Concerns about the Amnesty International Lecture 2009 and Noam Chomsky’s views on the Bosnian genocide

Bismillah. Professor Chomsky is an inspirational figure and needs no introduction.  His contribution to knowledge is vast, especially linguistics (including computational linguistics or natural language processing, a branch of AI that I’ve studied a little and am therefore very grateful to the prof.) and politics (US hegemony over Latin America, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc.).  He is often called, “the most important intellectual alive,” which might well be true if he also has strong faith in God, for intellection originally meant to know the Divine.

I was particularly inspired by his comment once that when he first campaigned against the Vietnam war, he often spoke in halls where only a handful of people turned up, sometimes just two or three, and occasionally he even had an audience of just one person.  But he and others kept going, and eventually the campaign snowballed.  We often remember this when trying to get people motivated about matters like preserving the environment or reforming our usurious banking/financial systems.

But, to adapt a traditional Islamic saying, we might say, “We love Noam Chomsky, but we love the Truth even more.”  So, here is a long message from Owen Beith, who worked with the City Circle and others in promoting the work of Hasan Nuhanovic, one of the few survivors of the Srebrenica massacre and a key eyewitness to the events there. (Nuhanovic’s book, “Under the UN Flag” is a sobering must-read.)


Hello all,

Amnesty International have failed to come up with a convincing explanation
why their invitation to Noam Chomsky to deliver the Amnesty International
Annual Lecture should not be considered an endorsement of or at least a
blind eye turned towards Chomsky’s denial of the substance of the
atrocities perpetrated in Bosnia.

Chomsky denies the reality of Ed Vulliamy’s experience of Omarska and
Trnopolje while supporting the alternative version offered by LM.  He does
not challenge Diana Johnstone’s views concerning the reality of the
Prijedor camps, the genocide at Srebrenica and the systematic use of rape
as a weapon of war in Bosnia but describes her scholarship as “outstanding”
and her work as “serious, honest”.

Ed Vulliamy has written an open letter to Amnesty in response.  I’ve
prefaced this with a background summary.  If you feel happy to publish this
at your blogs, it would hopefully remind Amnesty that sitting on the fence
over the denial of human rights abuses is not a place we should expect to
find them.  If you prefer simply to circulate this to anyone you think
would be interested please do.

All the best


[28 October 2009]

Owen Beith – Translations FR/SP/PT>EN
70 Sewardstone Road, London E2 9JG
+44 (0) 20 8981 9879
Holding the international community accountable –
“Under the UN Flag” by Hasan Nuhanovic: how the Dutch state and the United
Nations abandoned the people of Srebrenica to genocide in July 1995 –
“The UN’s Toxic Shame”: the poisoning of Roma children in lead-contaminated
refugee camps in Mitrovica (Kosovo/a) – /

2. Preface to Open Letter from Ed Vulliamy to Amnesty International

Noam Chomsky has been invited to give the annual Amnesty International Lecture in Belfast. This is the second time in four years that Chomsky has been invited to give an Amnesty International Lecture (following Dublin in 2006). To celebrate Chomsky’s forthcoming Lecture appearance Amnesty gives him a respectful and uncritical platform for his views over three pages of the latest Amnesty (UK) Magazine.

Amnesty appears oblivious to the controversies that surround some of Chomsky’s views on human rights, and in particular the support that he has offered and continues to offer to polemicists who deny the substance, scope and authorship of atrocities perpetrated during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

In recent years Chomsky has caused particular controversy through his support for the author Diana Johnstone, known for her “revisionist” views on Bosnia , in particular concerning the Prijedor concentration camps, the Srebrenica genocide and the existence of the Bosnian rape camps.  Chomsky salutes her “outstanding” scholarship and defends her “serious, honest work”.

He represents his support for Johnstone as a defence of her right to freedom of speech while at the same time he denigrates the testimony of The Guardian’s reporter Ed Vulliamy whose eyewitness account of the reality of the Omarska and Trnopolje camps forced the horror of what was happening in Bosnia onto the attention of the rest of the world and saved the lives of many of the prisoners detained in them.

