VISEGRAD MASSACRE, PIONIRSKA STREET COMMEMORATION (PRESS ADVISORY)
Image: The house in Pionirska Street where at least 59 Bosniak civilians were burnt alive by Bosnian Serb soldiers on 14 June 1992. (ICTY photo)
In the summer of 1992 Bosnian Serb soldiers led by Milan Lukić terrified the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) population of the small but strategically located town with a ferocious campaign of murders, mass rape and disappearances, including the Pionirska massacre. It was not until July 2009 that Lukić, a post-war fugitive in Argentina, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague for this and other brutal crimes committed during the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia's Drina Valley.
After eighteen years' wait, this year survivors and relatives will have the small satisfaction of knowing that the man responsible for a crime described by sentencing ICTY Judge Patrick Robinson as "ranking high in the all too long, sad and wretched history of man's inhumanity to man" is finally behind bars, serving a life sentence.
Even so, they feel themselves at the receiving end of "short-change justice" from the ICTY. The man they hold ultimately responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Višegrad, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzić, is no longer facing charges for the massacre at Adem Omeragić’s house. Prosecutors in The Hague, pressed for time as the Tribunal approaches the end of its mandate, have drastically slimmed the charge sheet.
Radovan Karadzić can now forget the victims of Pionirska Street but the survivors will continue to honour their memory. The commemoration will take place outside the house in Pionirska Ulica, Višegrad, at 12 p.m. on 14 June.
For further information about the Pionirska Street commemoration and interview arrangements please feel free to contact:
Notes for editors:
The entire Bosniak population of Višegrad was "ethnically cleansed" between May and July 1992. 3000 were murdered or disappeared, another 8000 were expelled. In the thirteen years since the war only a small percent have returned to their former home.
The town's historic 16th century Mehmed Pasha Sokolović bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage site memorialised in the works of the town's Nobel Literature Prize-winning son Ivo Andrić, was the scene of some of the most brutal crimes committed by the Bosnian Serb regime.
Photographer and Višegrad survivor Velija Hasanbegović’s gallery of photographs taken at the ceremony on 29 May at Mehmed Pasha Sokolović Bridge to commemorate the start of the 1992 massacres can be seen at the Radio Sarajevo website at RadioSarajevo.ba.
ICTY President Judge Patrick Robinson summed up the crimes of Milan and his cousin Sredoje Lukić as follows:
"In the all too long, sad and wretched history of man's inhumanity to man, the Pionirska street and Bikavac fires must rank high.
At the close of the twentieth century, a century marked by war and bloodshed on a colossal scale, these horrific events stand out for the viciousness of the incendiary attack, for the obvious premeditation and calculation that defined it, for the sheer callousness and brutality of herding, trapping and locking the victims in the two houses, thereby rendering them helpless in the ensuing inferno, and for the degree of pain and suffering inflicted on the victims as they were burnt alive." (ICTY Press Release, 20 July 2009 at http://www.icty.org/sid/10188)
** On June 27 the Bikavac house fire will also be commemorated in Višegrad.** Around 60 Bosniak civilians were burnt alive. Only one woman managed to escape with severe burns – Zehra Turjačanin, described by Judge Patrick Robinson after she testified in The Hague as a sad and tragic but at the same time heroic person. "Witnesses ... vividly remembered the terrible screams of the people in the house, “like the screams of cats”. The Trial Chamber ... found that at least 60 Muslim civilians were burned alive." (ICTY Judgment Summary, 20 July 2009 at this link)
Milan Lukić's base in the Vilina Vlas hotel was one of the most notorious of Bosnia's grim "rape camps". Milan Lukić is currently in Scheveningen Prison in the Netherlands, pending appeal.
Stories and photographs of the victim are posted at the Višegrad Genocide Memories blog at http://genocideinvisegrad.wordpress.com
The ICTY Prosecutor's marked-up indictment for the Radovan Karadzić war crimes trial is at this link.