New York City Terrorism – New York – February 26, 1993

A powerful bomb exploded in the parking area beneath the World Trade Center towers. This was the first and failed attempt by terrorists to take down the twin towers.

Just before noon on the morning of February 26, 1993, a bomb went off beneath one of the towers of the World Trade Center, New York. It was so powerful that a steel reinforced concrete floor collapsed, tons of debris came down, a fire was started, and power for the entire complex was cut off. Fifty thousand people were soon without lights, heat, or elevators, and smoke was rising into the towers.

The World Trade Center (WTC) consisted of twin towers with 110 floors in each, located on a sixteen-acre site near the southern tip of Manhattan Island. They rose to more than 1,350 feet above street level and in 1970, when they were first occupied, they were the world’s tallest buildings. The elevator system was a combination of express and local elevators and this arrangement increased the amount of floor space given to occupancy. In conventional systems only half the area on each floor is available for offices. In the WTC it was 75 percent. Economy of space was obtained by having three vertical zones, ground to forty-first, then to seventy-fourth, and from that point to the top. Express elevators served the three zones and four banks of local ones operate within each vertical zone.

The explosion occurred in an underground garage beneath the WTC, powerful enough to rock the towers and demolish the steel-and-concrete ceiling of the underground train station, a major transportation point for New Jersey commuters. A huge hole was ripped in the station wall and an even bigger cavity was created beneath. Thick black smoke from the smoldering fire created by the blast swept upward to the top of both buildings where as many as 100,000 people work or visit daily. On February 26, there were 50,000 people in the buildings, including two hundred kindergarten and elementary school children who were visitors. They had to be left for hours on the observation deck until injured people were attended to. Six had been killed by the blast and a thousand injured, mostly from smoke inhalation. To the thousands who were in the building it was a terrifying experience. There was darkness, no heat or light, no elevators working, and smoke everywhere.

Hundreds of people poured out of the towers into the streets, their faces black with soot, some of them having managed to find their way down from as high as the hundredth floor. Many others stayed on their floors waiting for assistance to arrive. They packed cloths against doors and vents where smoke was entering or used moistened cloths on their faces. The blast just so happened to be located at the point where it could do the most damage. It knocked out the power plant for the entire complex, plunging everyone in the Twin Towers into darkness. One newscaster, unfortunately, went on the air and advised people in the towers that if they were having trouble breathing, they should break out the glass window. This was the worst thing he could have said and his call was quickly refuted by others. There were over five hundred emergency personnel on the ground who could be hit with flying glass and, furthermore, the open window would allow smoke to enter the area.

Charles Maikish was the director of the whole WTC and as he felt the tower sway a little beyond the normal he knew that a major accident had taken place. He was on the thirty-fifth floor at the time so his first move was to check the elevators. They, in accordance with emergency procedures, had already moved back down to their starter floors. He made his way as best he could to the lobby and began to organize a command center there. Smoke was everywhere. A policeman on duty in the building made a hole with his bare hands at the top of an elevator and consoled a group of five-year olds who were stranded in it. A fireman broke down an elevator door and found it was full of partly conscious people lying on the floor. Down below in the parking area, those who were arriving at the time of the blast witnessed the smoke and fire and heard the screams of those who were closest to the bomb.

New York’s television stations are located on the top of the first tower and all but one were cut off. The one that remained was not dependent on the towers for its power so, where battery power and various radio outlets were available, the station provided information for people on their different floors. Everyone was urged to stay calm and to wait. The scale of the rescue effort must have been disheartening, having to reach and help people on 110 floors in each of the two towers, not knowing how many were stuck in elevators. It was impossible to say how long it would take to get everyone to safety and meanwhile anxious relatives and friends waited below. For two hours the fire and smoke persisted. A number of disabled people had to be rescued by helicopter from the roof. Close to midnight on the twenty-sixth the last elevator was reached. Several had been stuck in it for eleven hours. The terrorists had planned to send up a cloud of cyanide gas amid the smoke of the fire but the cyanide was burnt up in the heat of the explosion and did not vaporize.

