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Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada

The response of Patrick McCarthy to insane rhetoric of the former general Lewis Mackenzie

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada
Published: April 4, 2010  

To the Editor of Ottawa Citizen:

In 1994, I traveled to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo – then under siege – by way of a tunnel dug underneath the Sarajevo airport to deliver humanitarian aid to the population whose food, water, electricity, and gas had been cut off in a city of 300,000 people, in what was then referred to as the world’s largest concentration camp.

Thousands of mortars from heavy artillery were being rained down upon Sarajevo and its people while snipers deliberately targeted ordinary men, women, and children who ventured outside in search of basic necessities. On February 5, 1994, a mortar shell landed in the middle of a crowded Sarajevo marketplace, killing 68 persons and wounding 144.

Almost immediately, Serb forces encircling the city made the claim that the Bosnian government had shelled its own people to gain international sympathy. Similar claims were not made about the thousands of other mortar bombs that were routinely launched against Sarajevans of all backgrounds — Muslims, Serbs, Croats, and others — more than 10,000 of whom were killed in the siege of Sarajevo.

General Lewis Mackenzie’s recent unsubstantiated comments reported in your paper refer to “blame on all sides,” distorting the actual dynamic of siege warfare against civilians — a documented war crime. Even in the language used to describe these events, there is an unexamined subtext that obscures the reality of what actually took place. The Bosnian war often carried the innocuous sounding name of “ethnic cleansing.” We do well to remember that “ethnic cleansing” in Sarajevo and throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina was:

  • Deliberate attacks against hospitals, schools, libraries, museums, churches, mosques, and other places presumed to have protection against indiscriminate attack
  • Mass murder and mass rape
  • Torture and other extreme human rights abuses
  • Forced expulsion from homes where people had lived for generations

In short, ethnic cleansing was the systematic destruction of the social fabric of centuries of multi ethnic existence with an intent to permanently displace or eliminate entire groups of Bosnians who had lived together in mutual respect. Behind the euphemism of ethnic cleansing was a genocide – the term that reflects the legal and descriptive findings based on the evidence of what took place in this recent war.

As commentators on the Bosnian war have noted, the last phase of genocide is denial. We now see this playing out in the revisionist rhetoric in the trial of Radovan Karadzic, the wartime political leader of the Bosnian Serbs now facing charges at the Hague Tribunal for genocide and other crimes against humanity. Karadzic has used his defense to try to rewrite the narrative of the war and to turn the truth on its head by claiming that the campaign of genocide was in defense of attacks on Serbs – in his words a “just and holy war” — and not the other way around.

Last month, the British government arrested a former member of the Bosnian presidency, Ejup Ganic, on an extradition request issued by Serbia for events that took place in Sarajevo in 1992, over which Serbia has no legal authority and for which the Hague War Crimes Tribunal had already dismissed as lacking sufficient evidence.

At the same time, there are ongoing efforts to deny the reality of genocide in Srebrenica, the single greatest act of mass murder in Europe since the end of World War II. In the end, the Bosnian genocide was never far from us, even though we paid little attention as atrocities there ran their murderous course for more than three years, claiming tens of thousands of lives and making refugees of nearly half the country’s population.

The Bosnian war was not a proud chapter for any of us on the outside, who mostly watched and did very little to defend our common humanity under threat in cities and towns throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. To further distort the factual record and to blame the victims deepens our shame and merely confirms all that was lost in Sarajevo and elsewhere.


Patrick McCarthy
Author, After the Fall: Srebrenica Survivors in St. Louis &
Advisory Committee Member of the Institute for the Investigation of Crimes of Genocide (Canada)

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada