LONDON (Aug. 30)
An international “mission of conscience,” led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, is to visit the republics of the former Yugoslavia to investigate allegations of human rights atrocities arising out of the conflict in the Balkans.
The delegation, expected to leave in the next couple of weeks, intends to fly in by helicopter at short notice to visit detention camps.
Wiesel, a survivor of two concentration camps, wants also to see a commission of inquiry and a tribunal set up “to charge those who commit these crimes with crimes against humanity.”
The planned mission comes in the wake of an agreement by Radovan Karadzic, the Serbian leader in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to close the disputed detention camps, where Moslem civilians reportedly have been held in inhuman conditions.
Karadzic’s promise was made during an extraordinary meeting set up by the World Jewish Congress with Dobrica Cosic, president of the truncated Yugoslav federation, which now includes only the republics of Serbia and Montenegro.
The meeting occurred last week during a peace conference convened here by the United Nations and European Community to halt the fighting in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.
Leaders of the various Serbian, Croatian and Moslem factions involved in the Yugoslav imbroglio took time out of the conference to meet here with a WJC delegation headed by Wiesel.
Among those the group met with were the president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic; the Moslem president of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic; Yugoslav President Cosic; and Karadzic of the Bosnian Serbs.
‘ALL SIDES WERE FAR FROM INNOCENT’
Describing the meetings, Wiesel said, “Each person we met, I asked bluntly a simple question: ‘Can you give me your word of honor there are no concentration camps on your territory?’ All of them said ‘no.’ “
Though some said that the Serbs had been committing terrible atrocities, “We heard, to different degrees, all sides were far from innocent,” Wiesel said during a news conference at the Institute of Jewish Affairs here.
Explaining the purpose of the “mission of conscience,” Wiesel said, “We felt as Jews we should be present to witness human suffering.”
The mission, which is to include members of the WJC and “men’ and women of conscience from several countries,” has been promised “total freedom of movement,” he said.
“We will decide which camp to visit and when to go where,” he said. “We won’t tell them until the very last minute where we want to go.
“If, during the mission, we feel we are being abused or deceived, we will leave straight away,” he said.
Comparing the situation in the region to the Nazi terror perpetrated against the Jews 50 years ago, Wiesel said he believed in using the past as a reference point rather than as an analogy.
Though he referred to the camps as concentration camps, Wiesel has criticized the use of the words ‘genocide’ and ‘Holocaust’ to describe the “ethnic cleansing” campaign being mounted by the Serbs in Bosnia.
Israel Singer, secretary-general of the WJC, said: “To absent ourselves from an opportunity to issue a moral voice would be responding with silence to something which is being bandied about as abhorrent. We have moral authority. That’s all we can bring to bear.”
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, the Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement saying that “draconian” curbs imposed recently on the non-Serbian population in Bosnia-Herzegovina were reminiscent of the Nuremberg racial laws promulgated by Nazi Germany.
The center was referring to a recent declaration of the Serbian “war presidency” in Bosnia imposing severe restrictions on the non-Serbian population of the municipality of Celinac. The declaration severely restricts non-Serbs’ freedom of movement, assembly and communication.
Noting that it takes “no sides in the military conflict,” the Wiesenthal Center said, “We strongly condemn the introduction of these draconian measures against civilian populations.”