The chief of New York’s fire department provided a summary of the events of February 26,1993. He pointed out that there had been numerous trips to the WTC since 1970 when it was first occupied. These related to minor fires, fire alarms, and one or two major fires but nothing in these experiences prepared the department for the events of February 26. It was the largest incident ever handled in the city’s one hundred and twenty-eight-year history. In fact, it was the equivalent of several major multi alarm fires combined into one. Many fire department units from other parts of the city had to be called in to help. The statistics tell the story well. Six people died and more than a thousand were injured, fifteen of the latter having received traumatic damage directly from the blast. Eighty-eight firefighters and thirty-five police officers were injured.

Approximately 25,000 people were evacuated from each tower. Most of the victims were trapped on the upper floors and hence the large amount of time needed to rescue them. Search and rescue work was finally completed shortly before midnight on the same day. The bomb weighed more than a thousand pounds and did comprehensive damage on seven floors, six of them below street level. The crater it made measured 130 by 150 feet and was located beneath the Vista Hotel. While the emergency work was concentrated in one day the Fire Department staff maintained a presence at the WTC for a further month. The bomb was located where it could do the most damage. Later it was discovered that the total destruction of the entire World Trade Center’s two towers was planned. Fortunately, the terrorists underestimated the strength of the buildings.

Arrests of four of the six terrorists, those who were still in the United States, came quickly because the FBI had an informant who taped conversations with them two months after the bombing. Their trials were held in New York and they obviously had no trouble finding enough money to hire the best and probably the most expensive lawyers they could find. William Kunsler, the well-known defense attorney, represented at least one of them. For six months the trial proceeded. The jury had to be together all of that time with protective security throughout. All of the rights of the accused were safeguarded as fully as they would be for any American.

The judge handling the court cases knew that he was dealing with extremists for whom neither justice nor life had much value. They had their own view of Islam and felt that to die in the name of Allah was a holy act. They certainly had no respect for the American rule of law so the courthouse had to be made secure for the entire period of the six-month trial. The jury found all four guilty—Mohammed Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, Mahmond Abouhalima, and Ahmad Ajaj. Pandemonium broke out as soon as the verdicts were given with Allah’s name being shouted and anger vented at what they called injustice. Salameh, who for some unknown reason thought he had won the case against him, lunged at the members of the jury and had to be restrained by marshals. There was screaming and abusive language before they were handcuffed and dragged away to serve their 240 years.

Before the leader of the terrorist unit, Ramzi Yousef, was finally caught and imprisoned he had worked out plans for additional attacks. He came to the United States prior to the events of February 26, 1993, on an Iraqi passport and left very soon after the bombing. Then in Manila, Philippines, in January of 1995, while mixing some bomb material, a fire broke out and he was forced to run away to avoid detection. He knew that U.S. authorities were on his trail. When investigators examined the place that had caught fire they found evidence that led to his arrest in Pakistan a month later. They also found details of a plan to blow up eleven U.S. commercial planes on one day. He hoped to use a new liquid explosive that could pass metal detectors at airports. Most sinister of all was a note among his belongings saying he could use chemicals and poison gas against whole populations.

Ramzi Yousef’s plots were the most ambitious terrorist conspiracies ever attempted against the United States, that is, until the devastating events of nine eleven, all bearing a frightening resemblance to the plans found in the Philippines. Now the whole nation knows that terrorism demands eternal vigilance. The last of Yousef’s five, Eyad Ismail, a twenty-six-year-old Palestinian, the youngest of the six, was the one who drove the lethal truck to the WTC, then escaped after lighting the fuse and fled to Jordan where he was captured in 1995. No one among the six is ever likely to be released. They each received 240 years imprisonment. In the event that any one tries to make money by publishing a book on the bombing, the judge levied a fine of ten million dollars on each to pay for restitution. Yousef was levied a bit more, 250 million damages for restitution. Actual cost of the damage to the WTC was half a billion dollars.


Northridge Earthquake – California – January 17, 1994

The damage caused was enormous and concentrated because this earthquake occurred within a densely-populated area.