Without explanation Chomsky describes Ed Vulliamy’s description of Omarska and Trnopolje he describes as “probably” wrong while endorsing the claim by Thomas Deichmann and LM magazine that Vulliamy, Penny Marshall and Ian Williams gave a false account of the situation in the Prijedor camps as “probably” correct.  Chomsky disregards the finding of a High Court libel action which – following the evidence of a doctor detained in one of the camps – confirmed that Vulliamy and his colleagues had told the truth.

When asked why Amnesty offers a platform to a man who challenges the reporting of human rights abuses that Amnesty itself substantiated and champions the seriousness and honesty of individuals who try to deny those abuses, Amnesty’s response was to observe that invitees are not representatives of Amnesty International nor expected to deliver an Amnesty International policy position within their lecture, but rather they have been invited as having something interesting and thought-provoking to say about human rights in the world today and Amnesty International does not necessarily endorse all their opinions.

When Ed Vulliamy was asked to comment on Amnesty’s invitation to Chomsky he wrote the open letter below.  The language expresses his depth of feeling, not only on his own behalf but also on behalf of the friends forced to suffer “the ghastly, searing, devastating impact” of Chomsky’s denial of their experience.

Anyone who shares these concerns can express their views for the attention of Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, at

or Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK (AIUK), at

3. Open Letter to Amnesty International

To whom it may concern:

I have been contacted by a number of people regarding Amnesty International’s invitation to Professor Noam Chomsky to lecture in Northern Ireland, a place he knows as little about as most others.

The communications I have received regard Prof. Chomsky’s role in revisionism in the story of the concentration camps in Northwestern Bosnia in 1992, which it was my accursed honor to discover.

As everyone interested knows, a campaign was mounted to try and de-bunk the story of these murderous camps as a fake – ergo, to deny and/or justify them – the dichotomy between these position still puzzles me.

The horror of what happened at Omarska and Trnopolje has been borne out by painful history, innumerable trials at the Hague, and “most importantly by far” searing testimony by the survivors and the bereaved. These were places of extermination, torture, killing, rape and, literally “concentration” prior to enforced deportation, of people purely on grounds of race.

Prof. Chomsky was not among those  (“Novo” of Germany and “Living Marxism” in the UK) who first proposed the idea that these camps were a fake. He was not among those who tried unsuccessfully (they were beaten back in the High Court in London, by a libel case taken by ITN) to put up grotesque arguments about fences around the camps, which were rather like Ferdnand Leuchter’s questioning as to whether the thermal capacity of bricks were enough to contain the heat needed to gas Jews at Auschwitz.  But Professor Chomsky said many things, from his ivory tower at MIT, to spur them on and give them credibility and energy to spread their poisonous perversion and denials of these sufferings.  To use the analogy of Holocaust denial, he was more David Irving than Leuchter – the man with acadamic pretentions, doing it all from a distance, and giving the  revisionists his blessing. And the revisionists reveled in his endorsement. In an interview with the Guardian, Professor Chomsky paid me the kind compliment of calling me a good journalist, but added that on this occasion (the camps) I had “got it wrong”.

Got what wrong?!?! Got wrong what we saw that day, August 5th 1992 (I didn’t see him there)? Got wrong the hundreds of thousands of families left bereaved, deported and scattered asunder? Got wrong the hundreds of testimonies I have gathered on murderous brutality? Got wrong the thousands

whom I meet when I return to the commemorations? If I am making all this up, what are all the human remains found in mass graves around the camps and so painstakingly re-assembled by the  International Commmission for Missing Persons.

These people pretend neutrality over Bosnia, but are actually apologists for the  Milosevic/Karadzic/Mladic plan, only are too pathetic to admit it. And the one thing they never consider from their armchairs, is the ghastly, searing, devastating impact of their game on the survivors and the bereaved. The pain they cause in immeasurable. This, along with the historical record, is my main concern.  It is one thing to survive the camps, to lose one’s family and friends – quite another to be told by a bunch of academics with a didactic agenda in support of the pogrom that they never existed. The LM/Novo/Chomsky argument that the story of the camps was somehow fake has been used in countless (unsuccessful) attempts to defend of mass murderers in The Hague.

