The Key to My Neighbor's House Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda

Elizabeth Neuffer




Trade Paperback

528 Pages


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From her vantage point as a reporter covering the reality of genocide and its aftermath in Bosnia and Rwanda for The Boston Globe, Elizabeth Neuffer tells the story of two parallel journeys toward justice in each country—that of the international war crime tribunals, and that of the people left behind.

By turns heartbreaking, blood-chilling, and inspiring, and including accounts from victims and perpetrators, forensic experts, and tribunal judges, three stories form the backbone of this book. We follow Hasan Nuhanovic, a young Bosnian Muslim student determined to discover the fate of his family lost at Srebrenica, as he matures over the years from a gangling youth to a man with the authority to testify before Congress in Washington, D.C. In counterpoint, we follow Witness JJ, a shy Tutsi woman of immense courage, who overcomes her modesty and the dictates of her culture to testify about her rape—an act that resulted in wartime rape being classified as a war crime. And we get a revealing inside look at the workings of the newly created international tribunals through the eyes of Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, an African American judge appointed to the court.

Neuffer's characters' stories and their competing notions of justice—from searching for the bodies of loved ones, to demanding war crime trials, to seeking bloody revenge—convinces readers that crimes against humanity cannot be resolved by simple talk of forgiveness, or through the more common recourse to forgetfulness. Only by providing justice, she argues, can lasting peace by established in regions torn by fratricidal warfare.


Praise for The Key to My Neighbor's House

"Captures the human drama at the core of the [war crimes] trials . . . Neuffer manages to convey in intimate and sometimes painful detail the trauma of [the victims'] personal ordeals and the importance of their search for justice . . . Prodigious research and excellent reporting."—The New York Times Book Review

"Elizabeth Neuffer has taken on a subject of monumental importance. Her book is filled with the poignant personal stories of ordinary people who suffered extraordinary crimes on our watch at the end of the twentieth century. Their heroic efforts to confront their tormentors and search for justice should prick our collective conscience."—Christiane Amanpour, Chief International Correspondent, CNN

"A moving, heartbreaking, and distressing look into the functions and dysfunctions of the machinery of international justice, from the perspective of the victims in whose name that machinery has been erected . . . Harrowing and intense."—The Boston Globe

"An extraordinary and deeply moving book . . . Neuffer takes us into the lives of those who sought justice . . . What Neuffer learned and what she coveys so eloquently throughout the book, is that justice—like evil itself—is often ambiguous, gray-shaded and elusive."—Newsday

"No reporter has come close to matching Neuffer's stories of genocidal killers and rapists, their victims, and the fledgling effort to see international justice prevail."—Tom Gjelten, Correspondent, National Public Radio, and author of Sarajevo Daily

"Her book is, quite simply, a compelling presentation of our best hope for the future and should be required reading for anyone interested in the ultimate triumph of good and the survival of humanity."—Mark Weitzman, Director, Task Force Against Hate at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in New York City

"It's a terrible thing to want justice. Very few besides the victims think it is necessary or cost effective. But tell that to the victims of the Balkan wars or the horrors of Rwanda; tell that to the subjects of Elizabeth Neuffer's compelling documentary in words on the quest for justice by those who think it is an essential ingredient for humanity. Her book will convince you we're doomed if we don't seek justice."—Leslie H. Gelb, President, Council on Foreign Relations

"By recounting the individual stories of tribunal participants, Elizabeth Neuffer ensures that we do not forget the victims at the heart of these tribunals, and illustrates how the tribunal process itself can bring important healing to individuals."—Senator Christopher J. Dodd, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

"As the story moves from the mass grave to the courtroom, the reader is left not with nausea, but, almost incredibly, a certain feeling of triumph. Superbly researched and written."—Roy Gutman, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for Newsday

"A revealing portrait of the two international tribunals where survivors eventually sought justice."—The Nation

"The bigger the crime, the slower the justice. If the crime is mass murder, this well-crafted title hints, then justice can move at a glacial pace. Boston Globe foreign correspondent Neuffer drew what for a journalist is a plum assignment: covering the ethnic/civil war in Bosnia in the early 1990s; later, spurred by a colleague's offhand remark, she added Rwanda, another hellish locale of ethnically fueled violence, to her tour of duty. Here, she revisits those scenes, describing in close detail the ugly wars that broke out in once-quiet places where members of different ethnic groups had long coexisted, more or less peacefully; as she does, she identifies the various social engines and individual actors—Slobodan Milosevic, Theoneste Bagasora, Ratko Mladic, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, et al.—responsible for the genocide that killed or displaced millions of Bosnian Muslims and Rwandan Tutsi. In her careful explication, Neuffer writes as if the reader may have never heard of these formerly obscure locales or persons; because she takes nothing for granted, and is so thorough a narrator, her study is likely to have a long shelf life and be useful to readers for many years. It may take that long, in any case, for some of the principal villains to receive their just deserts. Neuffer suggests, as she recounts the slow process of updating the Geneva Convention and other international accords to accommodate modern savageries, such as wide-scale rape: even today, she writes, 'In international humanitarian law . . . there is no specific name given to acts of systematic rape'—and the wanton destruction of whole towns and villages. Throughout, Neuffer decries the fact that the international powers, and especially the US, were so slow to act to stop the slaughter, and she concludes, regretfully, that 'there is no one explanation for evil and no one form of justice to combat it,' adding that the world will have to keep trying all the same. A tremendously valuable comparative study, with all its shameful conclusions in place."—Kirkus Reviews

"[Neuffer] goes beyond the standard news reports of genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia to present the victims and villains in this astonishing look at human cruelty . . . Very personal and painful interviews . . . This is a very graphic, disturbing look at the failure of foreign policy and the difficulty of administering justice."—Booklist

"Boston Globe reporter Neuffer ably and sensitively humanizes two of the worst tragedies of the 1990s. By retelling the atrocities through her on-the-ground interviews, she coaxes readers more deeply into these two ghastly, complex tales. While she interviews victims and perpetrators, Neuffer focuses primarily on the victims and their search for relatives and justice once the violence has subsided . . . Neuffer is honest about the difficulties faced by war crimes tribunals in 1996, the Rwandan tribunal was 'an institution in disarray' and 'strangled by a huge bureaucracy; riven by political infighting, nepotism, and incompetence'; the Bosnian tribunal, too, the author reports, is far from perfect, but general opinion allows that it's better than no justice at all. But buoyed by the courage of people like Witness JJ, a Rwandan woman whose testimony helped convict an official of complicity in rape, Neuffer is optimistic about the courts' ultimate success. The people she interviewed, though, are less satisfied by the search for justice. This comprehensive study lends an immediacy to these two conflicts and the vicissitudes of the growing movement for international justice."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



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Elizabeth Neuffer, an award-winning journalist and Edward R. Murrow Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, covers foreign affairs for The Boston Globe. A resident of New York City, she reported on the war on terrorism from Afghanistan.
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  • Elizabeth Neuffer

  • Elizabeth Neuffer, an award-winning journalist and Edward R. Murrow Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, covered foreign affairs for The Boston Globe. She reported on the war on terrorism from Afghanistan and Iraq until her untimely death in May of 2003.