An earthquake of magnitude 6.7 hit an area of high population density twenty-five miles northwest of Los Angeles at 4:30 A.M. on January 17, 1994. About ten million people in the Greater Los Angeles region felt the impact of the quake. This earthquake, named for its epicenter in the town of Northridge, proved to be the costliest in U.S. history. Communities throughout the San Fernando Valley and in its surrounding mountains north and west of Los Angeles were affected, causing losses of 20 billion dollars. Fifty-seven people died, more than 9,000 were injured, and more than 20,000 were displaced from their homes.

Because the earthquake was centered beneath a built-up urban area, the impact on buildings of all kinds was immense. Thousands of buildings were significantly damaged, and more than 1,600 became unsafe to enter. The shaking lasted for less than thirty seconds but in that time buildings came down, freeway interchanges collapsed, and fires broke out as gas lines were broken. Fortunately, the early morning timing of the earthquake spared many lives that otherwise might have been lost in collapsed parking buildings and on failed freeways. Freeway bridges built or designed before the mid-1970s and had not been retrofitted to meet new standards failed. Telephone systems broke down, not because of equipment failure but due to overload and they were inadequate for an emergency of this scale.

The earthquake began as a rupture on a hidden fault at a depth of ten miles beneath the San Fernando Valley. For eight seconds following the initial break, the rupture continued to extend upward and northwestward along the fault plane at a rate of two miles per second. The rupture front spread out across as well as along the fault plane, so that the eventual size of the rupture covered an area of ten by twelve miles. The rupture stopped at a depth of three miles. Maximum intensities from the quake were felt in and near Northridge and in Sherman Oaks. Lesser, but still significant intensities were felt in Fillmore, Glendale, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, Simi Valley, and in western and central Los Angeles. A rise in ground level of six inches occurred in the Santa Susana Mountains and there were many rockslides in mountain areas that blocked roads. Some ground cracks were observed at Granada Hills and liquefaction occurred at a number of locations in the Simi Valley.

In summary, all the lifeline systems in the areas affected by the quake were damaged in various ways, including freeways, communications, gas, water, power, and sewage. Additionally, the delivery of water from the Colorado River and northern California was disrupted so that some areas were without water for weeks. This earthquake measured 6.7 on the Richter Scale and there is a tendency to assume that an event of this strength will do less damage than one of magnitude 8 or higher. However, everything changes when an earthquake occurs in the middle of a major urban area. In Japan in 1995, when the city of Kobe was hit with a quake of magnitude 6.9, the destruction that followed was far costlier than anything the country had previously experienced. Costs in that event were seven times the total for the Northridge quake.


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.


Kobe Earthquake – Japan – January 17, 1995

Like the Northridge earthquake that also occurred in a densely populated area, Kobe suffered very extensive damage and many casualties.

Early in the morning of January 17, 1995, Kobe, Japan, experienced the nation’s most destructive earthquake since 1946. Its epicenter was at Awaji, offshore from Kobe, and ten miles below the surface. Damage was extensive and there were many casualties. Over 5,400 were killed, another 26,800 injured, and over 300,000 made homeless. Additionally, around 105,000 buildings were damaged beyond repair and numerous others suffered lesser forms of damage. The financial costs of the earthquake were in excess of 150 billion U.S. dollars.

The Kobe area is dominated by the Philippine Tectonic Plate’s sub ducting action as it moves beneath the Eurasian Plate at a rate of about two inches a year. Great subduction earthquakes arise from this action at average recurrence rates of one hundred years. This part of Japan has the densest number of faults of anywhere in the country and they, like the main sub ducting action, also on average have an annual slippage rate, one much smaller than that of the main tectonic plate. As a result of these lesser fault movements, the Kyoto-Osaka corridor has experienced more intraplate earthquakes throughout history than any other region of Japan.

The quake devastated central Kobe, crushing buildings and homes and filling the narrow streets with debris. Train services, so vital to Japan’s transportation system, came to a sudden stop and all electricity and water provisions were cut off. So complete was the destruction of everything that the term “Great Hanshin Disaster” was born to indicate an event similar to the “Great Kanto Disaster” of 1923. The word “Hanshin” is another term for the Kobe Region. With the loss of all water supplies it became impossible to cope with all the fires that broke out as electrical sparks and flammable materials were thrown together. Thus a firestorm, like the one that engulfed San Francisco in 1906 for the same reason, and lack of water supplies, swept across Kobe. By late on January 17, there were 234 fires and, before the middle of the next day, five hundred conflagrations were consuming the large amounts of flammable materials that lay around.

