Samantha Power: The day Srebrenica fell was the worst day of my life
Yes, it was a genocide in Srebrenica • Obama has a personal interest in Bosnia • There is no firm peace without justice
Erol Avdović 11/07/2010 16:51:00
She is probably the best known author in the world when it comes to the question of genocide. Her book "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide, was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Council on Foreign Relations' Arthur Ross Prize for the best book in U.S. foreign policy. The very distinguished professor at the Harvard Kennedy School for Government Affairs, Samantha Power moved to the United States from Ireland at the age of nine. She spent 2005 to 2006 working in the office of then Senator Barack Obama, and she is now part of Obama Administration. Samantha gave exclusive interview for Dnevni Avaz, just before boarding the plane for Bosnia, where, tomorrow, in Potočari - she will deliver the speech on behalf of President Obama: “I am holding that letter with the speech of the President of the United States in my hands right now”, says Samantha:
Q: I want to ask you at the very beginning: Could you have imagined traveling to Bosnia, to Srebrenica as a part of a government administration, in this capacity, as a politician actually?
A: I have been in Sarajevo, in July of 1995, and with no electricity, and no water in the house where I slept in, I received word that the Serbs have taken the town of Srebrenica. And that, I got to tell you, that day, that Srebrenica fell – was the worst day of my life. And, virtually everything that I have done, the work that I did that day and that night, when sun fell down, has been motivated with what happened in those fields. So, to be returning there, on behalf of the President, who has made the lessons of Srebrenica so central to his foreign policy is incredibly important. I am honored with this personally of course. But more than that, it is incredibly important for people of Bosnia to know that what happened in those fields, during those days has had a lasting impact on people in Washington and on people in the United States, on people around the world. That’s a very, very humble consolation for the families whose members died in July 1995. But for me, the events of those days are a daily motivation. And, I really look forward to being back in Srebrenica, back in Sarajevo, and being able to convey to the people, that the lessons of Srebrenica are being internalized at the highest level of the US government.
YES, IT WAS A GENOCIDE IN SREBRENICA
Q: In the press-release by White House prior to this trip, the word – genocide, when it comes to Srebrenica, was obviously used without hesitation: Did you have any problem using this word, bearing in mind, that policymakers tend to avoid the term "genocide"?
A: Two international courts weighed in on what happened in Srebrenica and ruled of course that there was a clear instance of the systematic attempts to destroy whole or substantial part of the population there, and it was proved as such. So there is no controversy in that. It is historical fact. And it is a very, very tragic historical fact.
Q: In his speech to the Islamic World in Cairo, last summer, President Obama mentioned Srebrenica. If Srebrenica is so important to this government, why did the President not use this opportunity to lead his Delegation by himself to Bosnia this time?
A: You can only imagine the various demands on the President’s time, and I think, he tried to send a very important signal by sending members of his senior staff, here in the White House and also ambassador at large for the war crimes and the atrocities, Mr. Steven Rapp. I think he (the President) is eager to find the occasion to travel to the region, at some point. The timing just could not be worked this time.
Q: What about Vice-president Biden, who traveled a year ago to Sarajevo and region: Why nobody of the very senior US policy makers, like the vice-president, did not travel this time to Srebrenica? Is Bosnia put aside again in Washington?
A: I think that would be a really unfortunate and unfair characterization of that. If you only check the calendar of the VP Biden, the number of trips he has made is limited, making his trip to Bosnia significant. And, also consider the fact that the Vice-president of United States chose to make early in his tenure the trip to Bosnia, to the region. It is a truly significant testament to the priority that this administration places on these issues. But, also, the fact, that the President has chosen to send senior members of his staff from the White House, is a further reflection of that. So, the facts are otherwise: It (Bosnia and Herzegovina) remains a priority; there are a number of individuals who serve in this administration, who were involved in the very difficult decisions, in 1995, that gave rise to the intervention in Bosnia, and to the historic Dayton Peace Agreement, and the commitment to Bosnia of those individuals did not diminish a bit.
OBAMA HAS A PERSONAL INTEREST IN BOSNIA
Q: In that light, what is the message of President Obama for Srebrenica, Bosnia, and the region?
