tiananmen-square-massacre-china-june- 4-1989

Tiananmen Square Massacre – China – June 4, 1989

Thousands were killed and thousands of others wounded.

Tiananmen Square, meaning “Gate of Heavenly Peace” refers to a cluster of ancient buildings plus a massive square in the heart of Beijing. The former is a museum dealing with events from China’s past, the latter is an important site ever since 1949 when communist revolutionaries became the government of China. Official celebrations and national day rallies are held here. For some time, in the months leading up to June 4, 1989, large numbers of students had been protesting corruption in government circles and authoritarian responses to their complaints. These protests kept increasing in intensity and finally the government ordered its army to crush the protesters. Thousands were killed and thousands more were injured in the military action that followed on June 4.

When Hong Kong was transferred from Britain to China in 1997 the celebrations for the event were held in Tiananmen Square. Protests also occurred in the square and the reason that the 1989 protest was so well internationally publicized on television relates to the fact that President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union was visiting China at that time. Cameras from many countries were in place for Gorbachev’s visit and they switched to the massacre in the square when it happened. The student protests that developed in the summer of 1989 began as mourning ceremonies for Hu Yaobang, a senior member of the Communist government, who died suddenly in April of 1989. Before his death he was disgraced and removed from office because he was a long-time friend of students supporting them in their demands for political reform. Thousands gathered around the residences of top Chinese officials near Beijing’s Forbidden City to talk about democracy with Prime Minister Li Peng. They wanted to know why Hu Yaobang had been disgraced and dismissed from office.

The numbers grew when they learned that some of the students who were protesting had been arrested. Students took up temporary residence on Tiananmen Square and pressed their requests, including asking high-ranking officials to publish lists of their personal property. In support of their demands, students from Beijing University, the most prestigious in China, organized a strike. Half of the student body boycotted classes and students from other universities joined them. Together, aided by workers from other walks of life, 80,000 people marched to the square where they presented a seven-point demand to the government. It included the rehabilitation of Hu, press freedom, and more money for education. These students were not opposed to their communist form of government, they just wanted their leaders and the party as a whole to live up to their own ideals.

When the memorial service for Hu Yaobang was held in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, students won their first victory. They were permitted to remain in the square during the memorial service. About 200,000 came to pay their respects to Hu but, at the end, Li Ping refused to meet with the students to discuss their concerns. Instead he issued a statement criticizing the student movement for reckless behavior and for inciting strikes. The student response to Li Ping was a carefully organized march of students from Beijing University and forty other universities together with people from the community, as many as half a million in all. They went to the square and held up a large copy of the country’s constitution with a focus on the guarantee of the right of demonstration. The protest activities continued for some days, aided by three hundred journalists who had been demanding greater freedom of the press. Sympathy protests were held at other universities across the country. On May 13, 1989, several hundred students began a hunger strike in the square.

The influence of the protests expanded greatly on May 14. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was about to arrive and the students planned to welcome him because of the political reforms he instituted in the Soviet Union. This was to be the first Sino-Soviet summit conference in thirty years. For China, however, the visit became a huge embarrassment. Gorbachev was far too popular with the students. Furthermore, the official procession could not come through Tiananmen Square, the traditional route for all such occasions. The Russian delegation therefore had to come through a back street where no welcoming crowd could see them.

The tense situation was by now the main topic of conversation at the top levels of government. Some wanted to deal sympathetically with the students and give consideration to their demands. Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party secretary and a well-known reformist was the foremost proponent of this approach. Li Ping was on the opposite side. Students were naive, convinced that the army would never shoot Chinese citizens. There were divisions in the army too. Some units were unwilling to open fire on the protestors so the government officers issued statements saying that the army was there to protect people, not harm them. They added that guns would only be used as a last resort. All of these things heightened tension.

The only person who could settle the dispute among government leaders was Deng Xiaoping, the leader who had transformed China’s economy by adopting western ideas. Although retired, his opinion still carried more weight than any other. His decision, on June 3, 1989, was to bring in the troops and clear the square within twelve hours. The square by this time was full of students and a ten-meter-high goddess of democracy statue had recently been added to their demonstration. Troops began to make their way into the center of Beijing, encountering taunting and public opposition. Students had erected road blocks all around the square.

In the early morning of June 4, the crack of rifle fire and the occasional thud-thud of heavy machine guns told everyone what had happened. There was no warning. As the gunfire came nearer, the crowd became frantic and started to push several buses across the road to block the path against any incoming troops. There were clear signs of the terror to come. Behind the Great Hall of the People in the square 1,000 troops stood, for a moment surrounded by a jeering crowd. Suddenly, eight hundred riot police stormed out of the compound where government leaders lived, firing tear gas and laying about them with clubs.

They were supported by a large contingent of troops accompanied by trucks, tanks, and armored personnel carriers that poured into the square from the east side. The road was soon littered with broken glass and bricks, partly the result of student action against the soldiers, partly due to the destructive activity of the troops. More and more wounded were being taken to the nearest hospital. In the eyes of an onlooker, one of the hospitals looked like a war zone of dead and broken bodies. There were some on benches and beds or on blood-soaked mattresses on the floor, and many had bullet wounds on chest, legs, or head. Students had been bayoneted to death. Students in tents were crushed to death by oncoming tanks. The shock among students was palpable. Again and again voices cried out in words like the following: How could the Communist Party do this? How could they shoot children? Many could not find words to express their horror. Next day the world knew what had happened. It had been documented on film. The Chinese Red Cross estimated that close to 3,000 had been killed.


Rwanda Genocide – April 6, 1994

A long-standing hatred of Tutsis by the Hutus exploded in extreme violence, killing more than half of the Tutsis.

When a radical group took power on April 6, 1994, the Hutu controlled government of Rwanda launched an extermination campaign against the Tutsis, the other tribal group in the country. Within the short time span of three months close to one million Tutsis were murdered, urged on by national radio broadcasts that kept shouting slogans such as “Kill them all,” or “Who will help us fill the half-empty graves?”