For decades I have lived under the impression that Amnesty International was opposed to everything these people stand for, and to defend exactly the kind of people who lost their lives, family and friends in the camps and at Srebrenica three years later, a massacre on which Chomsky has also cast doubt. I have clearly been deluded about Amnesty. For Amnesty International, of all people, to honour this man is to tear up whatever credibility they have estimably and admirably won over the decades, and to reduce all they say hitherto to didactic nonsense.

Why Amnesty wants to identify with and endorse this revisionist obscenity, I do not know. It is baffling and grotesque. By inviting Chomsky to give this lecture, Amnesty condemns itself to ridicule at best, hurtful malice at worst – Amnesty joins the revisionists in spitting on the graves of the dead.  Which was not what the organisation was, as I understand, set up for.  I have received a letter from an Amnesty official in Northern Ireland which reads rather like a letter from Tony Blair’s office after it has been caught out cosying up to British Aerospace or lying over the war in Iraq – it is a piece of corporate gobbledygook, distancing Amnesty from Chomsky’s views on Bosnia, or mealy-mouthedly conceding that they are disagreed with.

There is no concern at all with the victims, which is I supposed what would one suspect from a bureaucrat. In any event, the letter goes nowhere towards addressing the revisionism, dispelling what will no doubt be a fawning, self-satisfied introduction in Belfast and rapturous applause for the man who gives such comfort to Messrs Karadzic and Mladic, and their death squads.  How far would Amnesty go in inviting and honouring speakers whose views it does not necessarily share, in the miserable logic of this AI official in Belfast?  A lecture by David Irving on Joseph Goebbels?

Alistair Campbell on how Saddam really did have those WMD? The Chilean Secret Police or Colonel Oliver North on the communist threat in Latin and Central America during the 70s and 80s?  What about Karadzic himself on the “Jihadi” threat in Bosnia, and the succulence of 14-year-old girls kept in rape camps?

I think I am still a member of AI – if so, I resign. If not, thank God for that. And to think: I recently came close to taking a full time job as media director for AI. That was a close shave – what would I be writing now, in the press release: “Come and hear the great (and highly paid) Professor Chomsky inform you all that the stories about the camps in Bosnia were a lie – that I was hallucinating that day, that the skeletons of the dead so meticulously re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons are all  plastic? That the dear friends I have in Bosnia, the USA, the UK and elsewhere whose lives were broken by Omarska and Trnopolje but which they now try and put together again are making it all up.

Some Press Release that would have been. Along with the owner of the site of the Omarska camp, the mighty Mittal Steel corporation, Amnesty International would have crushed it pretty quick.  How fitting that Chomsky and Mittal Steel find common cause. Yet how logical, and to me, obvious.  After all, during the Bosnian war, it was the British Foreign Office, the CIA, the UN and great powers which, like the revisionists whose champion Chomsky is, most eagerly opposed any attempt to stop the genocide that lasted, as was encouraged by them and their allies in high politics, to last, for three bloody years from 1992 until the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.

Yours, in disgust and despair,

Ed Vulliamy,

The Observer.

4. On the heels of its announcement of the Chomsky lecture Amnesty published a report on the ongoing search for justice by the victims of rape in Bosnia.

Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe Programme Director, acknowledges that “During the war, thousands of women and girls were raped, often with extreme brutality. Many were held in prison camps, hotels and private houses where they were sexually exploited. Many women and girls were killed.

To this day, survivors of these crimes have been denied access to justice. Those responsible for their suffering – members of military forces, the police or paramilitary groups – walk free. Some remain in positions of power or live in the same community as their victims.”

Alisa Muratcaus of the Association of Concentration Camp Torture Survivors, Canton Sarajevo, insists that people who deny that the mass rape of Bosnian women was a strategic element of the war are talking “nonsense”.  Her Association, composed of Muslim, Croat, Serb, and Romani members, many of them victims in camps and prisons throughout Bosnia of atrocities including rape and other forms of sexual torture, works closely with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague which has established beyond doubt that rape was used in Bosnia as a weapon of war.

