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What is a victim of terrorism?
Written by (Eduardo Mackenzie)   
, 21 2011

     ""  " " Today's society has a great moral and legal responsibility to remember victims of terrorism. Theyears that these people spent in the fight against terrorism, as well as the radicalism that leads to terrorism, and their work on the consequences of terrorism, have benefited society, which, today more than ever, is subject to these cruel and barbarous terrorist attacks.

What does it mean to be a victim of terrorism? Inthe world there are states that cannot answer this question and do not wish to answer it. Anneta Gadiyeva is a survivor of the terrible events in Beslan, in North Ossetia, Russia, where on September 3rd, 2004, thirty-two armed militants seized a school. Gadiyeva's speech to the 450participants of the VIIInternational Congress on Victims of Terrorism was one of the most heartbreaking ever. InBeslan, she lost Melina, her one year-old daughter. TheRussian government does not consider these people victims of terrorism, and does not provide them any assistance. Moscow does not know what might be a victim of terrorism.

Another victim of a terrorist attack in Russia is Irina Halay, who also was in Paris. OnSeptember 16th, 1999, a vehicle loaded with explosives blew up next to an apartment building in Volgodonsk. Halay reiterated Gadiyeva's speech: no one listens to the victims of terrorism in Russia. Theyfeel alone, and forgotten. Noone shows them any sympathy, and even wounded children are not provided specialized medical care. Theyare not considered victims, but simply injured persons.

The Russian government failed to learn its lessons from events in Beslan and does not know how to prevent similar tragedies in the future. “The terrorists barricaded us in the gym,” said Gadiyeva. “There were 1,127 of us, mostly teenagers and children. Theytreated us like animals. During those infinitely long 53hours we were given no food or water. Thechildren drank their own urine, and the heat was unbearable. Someof the hostages were tortured. Those who tried to escape were shot in the back. Iasked that they let me leave with my baby, but they wouldn't allow it.” In the end, there was an appalling military assault that left more than 700wounded and 370dead, 186of which were children. Manybodies were never identified.

Despite their hatred of the terrorists and their wild anger against the irresponsible and unduly harsh actions of the authorities, the survivors have chosen to go to court, explained Anneta and Irina. Thevictims demand a new investigation, as there are simply too many questions. Forexample: how did terrorists on the most-wanted list, and many already arrested and convicted, remain at liberty to do their heinous acts in Beslan? Howwere they able to obtain weapons and explosives and enter the school? Howwas it possible for terrorists to plant bombs in several apartment buildings during the 1999series of terrorist attacks? Victims of these terrorist attacks are still in the dark, but what is worse is that no one wants to listen to them. Thefear of listening to victims of terrorism, the fear of learning the truth from them, is very great in the Russia of Putin and Medvedev. Theonly support the victims receive is from the international community. Victims of other terrorist attacks in Russia find themselves in the same situation, yet they continue to hope that one day they will receive the status of victims of terrorism.

Israel, a country which since its founding has lived in a perpetual state of war, is the exact opposite of Russia: its legislation regarding the protection of victims of terrorism is one of the most advanced in the world. Inthat country such people are acknowledged and supported by both the government and society, just like each and every injured soldier. Thepresident of One Family Fund, Oriella Bliah, explained that Israel pays for the needs of victims of terrorist attacks that occur there, regardless of nationality of the victims even tourists (are compensated). Children orphaned as a result of terrorist attacks receive support and education from the State. Israel even pays other large expenditures for survivors of terrorist acts, such as weddings.

The reaction of the Spanish public and its civil institutions after the bombings that took place in Madrid on March 11th, 2004, are an example to the world. Esther Sáez was inside one of four train cars that were blown up. Shewas seriously injured, but survived thanks to timely medical assistance, though the process of physical and mental recovery was long. Oneof the questions remaining to torment her was regarding the official investigation. “It is still not known who planted the bombs and who planned it all. Thetrains and other evidence were destroyed,” she said. Twoother speakers were Juan de Dios Davila, whose brother was killed in an ETA terrorist attack in Madrid on June 21st, 1993, and Begonia Garcia de Vicuna Elorsa, whose son was killed in an ETA terrorist attack in Vitoria on February 22nd, 2000. Theyraised concerns shared by other Spanish participants in the Congress: the political branch of ETA has returned to power by virtue of an illegal decision by the Constitutional Court of Spain, which in May of 2011allowed the extremist coalition Bild to take part in local elections in the Basque regions of Spain. Asa result, the extremists received a significant number of seats in the local government. TheSpanish Supreme Court later banned Bild, considering the coalition to be a reincarnation of the Batasuna political group, which supports the ETA and had been previously banned. TheZapatero government, however, was in favor of legalizing Bild. Bild's gains in elections in parts of the Basque region leaves local victims of ETA terror now living in constantfear.

Three victims of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City also spoke before the Congress. Theyreported that assistance to victims of the attacks was provided very quickly, though not without problems regarding medical care, particularly for rescuers who were injured or came down with illnesses as a result of their work. Nancy Aronson, who lost a relative as a result of the terror attacks in New York City, spoke on the necessity of creating an association of terrorism victims, and noted that it is not always possible to get the attention of the official commission investigating September 11th.

French attorney Isabelle Teste indicated that France recognizes the status of victims of terrorism and initiates criminal proceedings after every terrorist attack. Victims may be personally involved in the process, but they can refuse “if the hearings are unbearable for victims of the terror attacks or they have to face the organizers of the (terrorist attacks).” Teste recalled that “there are funds to assist all victims of terrorism, and they cannot refuse to allow compensation.”

The crowd was shocked by a case involving a French Moslem family: Zakiya Bonnet, along with her husband and 15-year-old son, made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Ona road near Medina in Saudi Arabia, terrorists attacked them. Zakiya's husband died on the scene. Herson was shot four times, but died six hours later in front of his mother after being denied care at the hospital. Inresponse to her request for assistance, Saudi authorities demanded that Bonnet leave the country within 36hours, since officially there are no terrorists or terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia.

Rounding up the Congress's work were three speeches: Carlos Blanco Divari of the Supreme Court of Spain, French human rights advocate Dominic Bodi, and French Ambassador for Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Francois Ziemer. Sixteen terrorism victims afterward read a paragraph from the Manifesto of the Victims of Terrorism, in fifteen different languages.

The results of the Congress were impressive: 450gathered in Paris to hear 35victims of terrorism from 35countries who had been affected by 27terrorist attacks around the world, occurring between 19562011.

In the final speech, Carlos Blanco Divari perfectly summed up the mood of the Congress and the fundamental ideas expressed during the course of its work: “Terrorism is an evil in its very essence. Itis necessary to fight it until its destruction. Anyalliance or collusion with terrorists must be condemned. Nolegitimate state can exist if it its mechanisms to combat terrorism do not work, and this struggle must be based on the principles of universal morality and ethics.

“Justice is awarded to each according to what he deserves. Theterrorist should be punished and imprisoned for the good of society. Victims of terrorism also require justice, and they should receive recognition and support, both moral and material. Victims of terrorist acts shouldunite.

“Today's society has a great moral and legal responsibility to remember victims of terrorism. Theyears that these people spent in the fight against terrorism, as well as the radicalism that leads to terrorism, and their work on the consequences of terrorism, have benefited society, which, today more than ever, is subject to these cruel and barbarous terrorist attacks. Wecannot allow criminals and murderers to escape punishment or receive acquittal. Toallow this would be a mistake, one which in itself denies human existence.”

By Eduardo Mackenzie
September 21st, 2011


Original publication: ¿Qué es una víctima del terrorismo?

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