HomeCollege of Arts and SciencesContinuing the Fight Against Genocide in Bosnia

Continuing the Fight Against Genocide in Bosnia

Professor also successfully lobbies for COVID-19 vaccines for beleaguered country

During the past summer, Professor of Philosophy David Pettigrew continued his advocacy for the victims of human rights atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Balkan wars of the mid-1990s.

Pettigrew has been recommending for years that genocide denial should be criminalized and prosecuted in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a concrete step toward state-building and toward regional stabilization.

This summer, Pettigrew and others successfully lobbied for the implementation of a national law against genocide denial and the glorification of convicted war criminals.

In July, Pettigrew wrote an invited op-ed supporting the initiative for Al Jazeera Balkans that was published the same day the law was announced: https://balkans.aljazeera.net/opinions/2021/7/23/vrijeme-je-da-ohr-nametne-zakon-protiv-negiranja-genocida

Pettigrew was also part of an activist group that successfully appealed to the United States for hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 vaccines, which were in extreme short supply in Bosnia.

Indeed, the country faced a dual crisis of a lack of immediate access to vaccines and one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world. As of July 3, the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center reported that Bosnia’s mortality rate was 4.7 percent, the 8th highest rate in the world. And as of July 3, 2021, less than 4.69 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated.

Following a May letter of appeal written by Pettigrew on behalf of the Working Group for Bosnia and Herzegovina, U.S. President Joe Biden announced the donation of 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Bosnia in response to this unprecedented public health crisis.

“When I wrote the letter I did not know if it would work, but I knew I had to try something,” Pettigrew said.

On his first day in Bosnia in August, Pettigrew attended a commemoration in Foča, deep in the heart of Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb Republic). In Foča, the Muslim community was decimated, and rape had been so prevalent that the atrocities led to an historic legal judgment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia declaring rape as a crime against humanity under international humanitarian law.

All mosques in Foča were destroyed during the conflict, and survivors are not permitted to install a memorial. So there was a small commemoration on the edge of the city that Pettigrew attended. A journalist reported on his presence in Dnevni Avaz, the largest daily newspaper in Bosnia:

Immediately following the commemoration in Foča, Pettigrew traveled with journalist Aida Hadžimušić to a remote execution site where her uncle, Abdurahman Filipović, and 24 others, were murdered (his human remains have never been identified). They also viewed the concentration camp (Barutni Magacin) where he had been detained before being transported for execution. 

“I spoke about this concentration camp and execution site in all of my interviews  and speeches in Bosnia in order to raise awareness about what happened and to remember the victims. It seems even some Bosnians do not know about this camp and related atrocities,” Pettigrew said. “It is probably unknown because it is isolated and also just up the road from the hometown of Ratko Mladić (a convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal).

“A mural of Mladić welcomes visitors to the town,” he said. “ The journalist who asked me to join her had never been to the execution site or the concentration camp. I gather Bosnian Muslims have an understandable aversion to visiting the area because of the atrocities that were committed against them.”

Pettigrew has urged Bosnian leaders to designate such locations as protected national memorial sites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90TUa6IBFZY

Pettigrew also met with women’s victims’ associations in Sarajevo, Višegrad, and Srebrenica. These groups are advocating for women who were victims of rape or who lost husbands, sons, and male relatives in the genocide. He has been involved with the activists in Višegrad since 2010,  when he witnessed the exhumation of bodies in the Drina River.

He also visited the Emmaus organization in Srebrenica for whom he has been raising funds for the past four years. Emmaus provides medical, psychological, and material support for the Mothers of Srebrenica, whose husbands and sons and other male relatives were murdered in the genocide.

In late September, Pettigrew wrote an official letter to the High Representative, asking him to use his BONN powers to designate former concentration camps and other atrocity sites as protected national memorial sites in order to protect the right to the truth, the right to memorialization, to resist denial and to prevent a repetition of the atrocities. The Bosnian news media published some reports on Pettigrew’s letter (written on behalf of the Working group for Bosnia and Herzegovina):



Grupa državljana BiH i SAD-a zatražila od Schmidta da iskoristi bonske ovlasti

On September 29, David Pettigrew hosted a conversation with Bill Carter, associate professor of practice, School of Communication, Northern Arizona University, who discussed his humanitarian efforts during the siege of Sarajevo,1992-1996, his award-winning documentary film Miss Sarajevo (1995), as well as his critically acclaimed book Fools Rush In: A True Story of Love, War, and Redemption (2005). https://calendar.southernct.edu/view/event/date/20210929/event_id/17603


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