The destruction that took place along Kobe’s waterfront was another mirror image of the 1906 earthquake, that of liquefaction. All along the waterfront zone of Kobe extensive reclamation work had gone on for decades to provide space for shipping activities and warehouses. The widespread liquefaction that took place destroyed the roads leading to the waterfront installations, collapsed both housing and warehouses, and lowered the ground level across the whole area by several feet. A few buildings that had been erected on deeper geological formations remained intact. Liquefaction extended downward in the reclaimed areas as deep as thirty feet in the wake of the thousands of aftershocks that followed the main quake and the wave movements in these deeper zones of liquefaction damaged several areas farther inland.

Minimum amounts of restoration took several months to complete. Gas and electrical supply lines had been so badly disrupted that even Japan’s extremely efficient system of records was incapable of deciding what line belongs where. Officials had to interview individual family survivors, mass media reports, and a variety of telephone and printed records before reconnecting trunk lines. For water lines, the available pressure was initially inadequate for identifying breaks in the system and when officials tried to reach locations to examine conditions directly they were held up by a total absence of roads. Within the downtown part of Kobe all the main streets were impassable. Removing liquefied sand from damaged pipes was yet another hurdle to overcome before the pipes could be reconnected.


Oklahoma City Terrorism – Oklahoma – April 19, 1995

The P. Murrah Federal building was targeted by one or two U.S. terrorists who had a grudge against the Federal government.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, a gigantic bomb went off at the entrance to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. A red and orange fireball shot upward, a deep crater appeared beneath the entrance, and all over the building slabs of glass and concrete crashed down. Ten buildings within a three-block radius almost collapsed and hundreds of others were damaged. The blast was felt forty miles away. One hundred and sixty-eight were killed and five hundred injured.

On the April 17, 1993, a man who had earlier booked a truck by telephone, picked up the Ryder truck that could carry five thousand pounds. He made a $150 deposit on the car, gave a false name, provided a wrong home address, and gave another person’s driver’s license, then left with the truck. The bomb materials were assembled and placed on the truck next day. Early on the morning of the nineteenth, the same day of the same month as the Waco conflagration, he drove the truck into Oklahoma. He had previously left his Mercury car a short distance from the scene of the crime. He lit the fuse before parking outside the Murrah Building and then, having locked the truck door, ran to his Mercury.

The explosion hurled everything nearby into the air. In the Murrah Building there was double destruction, floors being thrust upward by the force of the blast and higher floors collapsing as the building’s foundations were cut away. On the seventh floor, fifty people were instantly crushed to death while another twenty met a similar fate on the fourth floor. It was a comparable story on all the other floors. Saddest of all was the instant destruction of a day-care center on the second floor where there were fifteen children and three teachers. That floor took the full force of the bomb. Human remains from it were found a block away.

Twenty-four bystanders near the building were killed instantly. Survivors staggered from the ruins of the Murrah Building, some half-naked because shoes and clothing had been ripped off. Their wounds were evident and they were bleeding either because of cuts or through walking over broken glass. Blood, dust, plaster, and concrete littered the ground and filled the cavity below ground created by the bomb. Hundreds of people were running around outside, screaming as they burned to death or tried to cope with the pieces of glass embedded in their faces and hands.

Relief efforts came together in large numbers. Everyone who could get near the scene of destruction helped. More than five hundred had been injured and the number dead would not be known for a few days because of the amount and weight of rubble. Family members brought dental and other records to help with identification. Often the shattered state of their children’s bodies made visual recognition impossible. Every doctor in Oklahoma City was on hand to do whatever could be done. Blood was in short supply because so many had been pierced with glass and were bleeding badly. One man had more than a hundred deep cuts from glass.

Cranes and bulldozers were busy moving concrete slabs out of the way in order to rescue whoever might still be alive below. Sophisticated listening devices also assisted in finding people. There were dogs specially trained to sniff out victims, some of them specially trained to sniff out babies who have a scent that is different from that of adults. This special dog resource had a poignant appeal here because of the large number of infants and young children who had been in the building. The search went on through the night and on into the next day. When a final death count was reached it was 168 and it included 19 very young children. Five hundred others were injured.

