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Berne/Bolzano/Göttingen/London/Sarajevo/Srebrenica/Vienna/New York, July 2012
VICTIMS OF GENOCIDE CLAIM THE RIGHT TO REMEMBRANCE
Dear Mr Mittal,
During the 1992-1995 Bosnian War the iron ore mine at Omarska was the location of a concentration camp where the most terrible human rights violations, including torture, rape and murder, were inflicted on the non-Serb population of the municipality of Prijedor. Some time after the war ended, in 2004 the mine was purchased and reopened by your company.
After discussions with organisations representing survivors who were campaigning for a memorial at Omarska, in January 2005 your corporation's directors promised that Mittal Steel would not seek to bring some of the buildings back into use, among them the infamous "White House" which had served as the camp's main torture facility, ) and gave its guarantee that survivors and their relatives would be allowed permanent access to those buildings. In December 2005 Mittal Steel also promised to pay for the construction of a memorial on its property.
Regrettably, you have failed to honour those promises. Bowing to the wishes of the Serb authorities and the views of the Prijedor's Serb Mayor Marko Pavić, a man who denies that anything ever happened at Omarska (or at the two associated camps of Keraterm and Trnopolje) and maintains that the camps were merely transit facilities and interrogation centres, work on the planned construction of the memorial came to a halt in February 2006 - "temporarily" it was claimed. Now your company has decided to deny survivors any access to the mine premises, on grounds of alleged "safety concerns". It remains doubtful whether they will even be allowed to visit the former camp for a ceremony on 6 August 2012 marking the 20th anniversary of its closure.
In the summer of 1992 the Omarska iron ore mine near Prijedor in northwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina was used by Bosnian Serb nationalists as a detention centre where between 3000 and 5000 defenceless non-Serbs - Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Bosnian Croats - were imprisoned and tortured. More than one thousand were murdered. The aim was to eliminate the non-Serb leaders of Prijedor's multiethnic local community. In May 1992 Bosnian Serb nationalists began arresting political leaders, members of the judiciary, local government officials, academics and other intellectuals, religious leaders, members of the local business community and artists and brought them to Omarska, where they were held in appalling conditions and subjected to unspeakable atrocities. In August 1992, after images and film of the concentration camp were published by a group of British and American journalists, international public pressure forced the camp to close. The reports from Omarska aroused grim memories of the Nazi concentration camps.
The allegations of torture, murder and rape of detainees at Omarska and the other Prijedor camps were investigated by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague and confirmed. To date 15 Serbs from the municipality of Prijedor have been convicted of crimes against humanity.
The mine is thought still to contain mass graves where the remains of hundreds of prisoners murdered in the camp were concealed by members of the Bosnian Serb police and soldiers of the Yugoslav People's Army. To date 145 individual and mass graves containing the remains of victims of Omarska have been located and exhumed.
Whern ArcelorMittal denies the victims of genocide a commemorative memorial, the company is depriving them of them their right to remembrance of the horrific crimes that were perpetrated during the Bosnian war. It is effectively seeking to bury the past. This is unacceptable, particularly when the company concerned is the same powerful and wealthy multinational corporation that has commissioned a landmark monument for the Olympic Games in London as a symbol of corporate responsibility and publicises its commitment to a policy of respect for human rights, sensitivity to the culture of the local communities in which it operates and appreciation of their standards and values.
We urge you and your fellow members of the ArcelorMittal Board of Directors to keep your promise to create a memorial for the survivors and their families in remembrance of the victims of Omarska, not simply as a commemoration of the past but equally to serve as a beacon of awareness for future generations.
Memorials are a signal of determination to come to terms with the legacy of human rights violations on a massive scale. Acknowledgment of the truth of what happened and the fate of the victims are a necessary precondition for a shared understanding of history. This is the only way in which the present can come to terms with the past, and it is the only way in which reconciliation and and the basis of enduring coexistence in Bosnia be achieved. As a reminder and a warning of the terrible atrocities that become possible in time of war, the proposed memorial at Omarska represents an investment in peace and stability. We urge you to demonstrate the substance of your commitment to corporate responsibility and your enduring respect for human rights. Show us, by keeping your promise to create an Omarska Camp Memorial, that your word is indeed your bond.
Society for Threatened Peoples / Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker
co-chair, Jews Against Genocide