was the disbelief that these thousands of men had been murdered in cold blood. It was thus the case that not only did the ‘barometer’ give no clear indications in itself: those reading it were also influenced by their own expectations and assumptions when trying to establish what had really happened. The discussion of the issue as to whether a genocide, or a mass murder, had been committed after the fall of Srebrenica, was to an important extent determined by the various points of departure.

18. Genocide?

The question as to whether the term ‘genocide’ was applicable to the events taking place after the fall of Srebrenica became one of the dominant themes in the aftermath. Above all the resistance by Lieutenant General Couzy to the use of this term to describe the events following the fall of Srebrenica was to play a major role in the negative impression of the way that Dutch military personnel had responded to the disaster. It also became an element in the speculations concerning the poor relations between Minister Voorhoeve and his Army Commander Couzy, because a difference in approach to this matter soon became evident. The following section of this chapter examines the way that this ‘genocide issue’ took shape, based on a description and analysis of the actions of the main players and their interrelationships. The role of the media is also spotlighted, as this formed an important ingredient in the complex of actions and events.

Firstly it will be described how, following Couzy’s activities between 15 and 17 July, the issue of interpretation of the events played an increasingly important role in the public discussion. It will then be recounted how Couzy responded, partly in consultation with others, and how his actions should be viewed in the light of the knowledge that he had of the events. This is why detailed attention is also devoted to the debriefing of the main Dutchbat group conducted on Couzy’s instructions in Zagreb on 22 and 23 July, as opposed to the group of the 55 hostages and the Military Hospital Organization group who had already been interviewed between 15 and 17 July. The points of departure and the methods applied for the debriefing of the main group, which influenced the sort of information thus obtained, are also closely examined. In this context the simultaneous attempts made by UN bodies to gather information specially relevant to human rights violations are also dealt with. The interaction between the two debriefings and the resulting problems then form a subsequent important theme. In addition to revealing how strongly the Dutch authorities influenced the events in Zagreb, this also enables a comparison of the results to conduct a better analysis of the way in which Couzy arrived at his statements on human rights violations in the concluding press conference on the afternoon of Sunday 23 July. The final question to be examined is to what extent these statements, later subjected to strong criticism, were justified and understandable under the circumstances.

19. Pronk’s use of the term ‘genocide’

The origin of the ‘genocide issue’ lay with the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation, J. Pronk. On Friday 14 July he and an aide travelled to Tuzla on behalf of the Ministerial Council. Pronk was given permission to organize an airlift between Tuzla and the Netherlands for the Displaced Persons. On 15 July he arrived via Split in Tuzla in the company of a reconnaissance group under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel L.M.T. Kuijpers. The delegation was to establish what assistance the Netherlands could provide for the Displaced Persons from Srebrenica. Pronk also hoped, however, to find out more about the fate of the several thousand missing men – an issue that was raising a growing number of questions. He conducted a large number of conversations with representatives of the UN, NGOs, Bosnian authorities and Displaced Persons at Tuzla Air Base, where the Displaced Persons were accommodated. In the evening he appeared in a direct broadcast on Dutch television news at 8pm. Pronk stated that he had consulted with Prime Minister Kok and Defence Minister Voorhoeve on the ‘chief problem’ in Tuzla. According to him this problem was not the Displaced Persons, but the ‘stragglers’, the ones who had not arrived in Tuzla. He advocated that international pressure on Mladic be stepped up. When the news presenter Hennie Stoel asked whether pressure and threats would help to motivate the Serbs ‘to do something for the stragglers’, Pronk responded in irritation: ‘Do something for the stragglers? Stop the people being murdered, that’s the issue here.’[1]

On Monday 17 July the Dutch newspapers and radio reported comparable statements made by Pronk in Sarajevo on his return journey from Tuzla. Pronk once again expressed his concern for the men in Bratunac. Het Parool reporter Kolijn van Beurden noted his words: ‘No one can get there and that makes you fear the worst’. Pronk was afraid that the Bosnian Serbs wanted to prevent the men from joining up with the Displaced Persons and then once again serving in the ABiH: ‘This points to murder as a preventative measure’. Pronk advocated that satellite photographs be used to obtain more information.[2]

These signals sent by Pronk failed to make a major impact. That only changed when he expressed them in strong terms on television. On the evening of 17 July Pronk had arrived in Split, from where he was to travel back to the Netherlands. Twan Huys was now also in Split. Pronk gave the NOVA reporter a frank interview, telling Huys about a number of atrocities in Srebrenica which he said had cost ‘thousands’ of lives. The interview was to be broadcast the following evening.

