Thursday, August 10, 2006

Opinion: Genocide Denial

Genocide is not an accusation or charge which should be taken lightly. Too many times politicians have used the term "genocide" to whip up the masses into a frenzy, in order to justify their own dictatorships and atrocities. Case in point: Serb politicians during the late 1980s and early 1990s. These politicians manipulated and exploited the very real genocide faced by the Serbs (and others) by the Ustasha regime; by convincing the public that they were under the threat of a "genocide" today by a united Ustasha/Islamic Fundamentalist front. Add to that a Blatant propaganda campaign of lies and manipulations; some good old fashion religious demagoguery and ultra nationalism; and you have a situation where far too many good people; people like you and me, stood by and did nothing as their neighbors were rounded up, put in camps, raped, killed, or kicked out of homes.
The politicians used a false charge and accusation of genocide to get public support behind their own genocidal campaign against the Bosniaks.
Therefore, claiming that an event is an act of genocide needs to be make cautiously.

That is why when a genocide has and does take place; we must do everything in our power to stop the atrocities and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Genocide is truly the crimes of crimes; because, as the Kristic appeals verdict noted; at the root of genocide is a desire to destroy a human group. That destruction, whether partial or attempted has a ripple effect on all of mankind; far beyond the group slated for destruction.

That is why genocide denial irkes me so much. The very motive behind this blog in the first place was because I was disgusted by the number of Bosnian genocide denial and justification found on the internet. And the only thing I find more disgusting than outright genocide denial are the people who seek to justify mass slaughter; as if such a thing could ever be justified.

So, while acknowledging my rather emotional p.o.v. on this subject, I still want to know why do people deny genocide?
I suppose to obvious answer would be: they don't think genocide occurred.
Which of course prompts me to ask an even more obvious question, why not?

Before we look at why people deny genocide, it is important to understand how people deny genocide:

On the web, I found this copy of a college lecture that compares genocide denial and looks at the forms genocide denial has manifests itself.
Copy found here:
Genocide Denial Summary

What I found most interesting was the list of common tactics used by those who deny genocide.

1. The civil war argument: all sides were equally guilty for crimes/equally victimized.

2. Blaming the victims: They were "dangerous" "violent" and provoked the perpetrators.

3. The absence of a centrally planned genocide, or of motive to commit genocide: The crimes were spontaneous acts of violence.

4. The victim group lied and manipulated evidence to justify intervention/gain sympathy.

5. The number games: How many were killed etc.

6. Insufficient evidence: There isn't the forensic or historical evidence to support a claim of genocide.

7. Definitionism: Those who claim that the mass slaughter that occurred was not an act of genocide. In other words, a misunderstanding of the Genocide Convention.

Although the lecture never mentions the Bosnian genocide in the summary; every single one of these tactics have been used by genocide deniers/justifiers with regard to Bosnia.

Now, it is time to look at why people deny genocide/justify genocide This is the million dollar question. And there is no single answer.

Some people are not what I would call genocide deniers per se, but those who do not understand what genocide is. In my opinion, if we simply educate them on the provisions of the Genocide Convention, then they wouldn't hesitate to call genocide a genocide.

Then there are also people who are motivated by external political concerns. These are the people who can't find Bosnia on a map; but the minute NATO intervened, suddenly sought to deny the genocide against the Bosniaks.

Then there are the people who are motivated by a phobia or hatred of the victim group. For example, these would be the Islamophobes or racists.

There are certainly other motives as well, but these were the top ones I thought of on the top of my head.

UCLA has an excellent page looking at the reasons why genocide denial of Armenia, the Holocaust, Rwanda and Darfur have and continue to take place.
Genocide Denial

Next, is what we can do to combat genocide denial. This is difficult, after all the person who is convinced that the Holocaust was a result of a Jewish conspiracy theory, is probably not going to be swayed by a little something called 'evidence.'

And I'm aware, that no matter how much evidence one has, there are still going to be people who deny genocide. But, I still think there are some tools we can use.

1. Teach people about the genocide convention and the legal definition of genocide. Teach them what constitutes genocide. This is the most important, because so much denial, especially with regard to Bosnia is stemmed from a lack of understanding of the Genocide Convention.