5.  Message from Daniel of the “Srebrenica Genocide” website:

There is a growing build of genocide denial and leftist-apologist garbage on the internet.
We need some kind of media web site that will publish counter arguments in widely read sources, such as Google News. I will start building up such a web site and hope to finish it in about 2 weeks.  The attack on the truth and memory is getting out of hand. We need to stand up with Ed and we need to stick together to defend unquestionable truth and memory of genocide and concentration camps in Bosnia. I ask you to send me your ideas what type of web site would you be interested in. This takes a long time to build, but I am willing to do several suicide shifts to get this thing working. Let’s call this project “a counter-response.” Thank you Ed for the letter, but this time we need to strike deniers where it hurts the most. Please send me your suggestions.

6. Related links, etc. – by Owen Beith

Anyone circulating the message about Chomsky’s invitation and Ed’s open letter to Amnesty couldn’t do better
than to accompany them with a link to all the wealth of Balkan Witness’s material dealing with the activities of the denial lobby.

Roger of “Balkan Witness” has given links to two specific pages: and

The following links within those pages provide information that’s
particularly relevant to Chomsky’s reluctance to acknowledge the reality of
Prijedor and Srebrenica and his wilful challenging of Ed’s veracity. and

It is difficult to believe that anyone in the UK with the slightest
awareness of the unremitting campaign to distort the reality of the human
rights violations that took place in Bosnia would be unaware of this
controversy, let alone Amnesty International.

If Amnesty really are as incapable of referring back to their own
experience as they seem,  they couldn’t find a better place than Balkan
Witness to start reacquainting themselves with the subject.

Thanks for all the invaluable work, Roger.  And also a thank you to Dan for
all his relentless and unstinting work refuting the campaign of
misinformation pursued by by deniers and apologists, including members of
Karadzic’s defence team.

7. Open letter from Tilman Zülch to Noam Chomsky and Amnesty International (AI)

On the occasion of the Annual Amnesty International Lecture being given today, Friday, in Belfast

Göttingen/Belfast, 30 October 2009

You are a genocide denier, Professor Chomsky!

Dear Professor Chomsky,
Dear Friends of Amnesty International,

Once again you find yourself invited to appear in a public forum, this time in Belfast. In the past, Belfast was a city with a long-standing reputation for discrimination against the Catholic population, but today those of us who are familiar with the city’s past history of conflict, crime and disorder are pleased and relieved that the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland have finally emerged from a long dark tunnel.

The focus of our human rights organisation’s work is the support that we give to minority groups who have been the victims of genocide and dispossession. The two guiding principles inspiring us are that firstly we work with the people “Von denen keiner spricht” – the people no-one talks about, and secondly we are “Auf keinem Auge blind” – never turning a blind eye.  We believe that “persecution, extermination and expulsion, the establishment of concentration camps and rape camps are always and everywhere crimes, now just as they were in the past.  Irrespective of which government is responsible and on which continent and in which country those crimes are being perpetrated. The legacy bequeathed to us by all the victims of yesterday is an obligation to come to the assistance of the victims of today”.

You, Professor Chomsky, choose to ignore those precepts.  You call genocide when it suits your ideological purposes.  Who could condone the murkier aspects of American foreign policy or fail to condemn the way that policy has supported and encouraged crimes against humanity? But you express your criticism of the crimes of the recent past in a perverse way, that makes genocide the almost exclusive prerogative of organisations with close links to the US. It is only then that you consider it to be genocide.  And it is only your political/ideological friends who are apparently incapable of committing genocide.

That was the situation in Cambodia.  While the international press was reporting how the genocide of the Khmer Rouge had eliminated one in every three or four of that country’s inhabitants, you were laying the blame for those crimes at the door of the US.  That was shameful and in any reasonable person stirred memories of Holocaust denial elsewhere in the world.

In the same way you have denied the genocide perpetrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Serb forces who killed not only Bosnian Muslims but along with them Bosnian Serbs and Croats as well who had chosen to remain alongside them, in the besieged city of Sarajevo for example.