Suspicion universally focused on Islamic extremists. The World Trade Center bombing of 1993 was still fresh in people’s minds (see New York City, New York, terrorism) as well as earlier acts of violence by the same people. Every media outlet and all comments from political leaders declared that the criminals must have come from abroad. Violence at this scale in heartland America could not happen, it was said, unless it was inspired by the same mindset that blew Pam Am 103 out of the sky in 1988 (see Munich, Germany, terrorism). One congressman went so far as to say that there was clear evidence that fundamentalist Islamic terrorists were involved. People from the Middle East who happened to be in the United States or who had come from there but were now U.S. citizens were under suspicion and some were taken in for questioning. In spite of vehement denials from Muslim groups all over the world, there persisted the sad spectacle of a whole ethnic group being held suspect without a single bit of supporting evidence.

Some reflection on recent events, even the date of the disaster, might have alerted authorities to another possibility. Several had been disturbed by the tragedies at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and Waco in 1993 and felt they should avenge what they considered to be indefensible violence on the part of the U.S. government. These were people who do not subscribe to the democratic ethic of majority rule. They are few in number but in an age that gives enormous power to the individual they can be very dangerous. The terrorist and mass murderer who was responsible for this worst terrorist act in American history was one of them. He was an American and his name was Timothy McVeigh.

The media usually take note of people like McVeigh only when some- thing bad happens. There are people like him who are violently opposed to the law of the land because it gives rights to homosexuals and permits abortions. Others have racist views, hating blacks and Jews, while yet another group feels justified in taking violent action against established authority on the basis of some kind of Christian faith, or just because they disagree with a particular action. Warnings about the dangers posed by these extremist groups and individuals have largely been ignored, partly because the victims were few and partly because their terrorist actions had not caused extensive damage.

The bombing of the Murrah Building changed all that. If one individual could do this much damage, then the potential for major destruction lay within the reach of a small number of extremists. For many years federal authorities were fully aware of the existence of these outlaws, but they only made contact with them when they had to. For their part, these extremists were largely inactive. They lived away from the main centers of population and trained their people in the use of firearms.

In searching for the perpetrators of major disasters, FBI officials know that their acts usually leave a trail. Everyone and everything at the scene of the bombing was scrutinized. Within a day these officials had identified the identification number and place of origin of the truck that carried the more than 1,000 gallons of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel. They went to the place where the truck had been rented. Other details followed quickly. In small-town Oklahoma, outside the main cities, everyone knows everyone else and unusual behaviors or new visitors are noted. One of the first discoveries came at an army and navy store where the clerk, recognizing the police sketch that was by now being circulated, told about selling the book, Improvised Munitions Handbook, to a young man who looked just like the one in the police sketch.

As already noted, Timothy McVeigh quickly left the Murrah Building after lighting the fuse and drove away in his car. Racing northwards in his Mercury, McVeigh was stopped by a highway patrolman who noticed that a license plate was missing. This had nothing to do with the bomb because no news of the tragedy had yet been circulated but, as the patrolman examined the inside of the car, he saw several guns and a knife. He checked via his cell phone and found that the statements he was given about car ownership were false. McVeigh was booked into jail at Perry, about fifty miles north of Oklahoma City, awaiting the hearing of his case. By the time he came before a judge the FBI had tracked him down and found out where he was.

Timothy McVeigh was born in Lockport, New York, in 1968 and spent his early years, including graduation from high school, in or near that city. After he left school friends noticed that he was becoming more and more of a loner. He dropped out of a business college where he had been taking a course on computers, he seemed unable to befriend girls, and he was upset over his parents’ divorce. An interest in guns developed and this interest remained strong as McVeigh grew older. At the age of twenty, on the spur of the moment, he decided to join the U.S. Army. He drove to Buffalo and signed up for a three-year stint.