It is hard for people in North America’s multicultural society to understand how one cultural group can hate another so much that it is willing to completely exterminate it. The reason is that in Africa group rights and group loyalty are frequently the primary concern, not the individual and his or her rights and loyalties. In Rwanda, over the course of the thirty years since it secured independence from Belgium, there were recurring conflicts between the two main tribal groups. The events of 1994 were by far the worst. They were also the most barbaric actions seen anywhere in Africa in modern times.

Genocide, the deliberate destruction of an identifiable cultural group, is the name for the murders committed in Rwanda in 1994. These acts of genocide were not unique. Similar campaigns of violence against particular groups happened in many parts of the world in the course of the twentieth century. In Cambodia genocide took the form of a wholesale killing of the middle classes, in the area east of Turkey it was seen in the slaughter of Armenian citizens, and in the former Soviet Union millions of Ukrainian farmers were starved to death (see Ukraine catastrophe). Perhaps the best-known genocide of all was Hitler’s gassing of millions of Jews.

The Rwandan problem dates back to the time when the country was a colony of Belgium. The colonial administrators decided to favor the Tutsis as the better of the two tribal groups for administering the country’s affairs. The Tutsis were tall and good-looking, but they were a minority tribe and this angered the Hutus. Then, to make matters worse, the Belgians introduced identity cards in the 1930s on which the name and tribal identity was entered. Thus, differences between the two cultural groups were further emphasized with the Hutus feeling that they were permanently relegated to second class status in their own country.

This technique of creating tensions between different ethnic groups was a common ploy among the European colonial powers. They all did it as the results of such tensions made administration easier for them because the different groups became so busy fighting one another that they did not unite to fight the intruder from Europe. It was not fully realized at the time that this approach would lead to warfare when the colonial empires became independent nations. In the case of Rwanda the problem was worse than in most places. When the Belgians finally gave the country independence in the early 1960s they decided to switch and hand over power to the majority Hutu. The stage was set for terrible retribution.

Immediately after they took over the government, the Hutus launched attacks on the Tutsis, calling them foreigners who had invaded the state at an earlier time and now had no citizenship rights. This was a more extreme form of dictatorship than anything imposed by the Tutsis when they were in power and before long mass persecutions began. Within six months 10,000 Tutsis were dead at the hands of government troops. A majority of the rest, approximately 350,000 in all, fled into the neighboring countries of Burundi and Uganda. For the ensuing twelve years there was an ongoing civil war as the Tutsi diaspora which gave itself the name Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) launched armed incursions into their homeland from Uganda or Burundi.

Their efforts soon stopped, however, when they discovered that thousands of the Tutsis who had stayed at home when the mass exodus occurred were now being blamed for these attacks from without. In 1963, about 6,500 were murdered on this account and later another 10,000 met the same fate. Although the incursions stopped, their determination to return continued to grow even as the Tutsis became involved in the affairs of the countries to which they had fled. In 1979, a moderate group of Hutus took over the government and persecution of the Tutsis stopped but a general repatriation from Uganda and Burundi was not part of this new development. These Tutsis were still treated as foreigners.

Many individual Tutsis returned from exile. Others, in spite of the better conditions at home, stayed away. It was another fourteen years before the RPF in Uganda and Burundi felt able to launch a raid into Rwanda. They succeeded in driving the government troops back to within fifteen miles of Kigali, the capital of the country. Their success forced General Habyarimana the extremist head of the Hutu government to agree to peace with Paul Kagame, RPF leader. The Arusha Accord was the result and it defined the new structure of government. It provided for power sharing, the rule of law, and a transition process leading to democracy. A United Nations peacekeeping force under the command of the Canadian General Dallaire was sent to Kigali to give support to the new political system.

Substantial evidence exists to prove that, in spite of the Arusha Accord which he signed; General Habyarimana and his friends in government had been planning mass killings for some time in a desperate attempt to prevent any sharing of power. A United Nations report in 1993 described the murders that had occurred as a prelude to genocide. Perhaps if that document had been circulated, to those who arranged the peacekeeping contingent, the outcome might have been very different. The event that provided an excuse for a wholesale slaughter was the death of Habyarimana when his plane was shot down on April 6, 1994. There was no evidence that Tutsis had anything to do with this but that did not seem to matter. The attack made their planned genocide look plausible. Within hours of the plane crash the killings began. All the moderates in government were the first victims.

The campaign was urged on by government radio which declared day by day that it was the sacred duty of every Hutu to kill the Tutsis. Slogans such as “spare none, fill the empty graves” and “kill their babies or they will grow up and kill us” were typical broadcasts. Threats were even extended to Hutus who might hesitate to join in, telling them that they too would be killed if they failed to cooperate. Bullets were either too expensive to use or were just not available in sufficient quantities so machetes and farm implements became the instruments of slaughter. Raping, mutilating, burning, and hacking to death were the sights and sounds throughout the country for about three months. Acts of torture were commonplace.

Escape routes were blocked to prevent anyone escaping. Murderous bands hunted Tutsis day and night for more than three months while the Security Council and the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) conveniently ignored the problem, describing it as “Tutsis fighting Hutus and Hutus fighting Tutsis in some ancient blood feud.” It was no surprise therefore that the international community did not intervene at the time and that General Dallaire’s small contingent of troops was powerless to stop the violence. Added to these comments by leaders at the UN were the institutional weaknesses of that international body. The Rwandan ambassador remained in New York throughout the three months of genocide, insisting all the time that Hutu actions were in self-defense against the violent Tutsis.

Even though the scale of the massacre was becoming well known at the UN, protocol required that Rwanda’s ambassador be accorded the same respect given to representatives of other countries. Furthermore, at this time, Rwanda was a nonpermanent member of the Security Council so unanimous decisions against Rwanda could not be secured there at the heart of the UN. France added to the general confusion at the UN by insisting that the Hutus were the larger of the two tribal groups and they therefore, in the interests of democracy, should be given preferential treatment. France went further and supplied arms, through Zaire, to the Hutu militia in the middle of the genocide.

