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Srebrenica: "We were in the no man's land, helping them to cross..."

01-07-2005 Interview

Audio interview with Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo, delegate-general, Europe and the Americas


    ICRC Delegate-General for Europe and the Americas, Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo, talks about the victims of Srebrenica and explains why the ICRC makes the issue of missing persons an institutional priority.  

 1. How are the families of the Srebrenica victims feeling, 10 years on?  
I think that ten years after the horrific events of Srebrenica, wounds are still very much open and it will be certainly a very painful moment for the families of the missing. We think it is extremely important that everybody understands what it is looking for a lo ved one for ten years or even more. There are people who have disappeared for even more than ten years. How painful and how impossible it is to build a new life when such a tragedy happens. And it is impossible to turn the page actually and I think that this is the most difficult thing for the family and this is what we, as ICRC, have tried to help with and what we have worked for ten years and for what we will continue to work for in Bosnia, ten years after the end of the conflict.
 2. Will we ever be able to know the whole truth? Why is it important to keep trying?  
I think that the problem of the missing is something that is extremely difficult to solve in a definitive manner and how long this process takes. There are conflicts where there have been people missing for 20 or 30 years or even more. One has to keep trying because as long as there is one single person that is missing, it means that there is one family that is suffering, is in pain and we, as a humanitarian organization, think that our endeavour is to fight up until the last missing person. It is a very difficult process. It takes a very long time. It is true that there have been few cases that have been solved compared with the amount of people that went missing during the Bosnia conflict, not only in Srebrenica by the way But it is worth trying and it is worth fighting in order to convince the authorities to provide the answers because most of the time they are the ones that have the answer, or at least those that were in charge or in command when those people disappeared.
 3. As head of delegation in Sarajevo at the time, how did you react to the reports of the killings?  
I have a recollection of extraordinary difficult and painful moments. I myself was split between the difficulty to believe that such a thing could be happening unde r the eyes of the international community. At the same time we had this influx of women, elderly people, children, that came from Srebrenica into the Bosnian territory and we were there, we were in the no-man's-land, helping them to cross the no-man's-land, helping the most weak and the elderly to go through these ordeals. And there was the evidence that there were no men among them and it took us some hours or even some days to believe that. I would say that that was linked to the fact that we found it so difficult to believe that they could be killed all of them when we were talking about thousands of people, so yes, we thought that they were in detention somewhere. We thought that during our presence of four years we had already spent in Bosnia persuading the authorities through constant dialogue with them, that we hoped that they would be spared and they would be in detention and we fought very hard in order to get access to any place where they could be detained and then later, we had to realise that there was virtually nobody left alive.
 4. What lessons has the ICRC learned from this, to help its work elsewhere?  
I think we have learned quite alot of lessons. We have learned how important it is not to leave the families alone, to be with them, to work with them, to be able and available to them to vent their frustration and their anger against what has happened to them, even if we are not responsible of course for what happened to them, but they must be able to talk, they must be able to know that they are supported, that they are accompanied in this ordeal and to know that our people are actively working for them. This is the first lesson. And then there are more technical lessons, things that can be done immediately after somebody goes missing in order to give as much chance as possible to identify the body when they are able to find the body. Now, of course, after a certain number of y ears, hope fades and we have to start working on the assumption that a person might be dead. In that case, we think that the antimortem data collection for instance is a very important tool that will allow identification when the time comes and the body is found. And in any case, what we think is extremely important is that we keep fighting to find the whereabouts, to know about the fate of the person. The family cannot turn the page, cannot really accept the situation as long as there is no precise information about what happened to their loved ones and this is really an endeavour that we carry on together with the families, that up until the last missing we will fight in order to know what happened, what the fate of the person was.