2. Show the historic evidence of how the genocide was planned. Especially with regard to Bosnia, there are people who still see the war as a civil war. By showing evidence of the propaganda and planning of the genocide; we can combat this.

3. Show the evidence, especially neutral evidence like forensic and DNA evidence that supports evidence of a mass slaughter. Denial or manipulation of evidence is a key tactic of genocide denial.

4. Take every argument made by the genocide denial (and not genocide "Denmark" as the spell check said ;-) ) and show point by point where they are wrong.

I don't think any one is going to be motivated to change their mind; but it is still important to consistently speak out against genocide denial and to show that genocide occured.

I'm interested in knowing what do other people think are the causes for genocide denial. Is there anything we can do to combat that denial, or is it a lost cause?
What ways are most effective to combat genocide denial?


Owen said...

Remember too that actually using the word has implications now - as with Rwanda and Darfur.

Shaina said...


I did a major paper on US/Western reactio to the Rwandan genocide (talk about a depressing topic) and I still remember senior Clinton officials going out of their way to say that they didn't have the evidence to say that genocide was occuring etc. All so the US would not have to intervene.

I think the US reaction to Rwanda is the most disgraceful foreign policy event post WWII.

While, I have a lot of criticism of the length of time it took to get us involved in Bosnia; and the amount of moral equivalency that was thrown around; at least in the end we did do something.
You can't say the same for Rwanda.

And you are right about Darfur. The minute Powell said the situation in Darfur was a genocide, there was an increase in attention about the situation in Darfur.

In Samantha Power's "A Problem From Hell" she cites some very interesting stats regarding public perception and genocide. There was a poll question over whether the US should intervene in Bosnia. And when the poller said that a genocide was occuring in Bosnia, the number of people who said we should intervene increased. (By how much, I can't remember).

Bg anon said...

Ok so I'm going to turn this question around a little.

Whats the difference between thousands of people (or millions) killed by their own ethnic group / country or by another group / country?

Is one genocide and the other not?
If the numbers / war crimes are the same is the former any worse than the latter?

To recognise genocide - is it to recognise ethnic differences / countries? ie if one doesnt believe there are differences between human beings or in the idea of borders / countries then where does that leave 'genocide'?

A seperate but related point on the Bosnia issue. You said (or implied) it isnt possible that what happened in Bosnia was a civil war because it was genocide. Is it not possible that both occured?

I, too have serious problems with the all too familiar denial of war crimes and the people that take part in it - some of whom change their mind later and act as if they had that view all along.

But I also have a problem with some of these classroom concepts that at times seem divorced from reality. I know we need to have a name for everything, a lable. But sometimes we should question the premise on which that name or lable is set. If we dont agree with the premise then what?

Shaina said...

Bg anon,

You raise some very good questions; particularly on the meaning of genocide. For example, as I'm sure you are aware genocide only covers destroying a group based on racial, religious, ethnic, national characteristics. Which means that Pol Pot's reign of terror where he primarily targeted people based on their class/education/political background wouldn't be considered a genocide (although he also targeted "traditional" groups like ethnic minorities as well).
In my (very non scholarly, lay person's pov) that is one of the problems with the genocide convention as it is.
And I realize with this more elastic interpretation of genocide; I probably raised more questions than answered them.

Your question has given me a lot of food for thought.

Bg anon said...

Thank you for replying. Your example concerning Pol Point is well made.

I thought of another point earlier on too which reminds me a little of the question. (On the face of it it has little to do with the question)

In Western (or world) culture there is this thing about whether killing a policeman should be considered a more serious crime than killing somebody else - a doctor for example.

I am vigourously opposed to this idea that somehow there are exceptions to the same standards which should be univerally applied.

Why is a policeman (who chose his or her carrear) any more valuable than any other public employee or even bankers et al?

(Why) is the mass murder of those from another group genocide and those of your own group not?

Srebrenica Massacre said...

1. WELL...

Excellent article Shaina. I couldn't have explained it better. I am so proud of you, I really am. Now, let's get to business.