In The Hague the first alarm bells started ringing when NOVA approached the Ministry of Defence on Tuesday 18 July, one day after the interview in Split. Twan Huys’ team had also been in Zagreb on 16 July at the moment that the 55 ex-hostages and the Military Hospital Organization team were addressed by Couzy about their departure for the Netherlands. The camera was running when Couzy warned the assembled personnel about the expected media attention and urgently advised them to remain silent with respect to the press. The media quickly interpreted this as a ‘muzzle’, and it meant that the silence maintained by the 75 Dutchbat members who arrived at Soesterberg in the afternoon of 17 July was news in itself.[3] The discrepancy between this ‘muzzle’ for the Dutchbat members and the frankness of Minister Pronk thus also smelled newsworthy. The question was also quickly raised as to why, if Pronk’s account was true, the Dutch had done nothing to prevent the drama. The first critical commentaries appeared in the press, some of which did not shrink from comparisons with the Second World War. On the opinion page of De Volkskrant on 17 July, for instance, the old journalistic hand Herman Wigbold asked what the principal difference was between the engine drivers who drove the trains to Westerbork (the deportation transit camp set up by the Germans in the Netherlands during the Second World War) and ‘UN peacekeepers who ride on the Bosnian Serb trucks’. The example of the mayor in wartime was cited again too.[4] Voorhoeve, who had already been affected by the critical words of the historian Jan-Willem Honig about the actions of Dutchbat, hit back the following day with his own contribution to the opinion page in which he rejected all criticism of Dutchbat.[5]

It was thus no surprise that on 18 July NOVA contacted the Ministry of Defence to request that someone, preferably Voorhoeve or Couzy, should respond to Pronk’s statements in the programme. The Deputy Director of Information of the Ministry of Defence, H.P.M.(Bert) Kreemers, who had already been approached by Nova without success, immediately warned his minister of the impending danger. He advised him to consult as soon as possible with Pronk, who was due to arrive at Valkenburg Navy Air Base in the afternoon and to hold a press conference there: ‘Contact with the both of you seems advisable to me, because in the public eye we’re heading for a ‘clash’. [6]

This estimate proved to be correct. The interview recorded with Pronk in Split was broadcast on the evening of 18 July. Huys had initially not recognized the newsworthiness of Pronk’s statements about ‘large-scale murders’, as ‘everyone’ already knew this. But when he reported the interview to his editor-in-chief Ad van Liempt, the latter instructed that the recording be sent to Hilversum as soon as possible because it would initiate ‘an enormous political debate’. He said he knew that the government had agreed not to make any statements about the situation on the ground until the Dutchbat members were in safety.[7] The broadcast was thus announced with the words that the minister would say ‘what no politician or soldier has dared to utter’. Pronk said that no one should be fooled ‘by people who say that none of this had been confirmed. Thousands of people have been murdered. (… Real mass murders have taken place. This is something that we knew could happen. The Serbs have done this several times. It’s genocide that is taking place.’ Pronk also referred to the presence of special Bosnian Serb troops who had frequently committed such actions before.[8] A few years later Pronk told the NIOD that this remark was prompted by reports from the Bosnian authorities about the presence of Arkan and his Tigers in the operations against the population of Srebrenica.[9]

The ‘clash’ predicted by Kreemers had now come about. In the absence of Voorhoeve and Couzy, who remained silent due to the position of Dutchbat, it was the CDA (Christian Democrats) spokesman De Hoop Scheffer who responded to Pronk’s statements in the Nova programme. Shortly after the fall of the town the CDA spokesman had already declared in Nieuwe Revu: ‘As we already knew, the Serbs can commit the most terrible acts if they want to do harm.’[10] This may be why, in the Nova broadcast, he did not focus on the content of Pronk’s statements but on their political opportunism. Although ‘understandable from the human perspective’, De Hoop Scheffer considered them ‘politically irresponsible’. He felt that Pronk had mixed private opinions and emotion with political responsibility, and called this ‘a political mistake’. De Hoop Scheffer said that he himself had ‘a whole lot of questions about what has happened there’ – here apparently referring to the missing men – ‘But we as the Dutch government now have one major priority. And that is to get Colonel Karremans and his 306 men back to the Netherlands safe and sound.’ The CDA politician said that with his statements Pronk had deviated from the reserved attitude taken by his colleagues Kok, Voorhoeve and Van Mierlo in the past week.[11] Five years later De Hoop Scheffer, by then chairman of the CDA, was to declare four times that when making his criticism at that time he was bearing in mind the interests of both ‘Displaced Persons and Dutchbat’ – in that order.[12] This is not, however, the impression gained from those days.

