Stage 3 - Interviews Refugees

September 1995

david and faye tell their story

Related Issues:
Roy Gutman

Articles: "Serb General Seen at Killing Fields"
"Shooting of Muslim Men Tied in pairs"
"Separate Accounts Detail Killings, Harrowing Escape From Warehouse"
"Account of Women Taken"
"Bosnian Muslims Were Killed By the Truckload"
"Eyewitnesses Confirm Massacres in Bosnia"
"Bosnian Serbs Poisoned Streams To Capture Refugees, Muslims Say"


The mass executions at Srebrenica took place in July, which meant that the story was two months old. Important new stories from the region were breaking on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, recognizing the importance of Rohde's report, Faye Bowers and her boss, Foreign Editor Clay Jones, granted Rohde a two-week hiatus in September to search refugee camps for families of the victims and survivors of the suspected Serb mass killings.

Virtually all of the 30,000 people in the camps had suffered immeasurable hardship. Some had been driven from their homes at gunpoint, others raped or subjected to physical abuse. Most had been stripped of their possessions. Many refugees had witnessed the execution of their loved ones. Others only knew their relatives were missing. Although they lacked the medical personnel to diagnose it, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was common among refugees. The refugees seethed with hatred for the Serbs.

All of these factors complicated their reliability as sources.

Roy Gutman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of refugees in the former Yugoslavia explains, "Modern conflict is not between armies anymore. It's militaries against civilians." The Muslims had been ruled by authoritarian regimes for centuries. So, as David Rohde wrote, "Exaggeration and manipulation of the facts [were] well-accepted tools for survival and propaganda [was] the norm." Objective accounts of war crimes were hard to come by.

After conducting hundreds of interviews (with the help of his translator), Rohde managed to find nine survivors whose stories of the executions of scores of Muslims he trusted. He had to gain their trust before they would talk. Some had never spoken to a journalist before. Each independently verified details that corroborated what he had seen or been told by others. Rohde spent hours with each survivor asking them the same questions repeatedly to be sure their stories were true. Even though he was keenly aware of the hardships that the refugees and survivors suffered, Rohde refused categorically to give gifts or to pay sources. He wanted absolutely nothing to taint the story.