All this time, death squads rounded up large numbers of men, women, and children and forced them into churches and stadiums so they could be killed more easily. Grenades were thrown into these buildings, followed by tear gas. Those still alive could then be killed as they choked on the gas. Some Tutsis begged the peacekeepers to kill them so that they would escape the Hutu torturers. Hutu recruits were trained to use machetes, called pangas, for their bloody genocide. Rwanda is in a hot climate, close to the equator, even though it is mostly 3,000 feet above sea level, and the terrible work of slicing heads, hands, or legs was exhausting. Hutus decided that if they just severed the Achilles tendons, which connect the heel to the calf muscles, their victims would be helpless, unable to run away. They could then rest for a time before returning to the butchery. RPF soldiers, though a small minority, fought for their own survival and succeeded in killing or driving out of the country many of the Hutu death squads.

Rwandan women were subjected to sexual violence on a massive scale, perpetrated by both the infamous Hutu militia known as the Interahamwe and soldiers of the Rwandan Armed Forces. Political leaders at the national and local levels directed or encouraged both killings and sexual violence to further their political goal of destroying the Tutsis as an identifiable group. This goes far beyond the historic ravages of war and links up these atrocities with similar events in the Bosnian war (see Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, genocide). As will be seen later, it was the diabolical nature of sexual violence in these two places that led to recognizing them as crimes against humanity.

Testimonies from survivors confirm that rape was widespread with thousands individually raped, gang-raped, raped with objects such as sharpened sticks or gun barrels, held in sexual slavery, or sexually mutilated. Often these crimes occurred after their family members were tortured and killed and their homes destroyed. The Tutsi women were the almost exclusive targets in these attacks which were intended to dehumanize and subjugate the whole tribal group. Some Hutu women were also raped because they were married to Tutsi men or because they protected members of that tribe. The legacy of all they experienced is now compounded by the fact that they will be the key administrators in post massacre Rwanda. There will be few men.

On July 4, 1994, the RPF, aided by widespread disorder everywhere, achieved a total military victory and become the new government of Rwanda. Over the following few weeks close to two million Hutus fled the country and set up camps across the border in Zaire. For a time these camps in a place called Goma became the center of interest as various agencies tried to cope with outbreaks of disease, hunger, and armed conflict. The Hutus tried to reorganize for a return to Rwanda in the hope of regaining power but that hope was foiled by the actions of the government of Zaire that forced them out of its territory. Some did manage to get back to Rwanda but most were caught and they ended up in prisons that were already overcrowded.

International responses were slow in coming. When the world finally knew the extent of the killing a tide of sympathy and support turned toward the victims. The new Tutsi government was faced with the enormous task of resettling hundreds of thousands of refugees, reconstructing a devastated economy, and coping with the Hutus who had fled and were now coming back from Zaire. Out of a total population of eight million, more than a third had been either murdered or driven out of the country. Many of those remaining were dislocated within the country and innumerable lives were traumatized. Subsistence farming, the basis of the nation’s economy, was in disrepair and the only means of survival in the short term was foreign aid. Fortunately this was provided. Buildings and infrastructure generally were destroyed and financial and legal services were not available.

Within a few months of the new Tutsi-based government taking power, about 200,000 additional Tutsis returned from other countries and began to reclaim the homes they left thirty years earlier. These people had to be fed and housed until they could look after themselves and aid for this was forthcoming from western countries who were at last fully aware of the horror that had taken place. Hutus also had to be accepted back because they were not welcome as permanent residents of Zaire. There were tensions everywhere arising from the presence of the two tribal groups. From the Hutus about 130,000 had been arrested and were now imprisoned, awaiting trial, in cramped, often rat-infested prisons. In one of these places, sixty people were forced into a room designed for a few and the door locked. Next morning authorities found that twenty-four had died. They had suffocated in their fetid, hot, overcrowded room.

The United Nations Security Council created the International Criminal Court (or Tribunal) for Rwanda (ICTR) later in 1994 and set up its offices in Arusha, Tanzania. The chief prosecutor for this tribunal had his office at The Hague in Holland, from which place he made occasional visits to Arusha. The Appeals Court for ICTR was also set up at The Hague. These two logistic problems made it difficult for the tribunal to work quickly. A backlog of cases mounted and there was only a small budget available for hiring additional staff. Delays led to criticisms. Western governments made invidious comparisons between a similar United Nations Court on Yugoslavia (ICTY) without acknowledging the factor of distance from The Hague and the larger budget that ICTY enjoyed.

The early problems of the ICTR were matched by others as the work of the tribunal began. The enormity of the crime, unprecedented even in recent African history, created an atmosphere of fear in the course of the trials. Many witnesses were killed before they reached the trial location and some who were about to testify were threatened. An inadequate security system enabled the public to discover the names of those who were witnesses. One person who was called to testify lived in a small town where he owned a shop. A large car clearly marked with the United Nations’ black and while license plates was visible outside his home. Everyone in the village knew what was happening.

His wife was terrified and refused to give any information to the visitor from Arusha. She knew that other witnesses had been killed to prevent them testifying. Her husband was willing to talk though he too knew the danger of doing so. He asked for protection and was told that if he called the United Nations office he would receive protection. Unfortunately for him, the nearest telephone was twenty miles away. Even if the phone had been in his store it would not have made any difference. Two weeks before he was to travel to Arusha armed men forced their way into his home and killed him, along with his daughter, brother, and nephew. The tribunal now uses unmarked cars when they visit potential witnesses.

The United Nations terms of reference for the tribunal included strict procedures for the protection of witnesses and these were usually followed carefully during trials. Everything was done in camera and people were identified by a letter code rather than a name. Laudable as these rules were, they could not ensure secrecy for witnesses. Rwanda is the least urbanized country on earth. Virtually everyone lives in small rural communities where there are no secrets. When a person left home in a car from any one of these places, particularly when no reason for the trip was given, and traveled to another country, it was easy to find out who had been a witness. Two years after the tribunal’s work began, in the course of the calendar year 1996, over two hundred witnesses were murdered.

One of the biggest challenges to justice lay in the physical conditions of the prisons where suspects were held. In the weeks following the establishment of the new Tutsi government and the mass escape of Hutus into Zaire, almost any Hutu found in Rwanda was suspect. About 130,000 of them had been arrested—many of them on the basis of ethnic identity alone—and the prisons were overcrowded, unhealthy, and filthy. The temptation for prisoners to offer false but ostensibly valuable testimony was strong. If they were selected for the trials they gained access to the spacious and clean prison facilities at the United Nations compound in Arusha. There they would be fed well, given two complete outfits of clothing, and allowed access to a gymnasium, computers, and a library. The contrast with their hot, unhealthy holding cells could hardly be greater.

