Inspiring and Inadequate: The Krstic' Genocide Conviction Through the Eyes of a Srebrenica Survivor

HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCACY STORIES, Deena Hurwitz, Margaret Satterthwaite, & Douglas Ford, eds., Foundation Press, 2009

Posted: 18 Dec 2008  

Doug Ford

University of Virginia - School of Law

Date Written: December 2008


The fall of the Berlin Wall appeared to herald a new era of rights. Yet, just three years later, the disintegration of Yugoslavia into war and brutal ethnic cleansing left Europe, the U.S., and the U.N. struggling to find ways to meaningfully and legally intervene to make good on their "never again" pledge to prevent genocide. Unfortunately, the town of Srebrenica in Bosnia became a crucible for the international community's efforts. This chapter offers a victim's perspective of the entire process.

During the war, the U.N. and other international actors undertook measure after measure short of military intervention to halt the violence. These actions included: naming a special rapporteur, establishing a commission of inquiry, creating an international tribunal (the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY), enforcing an arms embargo, providing various forms of humanitarian relief, deploying a limited protection force, providing military air support, and designating safe areas.

However, these measures proved too little, and their impacts too late, for the residents of Srebrenica. In July 1995, Serb forces attacked the town and massacred more than 7000 residents, Europe's worst massacre since World War II. Many believe the tragedy marked the nadir for U.S., European and U.N. policies to combat mass atrocity. The horrific failure did, however, spur action by the international community to bring the parties to the table, which ultimately led to the peace agreement ending the war. The tragedy also led to the genocide conviction of General Krstic, one of the Bosnian Serb army's leading generals. ICTY's conviction of Krstic for genocide provided a public, detailed and irrefutable account of the massacre.

Yet the conviction and peace were in some sense hollow victories for the Srebrenica families. For years they were "refugees" in their own land, unable to return to their hometown. While Krstic sat in jail, the real Bosnian Serb masterminds, in the minds of the families and in the indictments of the ICTY - that is, of General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, then president of the Bosnian Serb Republic - remain free (most likely in their backyard somewhere in Bosnia or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). What is more, some analysts assert that the creation of the ICTY ironically postponed the military intervention that might have prevented the Srebrenica massacre in the first place.

The tragedy of Srebrenica and the pursuit of justice for Europe's worst massacre in the past 60 years, has influenced every conflict since. On the surface it stands for the validity of humanitarian intervention in the face of "evil," since combinations of other diplomatic measures can fail with tragic results. It has been invoked by U.S. officials regarding Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. However, on a deeper level, it stands for the failings of the rule of law and judicial process - at least of an international nature - during conflict, and immediately post-conflict. It has brought little solace to the surviving victims: no prosecution of Karadzic and Mladic (even though Milosevic faced trial); the families of Srebrenica have received no reparations; and the preservation and identification of the thousands of unearthed bodies proved problematic. On a societal level, ten years later, there is only an absence of armed conflict, not the assurance of a viable, peaceful nation.

Keywords: human rights, genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, missing person, disappearance

JEL Classification: K33, K14, K40, K00, Z00

Suggested Citation

Ford, Doug, Inspiring and Inadequate: The Krstic' Genocide Conviction Through the Eyes of a Srebrenica Survivor (December 2008). HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCACY STORIES, Deena Hurwitz, Margaret Satterthwaite, & Douglas Ford, eds., Foundation Press, 2009. Available at SSRN:

Doug Ford (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434/977-0553 x118 (Phone)
434/977-0558 (Fax)


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