Ustasha regime did not only commit crimes against Serbs, but also against Bosniaks and Bosniaks owerhelmingly participated in anti-fascist Partisans movement. On the other side, we had Serbian Chetniks who collaborated with both Allied forces and Fasists while they fought Partisans. Chetniks were far the worst type of inhuman evil this world has ever seen. I know this because as a child my grandmother and older Muslim women told me about their survival stories during World War II and what they witnessed.


I hate generalizations of people and therefore reject hypothetical argument that all Serbs are nice people. There are good and bad Serbs, although I feel majority of them is bad when it comes to accepting the fact that what their military did in Srebrenica was in fact a genocide. The bottom line is: you have to move to Balkans as a Muslim and live among these people for some time to realize who you are dealing with. The biggest problem, in my opinion, stemps from Eastern Orthodox or Serbian Orthodox Church ( ). They have brainwashed Serbs and turned them into terrible sociopathic Islamophobes, they are a root cause of Serbian terrorism in the Balkans.

They have thaught hate and blessed mass executioners publicly (as seen from this video ). Take a pause and look at the picture...


Nice Serbs, such as my friend, Dragoljub Todorovic, are rare - but they are priceless. Mr. Todorovic is a young Serb who wrote a poem about Srebrenica, expressing his sorrow for Bosniak victims of Srebrenica. I will soon translate the poem and post it to my blog, I am so proud of him. As a result he was a target of harrassment, death threats, and even assasination. I will write more about it on my blog, hopefully next time I update it. Another great Serb is Natasha Kandic, director of humanitarian centre in Belgrade. She is trully a great human being and I absolutely adore her. Of course, there are other great Serbs, such as Serb soldiers who were members of Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc.


Now let's go back to the point. Muslims of Bosnia are the nicest and the most naive (stupid?) people that you can find on this planet. These people never even believed that their Serb neighbours would attack them and shower their families with hundreds of bullets, even though Radovan Karadzic publicly said that Muslims would be wiped out from Bosnia in a case of war. A case of recently excavated mass grave near Eastern Bosnian city of Cajnice where babies, toddlers and complete families were sprayed with bullets and then dumped into mass graves during the war is another proof what genocidal brains are capable of doing ( ).

How can anyone kill a child? Children are so innocent and ... I just can't even think about this. Terrible, terrible, terrible. That is why I was angry at Israel and Hezbollah for being directly responsible for killing small children, toddlers, babies, who are innocent. How can anyone harm children?

A third of all civilians killed in Sarajevo were children. Now do the math, the number of killed in Sarajevo region alone is 14,000 people RDC list ( ).

And this is not including post-war cancer deaths caused by uranium ( ).


Another argument, used by genocide revisionists/deniers is that Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina was a Muslim Army. This is - of course - a blatant lie. Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina fought on three fronts: against joint Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces and Serbian forces on one front; on the other front against joint Bosnian Croat and Croatian forces; and on the other front, against Muslims in Western Bosnia. ABiH was a regular military under internationally recognized government of Bosnia-Herzegovina. ABiH was comprised of Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. Many high ranking officers of ABiH were Serbs and Croats. How the heck could this be a "Muslim Army" - that is ridicolous and blatant lie.


Another offensive lie is that war-time president Alija Izetbegovic was a mujaheedin or "Muslim terrorist" etc. Izetbegovic -leader of Party for Democratic Action - was one of key figures responsible for destruction of communism in Yugoslavia. He fought for democratic, secular, multiculturan, and internationally recognized Bosnia-Herzegovina. He wrote several books analyzing Islam. Serb propagandists took some of his statements out of context, as Noel Malcom ("Bosnia: Short History") pointed out.

Serbian propagandists (and other left-apologists) took out of context President Izetbegovic's words from Islamic Declaration (Izetbegovic's book criticising Islamic governments): "There can be no peace or co-existence between the Islamic Faith and non Islamic institutions".