At Fort Benning, Georgia, during basic training, McVeigh met Terry Nichols, a man who was ten years older and was, like McVeigh a loner who had joined the army because he had nothing else to do. They became very good friends and both moved to Fort Riley, Kansas, after training, to await their next assignment. McVeigh was ecstatic about army life. He was now part of a mechanized infantry unit which had Bradley armored tanks. He signed on for another three years and was promoted to sergeant shortly afterward. In the six months of basic training and then at Fort Riley, McVeigh also acquired through Nichols, a copy of a book, The Turner Diaries, which carried a strong condemnation of the Federal government for advocating gun control.

December of 1990 saw McVeigh off to Operation Desert Storm with his unit. Two months later McVeigh was sitting in the gunner’s seat of his Bradley tank as the unit made one of the first drives into Kuwait. The attack involved rolling over trenches in which thousands of Iraqis had taken up positions, suffocating the soldiers in the process and shooting up the artillery bunkers behind them. McVeigh’s accuracy was already well known and he excelled in this environment. He destroyed an Iraqi vehicle a hundred yards away, killed individual soldiers at half a mile range and, with one blast, smashed an Iraqi gun nest that was more than a mile away from him. For that action he was later awarded a Bronze Star for valor. He also received other decorations.

As he returned home with all the others after the brief war, McVeigh was surprised to find his name listed as a candidate for the army’s elite Special Forces, the Green Berets. He had dreamed of this for years but was afraid his physical condition was too poor for him to go into training right away. He was right. He failed the course within a couple of days and was once more back with the other losers at Fort Riley. A post-war hangover set in, not unlike that experienced by other soldiers. In McVeigh’s case, his memories of the Turner Diaries and other publications hardened into a paranoia about guns. He attacked the National Rifle Association for softening its stand against gun control and copied on to a sweatshirt some words from a magazine: “Freedom’s Last Stand—Are you willing to fight for your guns.”

At the end of 1991 McVeigh left the army and went back to Lockport where he got a job with a security company. He wrote letters to his hometown paper, all with the common theme of national evil. The following three sentences were typical of his letters: America is in serious decline. Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn’t come to that but it might. McVeigh became increasingly reclusive and his letters eventually stopped. In the succeeding two years there were two events that dominated the news and focused his thinking about what he should do. These were the events at Ruby Ridge and David Koresh’s compound in Waco. For the second time in his life McVeigh had found something to which he felt he could completely give himself.

The conflict at Ruby Ridge on August 22,1992, on a remote site in northern Idaho was a week-long standoff between white supremacist Randy Weaver and federal agents. It ended in a shootout in which an FBI sniper shot and killed Weaver’s wife, Vicky. Earlier, when federal marshals tried to arrest Weaver for failing to appear in court on weapons charges a gun battle erupted between marshals and Weaver’s fourteen-year-old son, resulting in two deaths—Weaver’s son and a marshal. There followed some severe criticism by the Attorney-General’s Department of the way the marshals behaved, concluding that they had overreacted to the threat of violence. The Department felt that the four deaths need not have happened.

The fiery ending to David Koresh’s complex in Waco on April 19, 1993, was the other event. McVeigh was convinced that injustice had been done and he was determined to do something about it. He knew that there had been criticism of government action in both events and he conveniently magnified the criticism into outright condemnation. The ending of the complex at Waco happened on April 19, 1993. The Oklahoma City devastation took place on April 19, 1995. That was no coincidence.

For the two years following the Waco event, McVeigh’s mind was focused on one thing only, finding a suitable target to bomb and planning its destruction. He traveled a lot hoping to find support for his plan but, as was the case during his army stint, he was too much of a loner to develop strong friendships. Terry Nichols was the only contact he retained from the days of the Gulf War. One old newspaper article from an extremist group came into his hands. It recommended bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and this idea stuck with him. Another old extremist publication clinched the idea when it outlined the value, for public impact, of careful timing any reprisal. It suggested choosing a date exactly two years after the tragedy you want to revenge. The issues of what to do and when to act were now crystal clear in McVeigh’s twisted mind.

Activity speeded up on April 14, 1995. McVeigh rented a motel some distance north of Oklahoma City and pressured Terry Nichols, who lived nearby, to allow the bomb materials to be stored in his basement, threatening to harm his family if he did not cooperate. Over the following two or three days, McVeigh purchased large quantities of diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate from different locations. He had purchased a large quantity of these same materials on a previous occasion and left them in a nearby storage locker. These were now brought to the Nichols home. Then, on the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth of April, as already recounted, the bomb-loaded truck was taken to Oklahoma City and detonated.

