“Now, to this day, you can see the effects that the war has had on the society. You see people with that kind of vacant look; that vacant look in people’s eyes.”
Aonghus Kelly, who is from Galway on the west coast of Ireland, has been working as a lawyer investigating and prosecuting war criminals in the Balkans, most notably Bosnia, for five and a half years. The Bosnian war, between the three main ethnic groups, the Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks, lasted for over three years, ending in 1995. It involved the first case of genocide in Europe since World War II, during a conflict that killed over 100,000 people.
Aonghus says he has vivid memories from his time in Bosnia that will be forever etched in his mind:
“I remember one of my colleagues and I went back to the basement of a school where hundreds, if not over a thousand, Bosnian Muslim men and boys had been kept, and there was still blood on the walls, and we found pieces of chord which had been used to tie these men’s hands while they were kept there.”
Before moving to Bosnia, Aonghus worked with a law firm in Birmingham in the UK, specialising in public interest law. He acted in a number of cases involving Palestine and Iraq and his work mostly involved representing a group of Iraqis who had been tortured by the British Army in Basra in 2003. Aonghus says: “Man’s inhumanity to man was always there nagging at me in my daily work. The creation of the ‘other’, a story to mask the treatment of other human beings, was there among those soldiers in Iraq.”
This feeling led Aonghus to move to Sarajevo, which he describes as “the mountain capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina”. He found a job in the State Prosecutors Office as a lawyer, working in a team investigating and prosecuting crimes that took place in and around Srebrenica in July 1995, five months before the war ended.
Aonghus says the divisions amongst ethnicities in Bosnia are ever more apparent today and that there’s a huge amount of poverty and corruption: “You have a country in the heart of Europe that has 3.8 million people and 13 Prime Ministers… has three presidents... three official languages and has no common curriculum for its students." Aonghus says the three ‘languages’ were the same language before the war and are still seen as the same language by linguistics, but the titles of Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian have been hijacked by the nationalist elites to serve their needs and retain power by means of fear.
According to Aonghus, there are 10,000 people still missing in Bosnia and he believes there could easily be another war there:
“You have massive unemployment, you have a complete industry of fear of creating the other side as being animals and horrible and terrible, and then you have this crazy governmental structure that serves no one, but a select group of business political elite, so where does that leave you? It can’t go on forever...”
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