More than any other text, the Islamic Declaration is cited by Serbian nationalist propaganda as evidence of dangerous 'Islamic fundamentalism' in Europe which must be suppressed... or else. Often cited to justify persecution of the Bosnian Muslim civilian population during the former war, the Declaration and its author, Mr. Alija Izetbegovic (Party of Democratic Action), former president of Bosnia, have been demonized and frequently blamed for the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. One might explain these accusations as viscous political propaganda brought on by war. However, as early as 1983, Izetbegovic and his writings were the target of a virulent campaign against Islam in Communist Yugoslavia. This campaign had its contemporary roots in the early 1970's when Bosniaks were allowed for the first time to declare themselves as a national group, but its deeper roots may lie in what Yugoslav scholar Bogdan Denitch calls "the pathological suspicion and hatred of Muslim Slavs." Part II of the Declaration, "The Islamic Order," explains how Muslim society should be reorganized based on Islamic principles. Parts of this section are often quoted out of context to prove that the Declaration advocates violence. It is crucial to note that Izetbegovic was speaking here of Islamic countries in which false modernist or conservative Islamic doctrines have been institutionalized in the political and social system. He was simply criticising Islamic governments and in many instances praised Western achievements. He was not speaking of Western countries or his native Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bosnia is not even mentioned in the book). A close reading of the Declaration reveals that Izetbegovic was advocating a cultural, not a political revolution, especially in countries (like Yugoslavia) where Muslims were a minority.

As Noel Malcolm pointed out, Bosnia was not even mentioned in Izetbegovic's book.


instead of wondering what is the purpose of people who reduce themselves to being Srebrenica genocide deniers (For a full list, consult 'Znet'), we should wonder what is their goal? Here is my opinion.

The goal of the deniers is to create doubt, to build controversy and ultimately to minimize the significance of the genocidal act. It's that simple. These people are not necessarily fools or stupid - it's just that they use their intelligence to do evil. Even some serial killers in American/Canadian justice system had above average intelligence. Now back to the point. In deniers' view, the lives of the victims were worthless then and they continue to be worthless by the rationalizations presented. Denial is a message of hate and prejudice. Denial is a continuation of genocide, some even noting it is the final act of genocide. Think about it Shaina. It's a contiuation of genocide, it is trully a final act of genocide.


The internet has supplied a much broader audience for genocide denial - just do a google search for Srebrenica massacre and you don't have to go further. At minimal cost and effort, millions of people are exposed to genocide denial, including children who are exposed to this garbage of denial poisoning the internet and minds of innocent. These instances are not isolated. On the contrary, they are symptoms of a growing assault on historical accuracy. Little by little, piece by piece, the clouds of doubt and controversy spread at an ever increasing pace. The 20th century may well go down in history as the century of genocide, but the 21st century may become a period where fact becomes fiction, fiction becomes fact and the ability to differentiate becomes impossible. As Israel Charny notes in his insightful article on the psychology of genocide denial:

“To ‘kill’ the ability of men to differentiate between what is known and unknown is to write a final chapterto mass murder by murdering truth, reality, and human memory and history.”


Deflection is another common method of denial. To deflect, the revisionists attempt to reduce the discussion to a grotesque game of numbers. Claims are made that the number of victims is exaggerated. This usually entails reducing the suffering of Srebrenica victims to a level equal of those who perpetrated that suffering against Bosniaks.

The denial can be summarized as a reduction of numbers of dead, revision of how the victims died and finally to mix the deaths of victims and combatants, as is the case with some of the arguments used by Srebrenica genocide deniers.


It is difficult to imagine the evidence needed to convince the deniers in light of the available documentation on the Srebrenica genocide. In addition to International Tribunal's archives (hundreds of thousands of pages), Bosnian archives (with hundreds of thousands photos of mass grave excavation, victim memo's that were excavated from mass graves, thousands of body parts still awaiting DNA identification in Tuzla morgue, confessions of Serb leadership that genocide was in fact planned [see]) and the archives of other countries and agencies (e.g. German court's documents and first Bosnia genocide verdict) all yield irrefutable documentation as to the systematic, state sponsored genocide of Bosniaks. If all that was not enough, the testimony of thousands of witnesses, along with the records from post-war trials that are still ongoing, offer further confirmation. How much more evidence does one need?

The Srebrenica genocide deniers intimidate that because there have been many genocides, the significance of any one particular genocide should be minimized or simply dismissed as "Muslim propaganda" or "Western Propaganda" (Bill Clinton is usually to blame, Americans, NATO, Western Governments, but not Milosevic, not Serbia, not Serbs) .