To deny the fact of genocide in Bosnia is absurd, particularly when both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague and the International Court of Justice, also in The Hague, have had no hesitation in confirming that genocide was perpetrated in Bosnia, above all at Srebrenica.

For the benefit of the apparently unpolitical and ideologically uncommitted Friends of Amnesty International we are prepared once again to provide a summary of the facts of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And we should like to remind you of them, too, Professor Chomsky, in your denial of genocide:

1. 200,000 civilians interned in over one hundred concentration, detention and rape camps.

2. Many thousands of internees murdered in concentration camps including Omarska, Manjaca, Keraterm, Trnopolje, Luka Brcko, Sušica and Foca.

3. Members of the non-Serb political and intellectual elites systematically arrested and eliminated.

4. Approximately 2.2 million Bosnians displaced, exiled and scattered to the four corners of the globe.

5. Many thousands of unrecorded deaths still missing from the official statistics, including children, the elderly and sick and wounded refugees.

6. 500,000 Bosnians in five UN so-called “safe areas” (Tuzla, Goražde, Srebrenica, Žepa, and Bihac) and other, fallen, enclaves such as Cerska besieged, starved, sniped at, shelled and many of them killed over a period of as long as four years in some cases.

7. A four year-long artillery bombardment of the sixth UN safe area, the city of Sarajevo, killing approximately 11,000, including 1500 children.

8. Massacres and mass executions in many towns and municipalities in northern, western and eastern Bosnia (the Posavina, the Prijedor area and the Podrinje).

9. Hundreds of villages and urban areas systematically destroyed.

10. The entire heritage of Islamic religious and cultural monuments, including 1189 mosques and madrassas, destroyed, and extensive destruction of Catholic religious monuments including as many as 500 churches and religious houses.

11. Remains of approximately 15,000 missing victims still to be found, exhumed and identified.

12. 284 UN soldiers taken hostage and used as human shields.

13. Over 20 thousand Bosnian Muslim women raped, in rape camps and elsewhere.

14. 8376 men and boys from the town of Srebrenica murdered and their bodies concealed in mass graves.

The history of Kosovo is familiar to people who know Southeastern Europe: in 1913, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and against the will of the Albanian majority, Kosovo was handed over to Serbia and occupied. Following the original occupation and then again in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s Yugoslavian and Serbian governments expelled the Albanians to Turkey where well over one million people of Albanian origin live today. After the gradual dismantling of Kosovo’s autonomy, proclaimed too late by Tito, Slobodan Milosevic’s army and militia killed some 10,000 Albanians and forced half the population – roughly one million people – to flee. The NATO military intervention, some specific aspects of which must certainly be condemned, halted the killing and expulsions.

Someone like yourself, Professor Chomsky, who on various occasions has shown himself unwilling to acknowledge genocide and goes so far as to deny it forfeits all credibility.  That is why we question your moral integrity and call on you to stand up before the public in Belfast and apologise for those hurtful comments of yours concerning the Cambodian, Bosnian and Kosovar victims of genocide.

Yours sincerely,

Tilman Zülch

President of the Society for Threatened Peoples International (STPI)

8. For inspiration and guidance on issues of justice, injustice, oppression and resistance in the world, I recommend reflecting upon the relevant verses from a chapter of the Koran such as “Abraham” (Ibrahim, Surah no. 14)


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4 Responses to “Concerns about the Amnesty International Lecture 2009 and Noam Chomsky’s views on the Bosnian genocide”

  1. Owen Says:

    Thank you, Usama, for your support for the efforts to secure respect for the truth about what was done to the Muslims of Bosnia, and thanks also for your support for Hasan Nuhanovic’s campaign to obtain justice for the victims of Srebrenica and their surviving families.

    • usamahasan Says:

      Dear Owen, Thank you for your heroic efforts (following that other hero, Hasan) in this regard. All I’m doing is publicising good work.

  2. Moje Brcko Says:

    Brcko distrikt – Moje, tvoje, nase Brcko

  3. Dragan Says:

    I guess anyone can makeup any number about bosna and print it.Still talking about mass graves hundreds of thousands killed,20000 raped in rape camps etc etc .Do the lies ever stop.

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