Wednesday November 22, 2017

'This story is not over,' Bosnian genocide survivor says of Ratko Mladic's conviction

Hasan Nuhanovic is a survivor of the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war.

Hasan Nuhanovic is a survivor of the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war. (Vincent Jannik/AFP/Getty Images)

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When Hasan Nuhanovic learned that Gen. Ratko Mladic had been convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed during Bosnia's 1992-1995 war, he thought about his family.

"I remembered my brother, who was only 20 years old when he was killed, and my parents," Nuhanovic told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"If my father had survived the Srebrenica genocide, he would have been the same age as Mladic now."

Mladic, 75, was found guilty of commanding forces responsible for the worst atrocities of the war — the deadly three-year siege of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, and the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern enclave of Srebrenica.

It was in that massacre that Nuhanovic lost his family.

Netherland Srebrenica

An undated family photo from the private album of Hasan Nuhanovic shows his father Ibro, mother Nasiha and brother Muhamed. (Associated Press)

They had arrived in Srebrenica three years prior, in 1992, fleeing violence in their hometown of Vlasenica.

"There was no other place that we could go," Nuhanovic said.

"When we ended up there, our life was extremely difficult because there was no electricity, no running water, no food, no money and we were totally cut off from the rest of the world."

Canadians came and went 

All that changed one day in April 1993, when the town was declared a United Nations safe area.

"The shooting and the shelling and the bombardment stopped. All of a sudden, it all stopped. And you know what was the next thing that I saw with my eyes?" he said.

"It was 200 Canadian peacekeepers with blue helmets. ... Many people cried when they saw the Canadians. Finally the world thinks about us."

MLADIC

Ratko Mladic jokes with Canadian UN peacekeeper near the eastern Bosnian town of Zepa on July 29, 1995. (Reuters)

But the worst was yet to come.

A Canadian officer overheard Nuhanovic asking for a cigarette in English one day, and encouraged him to sign on as a UN translator. 

Nuhanovic didn't understand the language as much as he let on, but he signed up anyway. He continued in this role when the Dutch took over from the Canadians a year later. 

He was in a UN-protected compound when the Bosnian Serb Army entered Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, and started separating Muslim men and boys over 13 from the rest of the population.

The people expected the Dutch Peacekeepers to protect them, but the UN was only authorized to use lethal force in self-defence.

'The UN ID card saved my life'

"The Dutch ordered refugees to leave ... and they asked me, as a UN translator, to translate the words. I translated the words to thousands of people inside this big factory," he said.

"And then, hours later they came even to the room where my family was. ... They told me, 'Tell your parents and your brother to leave now.'"

He did as they asked.

"My family walked out. The Serbs were waiting at the gate together with the Dutch and every man and boy who walked through the gate was separated and taken away and later killed. And in this case, my mother was killed too," he said.

"I lost my family. And I was allowed to remain inside the UN compound only because I had this UN ID card. The UN ID card saved my life."

APTOPIX Bosnia Mladic War Crimes

A Bosnian woman raises her arms upon hearing the sentence at the end of former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic's trial. (Amel Emric/Associated Press)

It's estimated that 8,372 men and boys were shot dead in that massacre, Europe's worst mass killing since the Second World War.

Their bodies were buried in mass graves, their remains dug up and moved multiple times by Serbs looking to cover their tracks as war crimes investigations loomed. 

It took 15 years for Nuhanovic to find and bury his mother, father and brother.

'This story is not over'

The guilty verdict has caused mixed reactions in Serbia, which is seeking European Union membership, but where nationalism remains strong years after the conflict.

The hearing at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal was aired live on state television Wednesday in the Balkan country, where many consider Mladic a hero.

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Mladic gives a thumbs up as he appears at The Hague on Wednesday. (Michel Porro/Getty Images)

Nationalists blasted the guilty verdict and life sentence of Mladic. But Serbian liberals hailed the judgment, urging the nation to face its role in the conflict that left 100,000 people dead and millions homeless.

Serbia's pro-government Pink television, a widely viewed commercial broadcaster, described the Mladic verdict as "shameful" and anti-Serb.

Nuhanovic is pleased about Mladic being brought to justice, but worried about the future of the region. 

"The survivors of the Srebrenica genocide, are they going to have a country where they're going to live in?" he said. "This story is not over."

— With files from Associated Press