Quite apart from operational difficulties there were fundamental issues of justice in the rules governing the ICTR. No United Nations agency could sentence anyone to death. In addition, the tribunal had power to make plea agreements. The accused, provided they confessed before they came to trial, could receive lesser sentences. The Rwanda government did have the death penalty so, given its strong feelings, it wanted the maximum sentences for convicted killers. There was an immediate conflict between national and international jurisdictions. The Rwanda government tried by all means in its power to take charge of some trials rather than leaving them to the ICTR. Some neighboring countries, such as Ethiopia, which had arrested Hutu criminals, were persuaded to hand them over to Rwanda instead of the ICTR.

The familiar western pattern of justice where defense attorneys are allowed to question witnesses intensively created outbursts of angry opposition. Once a shouting match broke out as both a defense attorney and a witness called each other stupid. Members of the Tutsi-dominated government also criticized the actions of the defense, leaving the impression that they were more interested in revenge than in justice. A further occasion of tension between the ICTR and Rwanda’s government was the time limitations on the former. It was permitted to examine the events of 1994 only, but the government insisted that plans for the genocide go back several years.

Rwanda, as has been said, is now a country of women. About 70 percent of the population is female. These women face social stigmatization, poor health that often includes the AIDS disease, unwanted pregnancy, and poverty. They dare not reveal their experiences publicly, fearing that they will never be able to marry. Others, like the Tribunal’s witnesses, fear retribution from their attackers if they speak out. Furthermore, they suffer guilt for having survived and been held for rape, rather than being executed. An estimated 5,000 unwanted babies created their own series of crises. Some babies were abandoned by their mothers and others were killed.

As they tackle the problems of rebuilding the country, Rwandan women have to contend with laws that discriminate against them. They are second-class citizens in the legal structure of their country despite constitutional guarantees of full equality. Inheritance rights are not documented rights. That is, they are governed by custom. For example, women cannot inherit property unless so designated by some male who has the right to transfer it. Such a situation is meaningless in the wake of the massacre. Widows and daughters have no legal claim on the properties or possessions of their dead husbands or relatives. Neither can they receive pensions due to their male relatives.

There were some success stories that stood in sharp contrast to all the negative experiences at ICTR and in the Rwanda community generally. A former Rwanda mayor was successfully convicted of crimes against humanity on the basis of rape charges. Later the same level of conviction was accorded some of the soldiers involved in the Bosnian war. Four others Hutus were convicted of genocide and this carried a maximum sentence of life in prison. In Belgium, Rwanda’s former colonial master, two nuns and two others were found guilty in 2001 for helping the Hutu militias kill thousands of Tutsis in the 1994 massacre. One nun, a former Benedictine Mother Superior, was given fifteen years in prison and the second twelve years. The other two received comparable sentences.

This case made legal history because it was the first time a civilian jury convicted war criminals from another country. Belgium has a special law that permits this. During the three months of killings in 1994, around seven hundred Tutsi men, women, and children hid in a building at the convent’s health clinic. The nuns wanted to get rid of them so they brought cans of gasoline to the militias who had chained the doors to make sure that no one would escape. The militias then threw grenades through holes in the walls and set the building on fire.

The agonies of the genocide were still very much alive in the year 2001. In spite of all the worldwide recognition of what had happened, leaders of the genocide who had succeeded in hiding out in the former Zaire, began to send trained groups of young men back into Rwanda. The plan was to capture territory in local areas so that these locations could be used as staging points for larger ventures. Their numbers are steadily decreasing but probably as many as 30,000 still survive in the former Zaire, a country that wants to get rid of them but is too weak to do anything about it. In June of 2001 soldiers from the Tutsi-controlled government surprised and killed a band of 1,500 youths which had been trained by leaders of the genocide, and had infiltrated the northwest areas of the country intending to establish a base there. Tutsis now increasingly feel that their survival depends on themselves alone, not on the UN.


Srebrenica Genocide – Bosnia-Herzegovina – July 15, 1995

Srebrenica was placed under UN protection but the number of soldiers guarding the city was small and the Serbian Army easily captured it and arrested the 7,500 Muslim men.

During the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, the community of Srebrenica was named a safe haven by the United Nations (UN). That is, men and women could take refuge there under UN protection. Serbian soldiers, seeing that there was only a small number of armed UN soldiers, took possession of this area by force and murdered the more than 7,500 unarmed Muslim men and boys who had been sheltering there.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is a province of the former Yugoslavia, a country that was formed after World War I, and stayed united for about sixty years. President Tito was able to hold it together for all of this time. He had dictatorial power under a communist type of government, similar to but independent of the Soviet Union. When he died in 1980, the different provinces began to express their desires for freedom. The differences between them were not ethnic. As Croats, Muslims, and Serbs they represented different religions, but they had a long history of living together. Bosnia- Herzegovina was mainly Muslim and Serbian, similar in size to West Virginia.

Croatia and Slovenia, in the north, were the first two provinces to declare independence in 1991. The Serbs, the largest group of the largest province, Serbia, resisted these declarations of independence. They were convinced that the country should remain united under their leadership and they took up arms to restore the previous order. Fighting went on for some months between Serbia and the two independent regions but finally, aided by 12,000 United Nations peacekeepers, a cease-fire was established. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s move to independence came next in 1992. This was a much greater challenge to Serbia as it was next door and about one-third of the people in Bosnia-Herzegovina were ethic Serbs. The Bosnian Serbs argued that an independent Bosnia would be dominated by Muslims because their numbers were slightly larger than the Serbs.

Religious elements surfaced for the first time. In the long history of Southeastern Europe some people had become Catholic under the Holy Roman Empire. They were the Croats. In the East, those influenced by the Byzantine Empire converted to Orthodox Christianity. They were the Serbs. Under the dominance of the Ottoman Turks when they occupied this region many became Muslims. These differences of religions had not been a problem in previous times, but the Serbs argued that it would be impossible to share Bosnia with Muslims because of their religion and their numbers. That was the beginning of what came to be known as ethnic cleansing.