Although the D66 spokesman Jan Hoekema accused his CDA colleague of trying to make political capital from the statements, he too felt that Pronk was ‘jumping the gun’ and that his remarks were ‘not prudent and not opportune’. The VVD spokesman Blaauw described the statements as ‘extremely unwise’.[13]

One day after the programme, however, Pronk received support from an unexpected quarter. The AVRO radio news broadcast an interview with the Dutch Chief of Staff of the UN headquarters in Sarajevo, Brigadier General C. Nicolai: ‘Of course it’s ethnic cleansing. It’s only the scale that is completely unclear.’ Nicolai made his remarks two days before the departure of Dutchbat from Potocari, but he did not believe that he could thus endanger the return of the UN soldiers. [14] The PVDA (Labour) spokesman Gerrit Valk also played down the risks for the 307 Dutchbat members in Potocari: ‘I don’t have the impression that Mladic tunes in to Nova every day.’[15]

Jacques de Milliano, the director of Médecins Sans Frontières, who had arrived at airbase Valkenburg at the same time as Pronk, was equally forthright in using the word ‘genocide’.[16] De Milliano had gone to Bosnia because he had strong indications that Dutchbat had not supervised the transport of the Displaced Persons as well as the Dutch military leadership had claimed. Reports from the representatives of Médecins Sans Frontières in the enclave had made it clear to him that this had not been the case. Dutchbat and Karremans in particular had given the Displaced Persons ‘a false sense of protection’ by creating the impression that the Dutch would accompany them.[17] This picture was further strengthened by De Milliano’s conversations with Displaced Persons in Tuzla. This gave him grounds enough ‘to burst that balloon’.[18]

More important for Pronk from the political perspective, however, was the unreserved support from Prime Minister Kok the day after the Nova broadcast. He informed Parliament in a letter that he did not agree with the accusation that his party colleague had acted ‘irresponsibly’ and declared simply that Pronk’s actions were ‘not in conflict’ with the government policy: ‘under the present circumstances, maintaining the necessary degree of reserve when making public statements’.[19] Kok also referred to the fact that other members of the government had also expressed their concern. Indeed, on 17 July the Minister of Foreign Affairs Van Mierlo, when attending a General Council with EU colleagues in Brussels, had given a ‘chilling account’ during an intervention in the debate of the atrocities committed by the VRS. But for security reasons he did not wish to provide any details.[20] On the other hand, Van Mierlo also asked Pronk to moderate his statements until Dutchbat was free.[21]

Reserved or not, Pronk’s statement about genocide was received in the international media as the ‘first’ serious political indication of a mass murder.[22] His words led to a variety of reactions. Akashi, for instance, said he was not aware of the genocide that his ‘great friend’ Pronk had talked about. He said he would direct an inquiry to the Dutch government.[23] The really fierce reactions, however, came from the side of the Dutchbat military personnel. In the Netherlands the military trade union ACOM, in the person of its chairman P. Gooijers, was one of the first to heavily criticize Pronk’s statements in a press release and a letter to Minister Voorhoeve. In this ACOM asked him to assign ‘the highest priority now’ to the safety of the Dutchbat soldiers, for instance by ensuring that ‘colleague politicians take a restrained approach to the situation in the former Yugoslavia until the Dutch UN soldiers have safely returned to the Netherlands’.[24] Following this Voorhoeve asked his Deputy Director of Information Bert Kreemers to call Gooijers and to reassure him. This was successful, as Gooijers then expressed his support for Voorhoeve’s policy.[25]

The Dutchbat personnel in Bosnia also showed little understanding. In Potocari they had heard Pronk’s statements on satellite television. Some of the debriefing forms filled out by the group of 55 in Pleso contained gibes directed at Pronk. After the rest of the battalion had arrived in Zagreb on 22 July and the media put the issue of possible genocide to a number of Dutchbat soldiers, extremely angry reactions resulted which were aimed not only at Pronk. Minister Voorhoeve now also came under fire. On 21 July he had attended the international Bosnia Conference in London. He had an informal meeting with General Smith, who informed him confidentially that he feared the worst for the men still missing, even if hard proof was still lacking: ‘He was the first from the military sector who told me informally, “I think they’ve murdered two to three thousand men.” I don’t know how he knew it, but he also said, “I don’t have any hard facts, but things aren’t right. There are too many men missing.” That was on 21 July. He also said, “I don’t precisely know why I’m saying this, but it’s my feeling, intuition”.’[26] Strengthened by this information and the knowledge that Dutchbat had now left the Republika Srpska, Voerhoeve then issued strong accusations directed at the Bosnian Serbs: ‘Genocide means murder of a group, and that is what the Bosnian Serbs are doing’.[27] In the NOS television news of that evening he explained his words further:

‘We now no longer have any constraints on the things we can say. We know that very serious things have happened in Srebrenica. We don’t have the full picture yet, but I fear that hundreds if not thousands have died. There’s no longer any need to keep our voices down. We know that very serious things have happened and we also want them fully investigated on behalf of the Tribunal that is to investigate war crimes. I believe that serious war crimes have indeed taken place.’[28]

The reactions of some Dutchbat personnel to these statements were so fierce that a rather nonplussed Voerhoeve had to back-pedal a day later before the cameras in Pleso. But it was not only the normal troops with whom he clashed. General Couzy also rejected the far-reaching statements of his own minister and his colleague Pronk.

(personal notes will follow…FQ)

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