McVeigh was found guilty and executed on June 11, 2001. Before his death he gave an extensive interview to two news reporters from The Buffalo News who subsequently wrote a book on the crime, American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing. In the interview he expressed no regrets for what he had done. He felt no sympathy for the people of Oklahoma City and his only disappointment over the deaths of children was that they became a public relations nightmare which undercut his cause. The huge loss of life and many injuries were to him just collateral damage. He spoke at length about his anger over the events at Ruby Ridge and Waco. Terry Nichols was later imprisoned as an accomplice but was not given the death penalty.

The bombing of the Murrah Building goes beyond just remembering and reflecting on the past. It is an illustration of the enormous power for harm that is now available to individuals and of the different ways in which they can use this power to paralyze a society. No longer can the few extremists within our society be ignored. Not everyone agrees that McVeigh was a terrorist. Gore Vidal and others, while not condoning what was done, insist that we must give more thought to individual rights. The rest of the Murrah Building was demolished after the bombing and national services were held to commemorate the tragedy. Today a huge memorial stands where the building once stood, a silent reminder of the nation’s worst ever domestic terrorist attack. People from all over the country visit the site daily.

On February 28, 1993, heavily-armed agents of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) tried to serve a search-and-arrest warrant on David Koresh’s Branch Davidian headquarters in Waco, Texas. A serious gunfight erupted, several were killed, and the agents had to withdraw. A siege ensued which went on for fifty-one days and ended in a conflagration which killed eighty.

David Koresh was the leader of the Branch Davidians, a religious sect that had broken away from the main Seventh Day Adventists organization. There had been three other leaders of this sect before him and they too had exhibited apocalyptic views like those of Koresh, in one case expecting the world to come to an end in 1959. These views were in keeping with some aspects of the parent church, the Seventh Day Adventists, which was embedded in Old Testament ideas. Their name, for example, was derived from the Old Testament Jewish Sabbath, present-day Saturday, which this sect felt was the correct day of rest and not Sunday, the one commonly accepted by most Christian churches.

Koresh’s birth name was Vernon Howell and at the age of twenty-five he joined the Branch Davidian sect. Before long he found himself engaged in a power struggle with Benjamin Roden, the then leader, a conflict that ended with Howell and some of his friends killing the leader in a shoot out. They were convicted of murder but later acquitted. As he took control, Howell changed his name to David Koresh, again because of some significance in Jewish history. From that moment on there was a big change. The religious sect became a cult; that is, a group of people totally controlled by one person. He traveled to different countries, recruiting members as he went, and expanding the size of the compound at Waco, Texas.

At the same time he built up through constant teaching his apocalyptic views that there would inevitably be a colossal confrontation between the true people, his followers, and all the rest, the outside unbelievers. According to Koresh, he alone knew the truth. He was the one prophet appointed by God to teach the truth and prepare his followers for the end catastrophe and to this end he stocked the compound with guns and food reserves. Cult leaders like Koresh usually have attractive personalities with the ability to persuade others that they have unique knowledge and status. They succeed in securing absolute control over the lives of their followers, making them do things that most people would immediately recognize as absurd. The following examples will illustrate the nature of Koresh’s power over the hundred or more of his followers in Waco.

Each member willingly gave up all personal wealth and possessions and these resources supported the place. All decisions of any consequence were made by Koresh alone and these included rationing food for all from time to time either as a tool of control or of discipline. Food was vegetarian except for the leader who was entitled to meat and some other things. No one, again except the leader, had access to television, and no birthdays were ever celebrated. Perhaps the most bizarre of all the community’s mores were the sexual rules. Only Koresh could father children because he alone had the pure line of descent. He freely engaged sexually with any and all of the women and girls in the compound, fathering numerous children. Some of the girls with whom he had intercourse were as young as eleven. He had the sexual rights of women who were married while their husbands along with all the other males lived a life of celibacy.

