Barred from speaking at a U.N. meeting on international criminal justice, Bosnian activist Munira Subasic, who lost 22 close family members in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, said she felt powerless as she listened to Serbia's ultranationalist president attack the U.N. war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia as politically biased.
Subasic said Wednesday that she believed that Serbian President Tomslav Nikolic was also denying the genocide at Srebrenica by Bosnian Serbs that killed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys, including her husband and beloved youngest son, Nermin. It was Europe's worst massacre of civilians since World War II.
As her hurt and anger rose, Subasic said she put on a T-shirt which she had brought as a gift for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, saying "Srebrenica" on which she had added the words "Justice Is Slow But It's Reachable." Next to her, she said, was a banner highlighting the genocide in the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia, Republika Srpska.
"All of a sudden I was surrounded by security ... and in a very curt manner they told me that I have to leave the room," Subasic told reporters.
She blamed U.N. General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic, a former Serb foreign minister, who organized the meeting and had banned her organization, the Mothers of Srebrenica, from making a five-minute statement. His spokesman Nikola Jovanovic said Jeremic has no personal security and doesn't give instructions to U.N. security and speculated she was removed because of the T-shirt and banner.
Subasic's expulsion followed a boycott of the meeting by the United States, Canada and Jordan because it didn't include Bosnia's war victims and gave Serbian officials a platform to attack the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal instead of focusing on the broader announced theme, the "Role of International Criminal Justice in Reconciliation."
To protest the victims' exclusion, Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Prince Zeid al Hussein and Liechtenstein's U.N. Ambassador Christian Wenewaser hosted a press conference for the Mothers of Srebrenica and the Association of Witnesses and Survivors of Genocide.
Zeid, who was a U.N. peacekeeper in Bosnia and served from 2002 to 2005 as the first president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court, encouraged other countries in the 193-nation General Assembly to boycott the meeting.
But it was impossible to say whether any did because Jeremic moved the meeting from the main General Assembly chamber, where all countries have nameplates and assigned seats, to a conference room where delegates sit anywhere. Jovanovic said 82 countries made statements.
Zeid expressed "indignation" at the way Jeremic exploited his position and the important theme to provide an opportunity for others to launch "an unmerited attack by the Serb Progressive Party against the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia."
Wenewaser said he and Zeid had urged Jeremic to include the victims, which is especially important because of the U.N. involvement in Bosnia and the failure of U.N. peacekeepers to protect civilians in Srebrenica, and look at the issues "in a comprehensive and in a balanced way" instead of "clearly driving a political agenda."
"Unfortunately, that has not been possible," he said.
The ambassadors also tried to get Jeremic to change the April 10 date of the meeting because it is the 71st anniversary of the founding of the pro-Nazi Croatian state, a fact mentioned by Nikolic.
Aware of the controversy, Ban as U.N. chief gave his "full and unequivocal support" to all international tribunals in an opening speech and called on all countries to support and strengthen the system of international criminal justice.
"Supporting the tribunals and courts means respecting — and not calling into question — their independence, impartiality and integrity," Ban said. "It means implementing their decisions. And it means safeguarding them from those who seek to undermine them for reasons that may have more to do with politics than justice."
But soon after, Nikolic delivered a lengthy attack on the Yugoslav tribunal, saying it targeted Serbs, overlooked Croats and Bosnians, and made "unjust legal decisions based on untruths and rendered under political pressure." He also questioned the court's impartiality and objectivity "when there is a systematic atmosphere of a lynch-mobbing of everything that is Serbian," and said unlawful arrests, kidnappings and gathering of evidence "are a rule where Serbs are concerned."
"From the point of view of science and ethics, the Hague trials may be seen on a par with the processes held by the Inquisition," Nikolic said. "The proceedings against Serbs are motivated by punishment and revenge."
During the 1990s Balkan wars, Nikolic was deputy leader of the extremist Serbian Radical Party, which was even more hardline than the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic — who plunged the region into its ethnic conflagration. Nikolic was also a disciple of Vojislav Seselj, a firebrand right-wing politician who at the closing session of his war crimes trial at The Hague, Netherlands, last month retold the history of the war from a Serb perspective, claiming that Serbs had been subjected to a "genocide."
Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said the United States would not participate in the "unbalanced, inflammatory" meeting which failed to provide victims of atrocities a voice.
Among those invited who declined to attend were David Tolbert, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice; Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch; President of the International Criminal Court Song Sang-Hyun and President of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court Tina Intelmann.
At the last minute, a highly controversial panelist was added — Canadian Maj. Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, the first commander of Sector Sarajevo. A Facebook initiative by a Bosnia-based organization called Stop Genocide Denial launched a petition drive asking Ban to boycott the meeting and ban MacKenzie because of serious allegations of misconduct against him "that include alleged visits to a rape camp run by Bosnian Serbs in 1992."
Subasic also criticized his inclusion, saying girls and women who were raped at the camp still suffer as do the survivors of Srebrenica.
Two months ago, she said, a doctor at a laboratory doing DNA analysis called and told her that they had found remains of her youngest son "that I loved the most" — two bones, one from one grave and another from a grave 25 kilometers (15 1/2 miles) away.
"I didn't give birth to a son without a head or arms or legs, but now I have to take him out that way," Subasic said.
She said it was a very sad day coming to the United Nations because the U.N. "did not learn something from the past."
"I felt the same way I felt in 1995," Subasic said. "I had rights to nothing. That's how I felt in the building of the United Nations."
But on an optimistic note, she said, "I think justice will find a way to conquer the evil."
That's the message on the T-shirt which she said she delivered to the secretary-general after she was expelled from the General Assembly meeting.
As a victim of genocide, Subasic said, "I will never forgive. I will never forget."
She urged the world to make sure that mothers do not suffer the way the mothers of Srebrenica continue to suffer.
Subasic said she would like her granddaughters to have friends that are Serb, Croat, Jewish, Roma or American, and she called on people everywhere "to love others and different people — and not to allow for hatred. I think hatred is the worst thing. I don't hate anyone."
Then, she said, "I will lie in peace. I will know that I did something that made a difference in this world."