Tolimir is a former assistant commander and chief for intelligence and
security of the main staff of
the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS). And in July 1995, when the U.N. "safe
area" of Srebrenica fell to the VRS, Tolimir and his fellow henchmen,
including General Ratko Mladic, undertook largest murder operation in
Europe since the Holocaust.
the days following the Bosnian Serb's capture of Srebrenica, thousands
of Bosnian Muslim men and boys were
rounded up and murdered, at the hands of Mladic and Tolimir's
comrades. Some were killed opportunistically, but most were murdered in a
full-scale military operation: hands were tied, eyes were blindfolded,
and men and boys were lined up before freshly dug
mass graves and shot in the back. In some cases, lighting was set-up,
so the killings could continue through the night.
time didn't permit the digging of mass graves, their captors chose to
murder them where they were detained
-- opening up fire with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades --
within a warehouse in Kravica and theater in Pilica -- slaughtering
thousands of unarmed civilians, just up the road from Srebrenica. Later,
earth-moving equipment would be used to remove the
dead -- and perhaps some living -- and deposit them into mass graves.
It is estimated that over 8,000 men and boys were executed after the July 11, 1995, fall of Srebrenica.
the trial of Zdravko Tolimir was not just about the slaughter. As the
tribunal judges stated: "the suffering
these men went through in the moments leading up to their deaths must
have been unbearable. On many occasions, those who were waiting to be
shot saw others before them executed. The few survivors who lived to
provide their testimony before the Chamber gave
harrowing accounts of what they had to endure."
In their judgment, the judges found that the crimes committed "were massive in scale, severe in their intensity
and devastating in their effect."
the effect has an impact not just on the dead, but on the survivors as well.
Indeed, the tribunal's judgment considered
"the extreme suffering of the approximately 30,000-35,000 women and
children forcibly removed from both enclaves, and their inability to
live a normal and constructive life to this day."
whether you were slaughtered, or you survived Srebrenica, the effects
are permanent. And what pains me, as
a witness to the international community's belated response to
Srebrenica, and as someone who helped, in some small way, investigate
and prosecute this slaughter, is how the international community, again,
is mostly standing by, watching in Syria, as we did
all those who worked on the case -- the investigators, the analysis, the
prosecutors, and of course, the witnesses
who risked so much to tell their stories in The Hague, the genocide
conviction and life imprisonment of Zdravko Tolimir is a huge victory of
justice -- and one hopes -- some small solace to those who were
slaughtered, and those who survived, the genocide. But
perhaps the greatest justice could be found in ensuring a way for the
international community to act, to prevent such slaughters. For whether
they are yesterday's mass graves in Bosnia, or today's mass graves in
Syria, the sick, sticky scent of death will linger,
long after the international community fails to act.