A: Let me just say, to start with, that I was in Srebrenica on the tenth anniversary, with the survivors, with men who survived the massacre of Srebrenica, who were going through the hills, moving through the enemies lines, talked to us about experiences that they had. And that was something that I was able to discuss with President Obama when I was working for him in the Senate. So, he has a personal interest in the events that occurred in Srebrenica. In his Cairo speech, exactly, he singled out this and mentioned the massacre in one of the central speeches of his Presidency. And this is also a real reflection of this commitment. And I think, while I would leave President’s message on the day when it speaks for it self (for Sunday), the core message for the survivors who would be present there, and many of them will be burying members of their families – is: I President Obama, have not forgotten (Srebrenica). This is the stain of our collective conscience, and all of us are haunted by it... Srebrenica is a touch-stone, by the term it self and the name that signals to us and all citizens around the world to stand up against the face of evil.
Q: Are there going to be some other concerns included in the Presidents speech that you will deliver this Sunday in Srebrenica?
A: Yes. The other matter would be, the need for those responsible for these atrocities to be brought to justice. There is been some progress in that regard in light of the last convictions (on ICTY). But, the main person responsible for the genocide in Srebrenica remains at large, and there is no secret, that is Ratko Mladic. The President is determined to continue to signal that the arrest of Mladić and others responsible for this massacre and other crimes against humanity, that occurred, need to be brought to justice.
Q: Samantha, do you know that president Boris Tadic, of Srebia, will be this Sunday in Srebrenica, as he was there few years ago…
A: Yes, he was there at the 10th anniversary and I met him in Srebrenica then…
Q: Yet, would it have been better for president Tadic, if he would have done more to capture and extradite Mr. Mladić to Hague, instead, as some argue, trying to collect the political points over Srebrenica this time?
A: I just start with saying, Serbia has come a long way, and we have to recognize, while we are marking this year 15th anniversary of massacre in Srebrenica, that the Serbian National Assembly issued the resolution condemning the massacre that occurred, and that is incredibly important and a positive step, toward reconciliation and toward stability in the region. That resolution also, included commitment by Serbia to cooperate with the ICTY, and that the cooperation of course includes the effort to capture and extradite to the Hague Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić. So, I think progress has been made, as President Obama has said – it is important that the focus on those alleged war criminals who are remaining at large is intensified, that they are found, that they are turned over to the Hague, and be brought to justice. And the hope is that Tadic’s presence in Srebrenica will also serve as a nudge in that direction.
THERE IS NO FIRM PEACE WITHOUT JUSTICE
Q: But, in general, as you even described in your book “The Problem from Hell”, policymakers in general -- have been almost consistently reluctant to condemn mass atrocities as genocide. Has that been changed after Srebrenica; after the ICJ and ICTY verdicts?
A: We made a lot of progress in this government, largely, because President Obama has a personal commitment to these issues. The President has just created for the first time ever, a position at the White House, devoted exclusively to fight atrocities and genocide prevention… So, after Srebrenica and Rwanda, you wouldn’t see the same reluctance today. As you know, president Clinton has apologized for inaction during Rwanda, and said many, many times, hundreds, maybe thousand times, that he regrets, not doing more… So, I would say although I mentioned that in my book, that starts with some bad news stories, yes, I think some real progress has been made. Actually, within our government I am proud to be associated with the director for atrocities and genocide prevention to serve for this president…
Q: It seems you so firmly believe in this kind of justice in continuity?
A: And, not only because the outside world cares what happened in Srebrenica. We do. We clearly do. We also believe as a factual matter, as a historical matter – it is very difficult to see lasting peace and stability without this kind of justice. So the more Serbia recognizes, the Bosnian government recognizes what atrocities were committed by its forces, the Croatian government grapples as well, more progress you will see and the more forward we move.
Q: At the end, during the war in Bosnia, we have heard the “political argument” that a U.S. response would be futile and would “only accelerate violence”?! Actually, after Srebrenica - do we have any new knowledge that would really look like a lesson learned, so that politicians would act differently to prevent genocide anywhere?
A: As I said, beside that President Obama has created a new Office here in the White House, specifically devoted for atrocities prevention, the genocide prevention, and what that means is -- that, at least here, we have the ability to react quickly, to process intelligence, to move through the chain of command quickly… And another thing that has changed is, truly historic and significant is that in the United States, and I think, is growing around the world – there is a movement, a kind of anti-genocide, anti-atrocities movement that was generated by the genocide in Rwanda and the atrocities and genocide that occurred in Bosnia. And that movement is one capable of generating political pressure quickly in the face of mass atrocities. In the end, citizens and governments not only in the United States have to be convinced to respond robustly in the face of atrocities. But, I think in the United States we have seen some very encouraging developments … that the promise of Never Again is now being brought to light through structures that can make it much more likely that the kind of horror that we saw in Srebrenica never happens again.Category: Yugoslav genocide