As long as the Waco compound carried on its religious activities without offending the laws of the land, the government did not interfere. Early in February of 1993 reports reached the federal government that Koresh’s people were in possession of illegal firearms and that they were modifying automatic rifles, turning them into machine guns. Koresh was now thirty-four years old. A search and arrest warrant was issued and on February 28 members of the ATF attempted to serve it. What happened next is not clear. Gunfire broke out as the ATF men approached the building. Four were killed and fourteen others wounded and the whole event ended in a standoff.

It was clear that, whoever was responsible for the shooting, Koresh’s followers were quite prepared to use deadly force to oppose uninvited intruders. The FBI was brought in and a siege was initiated. For the following fifty-one days the siege went on but with little progress on the business of the search warrant. Throughout this time there was no gunfire of any kind from the FBI side and only occasional shots from inside the compound. A team of negotiators was brought in and discussions began with representatives of Koresh. Initially, the negotiations seemed to be very promising.

Within the first few days a plan was agreed upon. If the FBI would arrange to have one of Koresh’s sermons broadcast on a particular radio station he would release two children on the following day. The tape was duly broadcast and two children were released on the following day. Their mother brought them out, then she retreated back into the compound. The same routine was repeated on the following day and again two children were released. This was repeated about ten times in all, ensuring freedom for some twenty children. There followed a pause in these cycles of broadcast and release.

All through this initial period of time it was clear to the negotiators that Koresh’s interest was the conversion of those he dealt with. Those who spoke with his representatives were often subjected to long harangues on his theory of religion. Perhaps he felt he was having some success because on one day he offered to surrender if one more of his tapes were broadcast. The day following, instead of surrendering, he told those outside that he had to wait before making a decision. The surrender offer was never repeated. Instead, he showed intense interest in news of a very bright star that had been seen, but afterward concluded that it was not the right sign.

Specialists who examined the letters he sent out from time to time concluded that he was a religious fanatic with delusions of grandeur, imaging himself as the third person of the trinity along with Jesus and God, he being the prophet through whom God speaks. Koresh was charismatic and manipulative, able to hold people within the compound even if they had opportunity to leave. His statements contradicted what was heard from many in the compound, namely that a suicide pact was in place. If violence came from outside and they were unable to repel it, they would blow everything up as a demonstration of Koresh’s apocalyptic theology, the inevitable clash between the good ones within and the devils without.

The compound was stocked with a year’s supply of food and any requests for additional things like milk were met. The problem confronting the federal authorities was how to end the standoff. After fifty days of recurring episodes of cat and mouse operations, concessions followed by withdrawals, the basic situation was unchanged. Koresh was defying a federal arrest warrant and he had to be taken into custody. How could it be done without causing a repeat of the deaths that accompanied the visit of the ATF men? An indefinite siege was just not realistic. It would make a mockery of law and order and it would give Koresh exactly what he wanted, extended national publicity.

It was decided to pump tear gas into the building and force people out whether or not they felt free to leave. At the same time, bulldozers were to approach the building and create escape holes in several places. Immediately after the federal action began, fires erupted in a few places within the building, leading quickly to a massive conflagration. A few were able to run out. Most of the people remained inside. When the premises were searched next day a substantial number of bodies were found to have bullet wounds. Many of them were children. Koresh had been shot through his forehead. The FBI concluded that the fires that destroyed the building had been set by persons within the compound.

Not everyone was satisfied with the federal conclusions about the conflagration. There were claims that the high level of military force present intimidated those in the compound and inhibited negotiations. Later, in 1993, some of the survivors sued the federal government for $700 million but lost. The case was held in a Texas court near Waco and the jury found the U.S. government not liable for the deaths. Criticism persisted in spite of that verdict and Senator Danforth of the U.S. Senate was asked to conduct a thorough review of all the actions taken. In his report he concurred with the Texas court.

As is now well known the government actions at Waco were not quickly forgotten. Terrorist behavior in Oklahoma City two years later to the day was one of the tragic outcomes. It seems there is common ground between the radical right, the armed militia who claim that their freedom is being destroyed by the requirements of the law, and the religious fanatics. These latter are the ones who claim that they do not have to obey the law because they have an alternative law in the one they call God. The answer to this kind of social unrest demands a continuing assessment both of these extremists and the government responses to their behavior.


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.