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Genocide and Journalism

By Scott Kurtz

November 27, 2007

In 1992, violence broke out in Bosnia that would eventually lead to the reemergence of genocide in Europe.

Serbian ultranationalist forces committed massive human rights violations against the country’s Muslim and Croatian population. Thousands were tortured and slaughtered, and many more could have died had it not been for one man’s efforts to bring the bloodshed to the world’s attention.

That  man was Ed Vulliamy, a journalist. Travelling to Bosnia as a correspondent with the British newspaper, “The Observer,” he arrived at the Bosnian city of Prijedor on Aug. 5, 1992. Soon after his arrival, Vulliamy witnessed the barbarity of the Bosnian genocide when he came upon the concentration camp at Omarska.

Since that day, Vulliamy began a campaign for the victims of the genocide against its perpetrators and masterminds—his weapon of choice being the printed word, along with verbal testimony at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Fifteen years later, Vulliamy is still fighting for the genocide victims, with no intention of giving up until justice and reconciliation have been fully achieved.

Vulliamy gave the keynote address at the opening of the exhibit, “Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide” at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center on Nov. 25, thanking the University for its part in the creation of the exhibit and for its dedicated involvement.

Two days later, Vulliamy came to the University to dine with honors students who helped with the exhibit. After dinner, he delivered a speech to University guests, student, and faculty in the Lewis Room of the Library.

Vulliamy received an introduction from Jack Luzkow, chairman of the History, Philosophy and Religion Department, instructed and guided honors students along with English and Communications Department Chairman Ben Moore. In his introduction, Luzkow spoke to the importance of Vulliamy’s contribution.

“Ed Vulliamy says he is an ordinary man, but truthfully, he is a remarkable man because of his extraordinary work in going above and beyond the calls of normal journalism,” Luzkow said.

Luzkow then addressed Vulliamy’s work during and after the war, including his eyewitness testimony at the International Criminal Tribunal concerning the unlawful imprisonment, rape, torture and murder of innocent civilians.

Vulliamy’s written accounts and testimony helped bring an end to the “inferno of slaughter and cruelty” that was Omarska’s concentration camp, Luzkow added.

“In a small way, Ed Vulliamy was able to give a voice to those who were denied their voices throughout the genocide and…during the trials,” said Luzkow.

As Vulliamy’s speech began, he thanked Moore and Luzkow before delivering special thanks to the students: “You students may not realize how important your work really is to all those who suffered throughout this,” he said. “To 50,000 in St. Louis, and many more overseas, you students have made yourselves part of a world called Prijedor. By helping build this exhibit in the Holocaust Museum, you contribute to a legacy of reminding people.”

Vulliamy explained how he, through a woman named Azra, found out about the violence in Prijedor. Village officials tried to keep him out of Omarska at first, but when he finally made it in, he saw “only a little” of the brutality of the camp. It was through Vulliamy’s efforts that the camp was finally shut down in Aug. 1992.

After the war ended in 1995, he went back to help find the missing and fight for the Bosnians who were expelled from their country and homes. Later, Vulliamy and others were called upon to testify. Reporters were split on the issue of neutrality—one refused to give testimony saying that reporters testifying put other reporters in danger.

But Vulliamy defended his decision to testify by declaring that objectivity and neutrality are not the same thing, and he felt a moral obligation to give testimony to what he saw.

As he started bringing his speech to a close, Vulliamy asked the people of Bosnia to make peace and forgive those who were behind the genocide so that healing could begin, but he emphasized that the former Yugoslavia must first admit and recognize what happened.

Vulliamy ended with a commentary on the resilience of the Bosnian people, and received a standing ovation before opening the floor to questions.

Afterwards, Vulliamy took time to speak with University guests, mainly members of the Bosnian community in St. Louis, and even took time to sign a few copies of his book for some attendees. But as he was leaving, Vulliamy had one last message.

 “I hope that the students realize the significance of what they’ve done and how important it is to the Bosnian community. I hope this has a big impact, especially on the children of the survivors –and to them, I say this: don’t forget who you are.” 

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