More to the point, however, is the inherent message of justification of Srebrenica massacre. One has to wonder, what possibly could justify the mass extermination of woman, children, the aged and others targeted by prejudice? Is it revolt by victims who refused to abandon their homes and refused to become another casualty of "Greater Serbia" plan? No decent human would surrender to the will of sociopathic islamophobic mass murderers, and Bosniaks did not surrender = they were disarmed and let to fend for themselves in the biggest and the dirtiest European prison called "Srebrenica".

It is also important to point out that the alleged revolts by the victims were, in fact, acts of self-defense. For Srebrenica genocide deniers/revisionists, these acts of revolt are viewed as a "war crime" against the Serbs. For example, when Srebrenica population waited too long for Serbs to let humanitarian convoys into the enclave, they revolted and plundered surrounding Serb villages for food. These acts were viewed by Srebrenica genocide deniers as "aggression" towards Serbs, because left-apologists expect victims to be quiet, stop fighting for their lives, and die of hunger - but not to revolt against the inhuman Serbian fascists who ethnically cleansed traditionally Bosniak Eastern Bosnia and kept innocent population of Muslims under siege in Srebrenica/Zepa/Gorazde. While Serbs were celebrating Christmas and eating meat in January 1993, Bosniaks of Srebrenica were under siege and starving. As one Srebrenica survivor pointed out, the smell of meat from surrounding Serb villages was unbearable to the starving population. And when you are hungry, you can be Muslim, when there is a choice between life and death, even pork smells good and tastes even better.


The bottom line is - and let this be conclussion of this seemingly long comment:

It is the responsibility of humanity to move beyond the prejudice of denial. Remembering the past is to guard the future. Putting things into proper context guarantees the highest degree of objectivity. We cannot expect the International Tribunal to bring ultimate truth - that's not their purpose. The international justice is too weak and too flawed, I mean - how can you give a man who confessed killing at least 70 civilians only 5 years sentence (e.g Erdemovic)? Is this justice? If that's justice, then crime pays.

And speaking about objectivity, *yawn*... 5 years for Drazen Erdemovic who was directly responsible for murder of at least 70 Bosniak civilians and 2 years for Naser Oric who was indirectly responsible for murder of 5 Serbs? WTF? Is that justice? Come on. That's not justice - I will tell you what that is: THAT IS INSULT TO MY INTELLIGENCE!

Shaina said...

Thanks, Dan for taking the time to write such a detailed and long reply.
I hope to get back to you with a more detailed response later.

Owen said...

Dan, I think the really important point that I take out of your comprehensive review is that denial is a continuation and a reinforcement of the original crime of genocide.

In following the public career of David Irving I gradually became convinced that distortion of history in the face of evidence (as opposed to legitimate revisionism) was equivalent to fraud. That was why I believed that it was right to treat Holocaust denial as a crime.

But it doesn't stop at simple fraud, of course. There is a fraud that is committed for instrumental purposes incidental to the original issue, for example to damage a third party or to promote or reinforce one's own position of authority. But beyond that there is the fraud that seeks to consolidate the effect of the crime, inflicting further damage on the original victim.

Both should be treated as crimes. The first should be dealt with severely, because even if the motives are different it nevertheless contributes to the impact of the original crime. The second should be treated as a crime of genocide in its own right because the aim is to pursue and consolidate the process of genocide.

Owen said...

Shaina, there's a handy "timeline" of US and UN responses to reports of genocide in Rwanda at
and the repeated reference to "acts of genocide" rather than "genocide" itself.

On June 10 1994
"At a State Department briefing, spokesperson Christine Shelley is asked, "How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?"

"That's just not a question that I'm in a position to answer."

"Well, is it true that you have specific guidance not to use the word 'genocide' in isolation, but always to preface it with these words 'acts of'?"

"I have guidance which I try to use as best as I can. There are formulations that we are using that we are trying to be consistent in our use of. I don't have an absolute categorical prescription against something, but I have the definitions. I have phraseology which has been carefully examined and arrived at as best as we can apply to exactly the situation and the actions which have taken place ... ""

Owen said...

With reference to Darfur the Bush administration used the word "genocide" to describe what was happening in Darfur in the knowledge that the Chinese veto in the Security Council would almost certainly ensure that there would be no practical implications.