Serbs immediately began forcing Muslims out of their part of Bosnia. This was not genocide of the kind seen in Rwanda; rather, it was a case of compelling people to leave their homes and live permanently in another part of the country. Naturally this was resisted and intense fighting ensued, but the violence that erupted was much worse than traditional warfare. Where resistance was strong, mass executions were employed as a terror tactic. Srebrenica, an industrial and prosperous Bosnian town of about 40,000 people, about ten miles from the Serbian border, was an early target for ethnic cleansing. It was attacked and taken over by the Serbian army in April of 1992 and its Muslim residents immediately fled out of it into the forests.

Within three weeks a reversal took place. An armed force of Muslims recaptured the town and to the surprise of the Serbs, who were more heavily armed, they drove on into Serb territory to double the amount of land they controlled. By the end of the year this Muslim force was within five miles of linking up Srebrenica and its immediate surroundings with the part of Bosnia farther west that was firmly in Muslim hands. At that point Serbs counterattacked with a large force of troops, backed by tanks and artillery, forcing the Muslims back and once again taking control of the area around Srebrenica.

The Muslim troops, who were not prepared for an extended war when they shared in the declaration of independence for Bosnia-Herzegovina, were now unable to defend themselves. The United Nations (UN), which was involved in the conflict, banned sales of arms to either side, forgetting that Serbia, as the center of power in the old Yugoslavia, was fully equipped for conflict. It was not long afterward that another action by the UN had devastating consequences for the Muslims. To protect the people of Srebrenica from being forcibly removed, the UN declared the city a safe haven and therefore under its protection.

To safeguard the people under its care, the Secretary General of the UN requested 34,000 troops from member countries for Srebrenica and other safe areas. The United States as well as other countries refused to provide the additional peacekeepers requested and the UN had to settle for less than a quarter of the number needed. Srebrenica was allocated a force of 750 lightly armed Dutch soldiers. In June of 1995, Bosnian Serb forces, claiming that several of their people had been killed by attacks from within Srebrenica, invaded it. The Dutch peacekeepers were outnumbered and were taken hostage. The UN responded with air attacks but within a day they stopped as Serb forces threatened to kill their Dutch hostages. The hostages were released soon after.

The Serbs knew then that they had nothing to fear from the UN because its power could be so easily removed. From that moment the terrible massacre of Srebrenica began to take shape. General Ratko Mladic, the Serb Commander and his assistant general, Radislav Krstic, were in charge along with Radovan Karadzic, the general in charge of all Serb forces. Thousands of Muslim residents of Srebrenica were separated by age and gender and the women and children were sent away on foot or taken by bus to places near Muslim-controlled territory. The males had their hands tied behind their backs as they were taken away, ostensibly for questioning. The litany of lies and false statements from Serb representatives deceived everyone.

At Bratunac on the Serbian border the more than 7,500 prisoners from Srebrenica were shot in a series of mass executions. Serb commanders thought that no one would ever find out what they did. Brutality was usually associated with these executions in the form of sadistic tortures. For example, some were hit with iron bars as they came off the buses, then forced to kneel in prayer before being shot. They were buried in mass graves near Bratunac but later, after news of the massacre was reported, they dug up the bodies and took them to several different locations for burial. Satellite photography was able to identify these new locations and in due course the whole story came out.

As part of their terror tactics, Serbs engaged in the mass raping of Muslim women, knowing that this would have terrible consequences in the social life of Muslims. In the year 2000, these crimes of mass rapes were recognized as crimes against humanity and successfully prosecuted as such for the first time at the International Court of The Hague. An earlier indictment of the same kind had been made in Tanzania as part of the United Nations trials of the leaders of Rwanda. Mass rapes were part of the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in Nanking in 1937. Sadly these terrible acts were not recognized as international crimes for a further sixty-three years.

This massacre at Srebrenica was the worst crime of the Bosnian civil war. The main problem was that the city had been declared a “safe area,” when in fact the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was incapable of defending it. The UN should have provided a full military force and that force should have attacked the Serbs before they came within the city. The Muslims were promised complete protection, by whatever military action was necessary, and the typical UN approach of impartiality put aside. The prosecution of those involved in mass rape at the International Court of the Hague has already been noted. The capture and prosecution of others who were involved became an ongoing activity.

Late on Friday, June 29, 2001, Slobodan Milosevic the former president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, who had earlier been arrested by the new government of Serbia, was handed over to the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague in Holland. Zoran Djindjic, prime minister of Serbia, made the decision to hand him over to stand trial for crimes against humanity because of the atrocities committed in Kosovo as well as at Srebrenica. He was formally charged soon after his arrival in Holland with mass murder, deportation of Kosovo Albanians, and specific massacres in different places. The date of his trial was not determined. It was recognized that a large amount of evidence has to be assembled before these formal proceedings could begin.

The pursuit of the military men involved in the Srebrenica massacres, Krstic, Mladic, and Karadzic, continued through 2001. In August of that year, General Radislav Krstic was arrested and brought before the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, accused of personally helping to plan, prepare, and carry out the killings of at least 7,500 Muslim men and boys. General Krstic had taken command of the Drina Wolves unit of the Serbian Army and these were the soldiers who carried out the massacres. Judge Almiro Rodrigues, head of the three-member panel that delivered the verdict at The Hague, spelled out the charges against Krstic. He was accused of causing the persecutions suffered by the Muslims of Srebrenica, his participation consisting mainly in allowing the Drina Wolves to carry out the executions.

The 255-page indictment included the testimonies of 130 witnesses and the records of more than 1,000 pieces of evidence. There were reports of wives and children being beaten and raped, and of men, some as old as eighty, being starved and beaten before they were killed. Some of Krstic’s victims were herded into a warehouse and shot at close range by Serbian execution squads who used guns and grenades to do the killing. Because those who were killed belonged to an identifiable cultural group— Muslims—Krstic was declared guilty of genocide. In defense, Krstic said that he had not known of the massacres until it was too late to stop them. He had intended to punish his soldiers for what they had done. The prosecuting judge dismissed his statements and sentenced him to forty-six years in prison, the harshest punishment up to that time for crimes against humanity in the Bosnian war.

