17 April 1996

Press Briefing



At a press conference today at Headquarters, sponsored by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), the Director of the Museum of Genocide Victims in Belgrade, Milan Bulajic, said the roots of the crime of genocide had not been totally destroyed and were, therefore, causing its repetition. He drew attention to the Croatian Ustashi death camps of Jasenovac from the Second World War, and he appealed to the United Nations to support the Museum's search for recognition and truth.

Mr. Bulajic was introduced by Bratislav Djordjevic of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) as a specialist in international criminal and humanitarian law, who had served as legal adviser of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the former Yugoslavia. During a recent tour in the United States, he gave several lectures on the concentration camps of Jasenovac, in an attempt to establish historical truth about what had happened there, and to analyse criminal behaviour during the recent conflict in the territories of the former Yugoslavia.

Mr. Bulajic said that the death camp of Jasenovac was the only concentration camp in occupied Europe during the Second World War that was not commemorated in 1995 for the fiftieth anniversary of the defeat of Fascism. Jasenovac, he continued, was the most brutal system of death camps, covering an area of 150 square miles and in operation from 21 August 1941 to 22 April 1945. Nobody knows the exact number of victims. According to the President of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, only 20,000 victims perished. However, according to the Serbian Orthodox Church, at least 700,000 people died. Mr. Bulajic added that there was no evidence in history of another place where more children were killed in a four-year period. According to the Museum of Genocide, 19,554 children between the ages of one day and fourteen years perished there. The Museum had documented these figures with first and last names.

The capital city of Belgrade was liberated on 20 October 1944, but the death camp of Jasenovac continued to 22 April 1945, he said. Of 1,000 prisoners that remained at the end, less than 100 survived. After the break- up of the former Yugoslavia, the Jasenovac memorial complex was divided between the Republics of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 1 May 1995, Croatian soldiers once again desecrated Jasenovac memorial ground, and the crime of genocide against Serbs was committed once more. His Government followed up with an official memorandum to the United Nations, but no action was taken -- not even a public condemnation.

Mr. Bulajic said that the truth about the genocide committed against Serbs after the Second World War was kept hidden. The Jasenovac death camp was not even recorded by the United Nations War Crimes Commission. The Archives of the International Red Cross in Geneva contained only a single reference to the death camp of Jasenovac, referring to it as a friendly refugee camp, staffed with doctors and even cooks in white. The leader of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, in an address at the beginning of 1996, proposed that the memorial ground "of the martyrs of the fascists' terror, Jasenovac, becomes a memorial ground of all the Croatian martyrs of the war -- especially those martyrs of the war in the homeland". Mr. Bulajic said the statement had been met with protest by some American congressmen and press, as well as by the Holocaust Memorial Museum in the United States.

In order to understand the meaning of the Jasenovac crimes of genocide, and to establish the truth about the death camp there, Mr. Bulajic asked for a United Nations fact-finding mission on the basis of the General Assembly resolution of December 1991 on the subject. He also called upon the European Parliament to create an international commission of experts on the basis of its resolution of 10 February 1993. He asked that such a commission determine the victims, by name, to end the "terrible bargaining" around the number, from 20,000 to 700,000, which he called a crime in itself. Such a project required help and expertise, such as an international commission could provide.

Finally, Mr. Bulajic issued a warning concerning the number of victims between 1991 and 1996 in the former Republic of Yugoslavia, saying that a separate census by President Tudjman for Croatia should be forbidden. A census must be done under strict control and under the auspices of the United Nations. Measures should be taken to reconstruct the death camp of Jasenovac on the basis of existing foundations and photographs from 1945. Such a system should be placed under international protection, specifically on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) list of "World Heritage", along with the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. His Government had already requested that UNESCO place the Jasenovac Memorial Grounds under international protection.

When asked by a correspondent how the United Nations should approach the task of preventing genocide, Mr. Bulajic said the Organization did not do what it was supposed to do -- establish the truth. He reiterated his shock that the death camp was not on the United Nations' War Commission register.

Asked whether anyone was trying to establish the names of elders who perished at Jasenovac, he said it had not been done when Yugoslavia was negotiating war damages with Germany, but the Museum had established 597,000 adult victims.

In a follow-up question, the correspondent asked whether there was legal ground to call the former Yugoslavia to task for its actions in the Second

Yugoslavia Press Conference - 3 - 17 April 1996

World War. Mr. Bulaji said that Croatia had been a Nazi satellite State, and he, therefore, believed that from the perspective of international law, it did not exist. He said again that the reason genocide was repeated was because the roots of the crimes had not been eliminated. It was absolutely necessary, he added, for the world community to analyse the roots of genocide in the context of what was happening today.

When asked whether he supported the current war crimes Tribunal, he said he was not convinced that it had, as its aim, the prevention of genocide. The limited jurisdiction of international criminal courts went against the basic rules of contemporary international law.

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For information media. Not an official record.