The massacre of 7,500 or more Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica was Europe’s worst civilian atrocity since World War II. There were serious inequalities from the beginning of the Bosnian war. The Serbs had all the military power they needed to conduct military operations but the others, the Croats and Muslims, were handicapped by a UN decision to ban the sale of military equipment to either side. More than four years after the massacre, Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, issued a report on the mistakes made by the UN. Poor judgment and an inability to recognize the truth of the situation were listed as contributing to the tragedy. While Srebrenica was a horrendous instance of genocide it pales in significance when compared with the far greater acts of genocide that began with Germany’s Crystal Night. The atrocities that were initiated in 1938 with “Crystal Night,” were the beginning of a massive program intended to kill every Jew in Germany.

As soon as he came to power as chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler began to express his anti-Jewish ideas in public. He attempted first to make life so unpleasant for Jews that they would emigrate. Crystal Night, a one-day boycott of all Jewish shops and offices, based on false charges, marked the beginning of violent action against Jews. Windows were smashed, contents of stores stolen, and any books found were publicly burned. Over 7,500 Jewish shops were destroyed and four hundred synagogues were burnt down. Ninety-one Jews were killed and an estimated 20,000 were sent to concentration camps. After Crystal Night the numbers of Jews who left Germany increased dramatically. It has been calculated that before war broke out in 1939 approximately half the Jewish population of Germany left the country. This included several Jewish scientists who were to play an important role in the fight against Nazi Germany during World War II. A higher number of Jews would probably have left German but anti-Jewish sentiment was not entirely a German prejudice. Many countries were reluctant to take Jews.

Once the Jewish population had been demonized by the various actions of the German government it became easier for Hitler to propose the mass execution of all Jews. Within three years of Crystal Night the gas chambers associated with the concentration camps were in place. Those who were about to be executed were told to strip naked so that they could be given a bath. Doctors pretended to be giving them a physical exam to allay fears and, during this process, they took note of those who had gold teeth. Their chests were marked with a distinctive sign so that after their death the gold could be recovered before the bodies were thrown into the furnaces. Once they were inside the so-called bathroom, the door was shut and locked, poisonous gas released into the room, and everyone died a painful death. For two further years, until Germany was conquered and overrun, the mass executions, referred to by Hitler as the final solution, was extended until approximately six million Jews from central, eastern, and southern Europe had been annihilated.


Nanking Massacre – December 13, 1937

In violation of international agreements that Japan had signed Japanese soldiers assaulted China. Nanking, the capital of China at that time, was the scene of their greatest and most brutal actions.

On December 13, 1937, the Japanese Army, as it continued it’s assault against China, in knowing violation of an international agreement, reached Nanking, the Chinese capital, and began to loot, rape, torture, and murder all over the city. Soldiers who surrendered were shot or bayoneted and homes were looted, often in full view of the commanding officers. The atrocities committed were so barbaric that they rank among the worst of the twentieth century.

In the years before World War II, Japan began its series of military conquests in China. It was led by a group of officers who had either forced or persuaded the rest of Japan’s leaders to take these steps. Some who opposed their plans were killed. It was a reckless venture and a violation of an agreement that Japan had signed regarding international relations.

The militarists responsible for all that happened subsequently were completely indifferent to this agreement. They not only attacked China, beginning with the conquest of Manchuria in 1931, but they ignored virtually every known rule of law for dealing with civilians and prisoners during war.

The Tokyo War Crimes trials, the Asian equivalent of the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi war criminals, began in 1946 and exposed the details of what had gone on over the previous years. Its rationale for the indictments it handed down was the UN War Crimes Commission Report of a year earlier. In this report blame for all the atrocities was laid on both the government in Tokyo as much as on the commanders in the field.

The following are a few extracts from the damning indictments that were listed: “Inhabitants of countries which were overrun by the Japanese were ruthlessly tortured, murdered, and massacred in cold blood. Torture, rape, pillage, and other barbarities occurred. Despite the laws and customs of war as well as their own assurances, prisoners-of-war and civilians were systematically subjected to brutal treatment and horrible outrages, all calculated to exterminate them.”

Nowhere were these acts of bestiality more violently executed than in Nanking. On December 13, 1937, advance units of Japanese soldiers captured the city, China’s capital. The defenders, against the advice of General Chiang Kai-shek who commanded the Chinese Army, tried hard to hold out against the invaders but lost.

As soon as they entered the city the Japanese launched an orgy of cruelty and destruction. Women of all ages were raped, by individuals and by groups, then killed, as many as 20,000 in all. Soldiers who surrendered were shot, beheaded, or bayoneted. Others were mutilated and killed in other ways, often in the most bestial ways imaginable. Altogether about 300,000 died in these ways.

For the weeks following December 13, 1937, Japanese rapes and massacres continued. There were atrocities against civilians and mass executions. The enormity of the scale and nature of these crimes was documented by survivors and recorded in the diaries of Japanese soldiers. Nanking had been a city of 250,000 but as people retreated westward from the Japanese advance the city’s population swelled to a million by December of 1937.

On December 13, as the city fell, a large number of refugees tried to escape across the Yangtze River but were unable to get away because all the boats were missing. Some tried to swim but they were all shot by Japanese soldiers, some in the water, most at the river’s bank. Altogether 50,000 died at that location in a few hours.

In the streets, about 100,000 refugees or wounded soldiers were huddled, and they became targets for tank and artillery gunners. Dead bodies covered the streets. They became ”streets of blood“ in the course of a two-day massacre. Many Chinese soldiers moved around inside the city and changed into civilian clothes but that made little difference to their fate. Anyone who was suspected of being a soldier was arrested.

They were all sent outside the city in groups numbering from several thousand to tens of thousands and shot by machine guns. Any who were still alive were bayoneted. Gasoline was poured on some and they were burned alive. Numerous atrocities occurred all over the city, mainly on civilians. Japanese soldiers invented and exercised inhumane and barbaric methods of killing, including stabbing, striking off the head, and drowning.

A group of concerned foreigners formed an international rescue committee and established a safety zone for refugees within the city. Japanese soldiers ignored the rights of the foreigners and frequently entered the safety zone where they arrested young men. Every time they did so, the men they arrested were executed on the site. All the storehouses were emptied and everything else of value was seized, including jewelry, coins, and antiques.

There was an organized burning of buildings throughout the city. Nanking, once a beautiful historical center, was burned to ashes. The best that can be said about all this horror is that it conforms to some of the worst practices in wars from the ancient past. Citizens and soldiers alike were often terrorized by successive acts of such brutality and cruelty that they remained passive and submissive. The conquering army could thus proceed with its mission without having to worry about resistance from the conquered.

Women who did not readily submit to their rapists were tortured afterwards before being killed. The only ones who were allowed to live were the so-called “comfort women,” prostitutes who were forced to accompany the soldiers on their campaigns. After World War II, some survivors from this group successfully sued the military authorities. The brutal rape scenes of Nanking are matched by others since that time.

Gang sexual assault and rape with murder was commonplace during the Bangladesh war of independence in 1971 and is described by Susan Brownmiller in her book, Against our will: Men, women and rape. Some aspects of the rapes of Nanking left scars for a long time. No Chinese woman from that time ever admitted that her child was the result of rape. The whole subject of Chinese women being impregnated by Japanese rapists remained so sensitive that it has never been thoroughly studied.

Rape victims finally received the recognition they deserved in the Bosnia Civil War of the 1990s. In that conflict Serbian soldiers singled out Muslim women and girls and raped them as violently as did the Japanese in China. For the first time in history there was a declaration by an international tribunal that these sexual crimes alone constituted a crime against humanity.

Three former Serbian soldiers were indicted on this charge in March of 2000. The things they did were just the same as those committed in Nanking, but fortunately their evils were raised to the highest level of international crime. Information about the Japanese activities was poorly circulated at the time but sufficient was known in western countries, especially in the United States, and thus strong condemnations were sent to Japan.

On one occasion, the Japanese officer in charge invited sailors from a Japanese boat that was anchored on the Yangtze River to witness the mass executions. A memorial building now stands on the spot where many of these mass executions took place. For decades, Japanese authorities denied that anything extraordinary had happened.

One eyewitness account did reach the Western World and was published in the New York Times in December of 1937 but the details were few. Not until the War Crimes Trials were held in Tokyo in 1946 was the full account recorded. Many who witnessed the terrible events told their story at that time.

There is one puzzling aspect of Japanese activities at Nanking that may relate to a friendship from an earlier time between Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary, whose memorial is in Nanking, and General Matsui who commanded Japanese forces when they captured the city. Sun Yat-sen had previously visited Japan on more than one occasion and met with General Matsui.

They became good friends and shared the same ideals for many of the problems of East Asia. Japanese Emperor Hirohito took a detailed interest in all aspects of the country’s military exploits but his focus on Nanking was intense. Could it be that he knew of the friendship between Matsui and Sun Yat-sen and was afraid that it might prevent his orders from being carried out?

Whatever the reason might have been for the Emperor Hirohito’s involvement in the fighting at Nanking, the records of the war show that he decided to interfere by appointing his uncle, Prince Asaka, as commander of all forces at Nanking. Matsui was not replaced but his authority was taken away because Prince Asaka had greater status. The first thing Asaka did was to send sealed orders to all the officers under his new command ordering them to execute all captives.

A note accompanying his orders told the officers to destroy the orders after reading them. Asaka knew that what he had commanded was wrong and that it was a flagrant violation of all international agreements for dealing with captured soldiers. He stayed on in Nanking until February 10, 1938. Matsui left the city soon after Asaka arrived.

The Rape of Nanking was the phrase used at the Tokyo trials to describe the atrocities that occurred there and the witnesses to what happened were many. Dr. Wilson, a native of Nanking who had been educated in the United States, saw his hospital filled to overflowing with patients who had received bullet or bayonet wounds, and women who had been sexually molested the morning after the Japanese captured the city.

This scene was repeated every day for the following several weeks. An older official from the Chinese Ministry of Railways described the scene in street after street. There were bodies lying everywhere, some badly mutilated. It was no use counting them. There were far too many. All of these personal reports were given to the prosecutors in the presence of the Japanese officers who were on trial.

Hsu, a member of the Chinese Red Cross, gave help in burying the corpses to avoid an epidemic. He counted as many as 43,000 then left off counting. The bodies had their hands tied with either rope or wire so he could not follow the Chinese custom of loosening anything that was tied before burial. Several survivors of mass killings testified how they were able to feign death by falling and getting covered with those beside them who were just shot.

Many of those had to endure thrusts from bayonets, a common Japanese practice to make sure that there would be no witnesses to their atrocities. An American professor of history, Miner Bates, at the University of Nanking told of numerous killings for each of which there was no provocation or apparent reason.

Bates also told of thirty college girls at his university being raped two days after the Japanese entered the city and a further eighteen three days later in different parts of the campus. All the other women were in a state of hysteria. Furthermore, his campus was next door to the Japanese Embassy so Japanese officials in the embassy must also have been aware of what was happening. Prosecutors asked Bates for the name of the officer in command of the Japanese troops at that time.

General Matsui was the answer, the man now standing in the court along with Koki Hirota, Japan’s foreign minister at that time. For most of the time during the Tokyo trials defense lawyers were silent in the face of damning personal testimonies but this time, because Matsui and Hirota were importance defendants it was different.

When Bates told the prosecution that he had sent reports of the atrocities to the Japanese Embassy, William Logan, who was defending the accused, immediately inquired if Bates’ reports had been sent to Tokyo. Bates assured him that they were sent but he was then asked how he knew. Bates informed him that he had received detailed accounts from the U.S. Ambassador in Tokyo, describing discussions he had had with Hirota over these very reports.

There were numerous additional personal testimonies added to these, many of them so gruesome that only the barest details should be recorded. The randomness and the cruelty of the ways that people were tortured before being killed all pointed to a deliberate policy, not just the actions of a few depraved individuals.

On the basis of massive amounts of evidence, twenty-eight Japanese officers were prosecuted for mass murder, rape, pillage, brigandage, torture and other barbaric cruelties upon a helpless civilian population. Eyewitnesses gave testimonies of the atrocities. Of the twenty-eight men, twenty-five were found guilty. Of the other three, two died during the trials, and one had a mental breakdown.

Seven criminals were put to death by hanging, sixteen were sentenced to life imprisonment, and two had lesser sentences. Of the seven who were hanged, four were executed for their involvement in the Rape of Nanking. Quite apart from the decisions at the trials, about one thousand officers committed hara-kiri suicide, in the days following Japan’s defeat. This form of suicide was a Japanese national tradition in the wake of failure.

Matsui pretended all through the trials that nothing more than a few incidents had happened. When asked if Prince Asaka, uncle of the Emperor Hirohito, had anything to do with all the crimes he strongly defended him. In fact, all of the emperor’s household was exempted from prosecution, despite extensive evidence of their involvement. This was a firm policy of the countries conducting the trials.

On the night before he was hanged, Matsui changed his mind about Nanking. In his words it was a “national disgrace.” He went further and said that the real culprit for all of it was Prince Asaka. Over the years that followed the trials, Japanese citizens maintained a denial of the massacre. During the war, because of the strict control of news, civilians knew almost nothing about atrocities. They heard only about heroic war figures.

The facts released during the Tokyo War Trials shocked the whole country. Many books were written on the subject. At that time, there was no public government denial of the massacre, but there was not any official public acceptance of responsibility either. From the 1960s to the 1980s deliberate efforts were made to deny the horrors of Nanking.

A highly controversial history textbook for schools was published in 1982. The Rape of Nanking was described as action in response to resistance from the Chinese Army. The nations of Asia were enraged and their anger made Japanese authorities reconsider the contents of the book.

By the 1990s, a different version of history made its way into school texts. These books now refer to the “Great Nanking Massacre,” in which Japanese soldiers conducted a rampage of looting, burning, and raping against international condemnation, and killed those who surrendered. Media sensitivity in North America has also changed since the 1930s. The reports that were published by the press and in magazines in 1937 would not be acceptable today because they might generate destructive hatred against the perpetrators.

Press reports on Rwanda, a similar event of mass murder, toned down the horror of the actual event. By contrast, the following are the kinds of reports carried in the Western press and journals in 1937 regarding Nanking: it was his job to complete the butchery of the Chinese defenders. He lined them up in batches and shot them all. It was a tiresome business killing them. Japanese sailors watched the executions.


Fort Hood – 2009

Despite the 9/11 catastrophe, the USA’s much-hyped intelligence community yet again failed to head off a preventable disaster. Major Nisal Malik Hassan’s attempts to contact al-Qaeda and radical Muslim clerics were closely monitored, but the decision was taken to watch rather than reel hint in, hoping to land bigger fish.

So the 39-year-old US Army psychiatrist was free to attend his place of work early one afternoon in November 2009, carrying two handguns – a semi-automatic FN pistol and .357 Magnum revolver – plus lots of ammunition. The Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood was busy processing personnel returning from or leaving for overseas tours of duty when Hassan produced the FN pistol and started shooting, discharging over 100 rounds in quick succession.

Moments later 13 people – 12 soldiers and one civilian worker – lay dead or dying, while 30 others had been felled with gunshot injuries. As Hassan chased a wounded soldier out of the building, civilian base police officers arrived. Sergeant Kimberly Munley exchanged shots with Hassan before falling to the ground after being hit three times. Sergeant Mark Todd then took up the fight. Hassan missed him twice before being shot himself. He fell unconscious to the ground with four bullet wounds and was handcuffed by Todd.

After regaining consciousness in hospital, Hassan was charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder, leaving investigators to puzzle over his motivation. He was a practicing Muslim of Jordanian origin, who had expressed interest in suicide bombings and had close contact with Anwar al-Awiaki, his imam, at the mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, which was also attended by two 9/11 hijackers. Various theories were advanced to explain the massacre, from Hassan’s reluctance to accept an imminent Afghanistan posting to fury that his superiors refused to prosecute soldiers who had admitted committing atrocities against Muslims in the course of psychiatric sessions.

When: November 5 2009

Where: Fort Hood, near Killeen, Texas, USA

Death toll: Unlucky 13 (plus the unborn child of a casualty. Private First Class Francheska Velez, one of three women killed)

You should know: Shortly after the Fort Hood shootings Major Nisal Hassan’s lawyer announced that his client had been paralyzed from the waist down and was unlikely to walk again.


Virginia Tech Massacre – 2007

The massacre at the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) was the deadliest peacetime shooting by an individual in US history. What Seung-Hui Cho demanded was a blood sacrifice from the world. His choice of victims was almost random. The exception was the first one, the girl he shot as she slept; her boyfriend was a straight arrow whom Cho happened to see at the firing range where he practiced. If he made Cho feel inferior, it was entirely in Cho’s imagination.

Everything was in his imagination; it always had been. Since childhood he had remained uncommunicative, even with his family, and his self-isolation grew more extreme when he got to Virginia Tech. His English professor noticed the anger expressed in writing projects, and pleaded with college authorities to get Cho to seek help. But that would have infringed his civil rights – like the privacy laws which prevented Virginia Tech ever knowing that Cho’s mental health had been the subject of much previous anxiety.

Cho paused after the first two shootings. He returned to his room and wrote a manifesto of his loathing for the world. In it he praised the Columbine High School killers as ‘martyrs’. Then he mailed it to NBC News. Meanwhile the police chased the wrong man, not bothering to tell the college of the nightmare – currently arming himself with guns he’d collected in previous weeks – stalking the campus.

Cho waited two hours for classes to begin, chained the doors of one of the halls shut behind him, and worked his way through four full classrooms, blazing away. In less than 15 minutes, he reduced them to blood and gore, only stopping when the police blasted open the hall doors. Then he reversed one of his pistols and shot himself. An enquiry later noted that if Cho’s human rights hadn’t prevented Virginia Tech from ‘connecting the dots’, 33 lives might have been saved.

When: April 16 2007

Where: The campus of Virginia Polytechnic institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

Death toll: 33 dead (27 students, five faculty members, and Cho) and 23 wounded.

You should know: Cho’s imaginary life included calling himself ‘Question Mark’; a ‘supermodel’ girlfriend called ‘Jelly’ who ‘travelled by spaceship’; and reporting to his room mate that he was ‘vacationing with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’ having ‘grown up with him in Moscow’. But a Senior in Cho’s class who read his one-act play told a friend: ‘This is the kind of guy who is going to walk into a classroom and start shooting people’.