WASHINGTON — DAVID ROHDE of The Christian Science Monitor won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting yesterday for his investigation of mass executions in Bosnia.
Mr. Rohde earned his award through skill at a fundamental task of journalism: bearing witness. He was the first Western journalist to visit the sites of suspected mass graves last summer and fall, uncovering grim and convincing evidence that Bosnian Serb forces had executed Muslim prisoners in Europe's worst massacre since the Holocaust.
This Pulitzer Prize is the Monitor's sixth and its first since legendary Washington correspondent Richard L. Strout won a special citation in 1978.
"We are grateful to the Pulitzer Prize Board for recognizing David Rohde's work," says Monitor Editor David Cook. "His reporting was relentless, courageous, and compassionate. It is a worthy addition to the Monitor's 88-year commitment to unselfish, comprehensive, international reporting."
The Pulitzer Prizes are awarded annually by Columbia University for achievement in journalism, letters, drama, and music. This year, the prestigious public service Pulitzer went to the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. The spot news reporting category was won by Robert D. McFadden of The New York Times, and Bob Keeler of Newday was awarded the prize for beat reporting.
National reporting went to Alix Freedman of The Wall Street Journal, and the editorial cartoon prize was won by Jim Morin of The Miami Herald.
Staff of the Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif., won the investigative category, and Laurie Garrett of Newsday captured the award for explanatory journalism.
The Pulitzer for feature writing went to Rick Bragg of The New York Times, and Robert Semple Jr. of The New York Times won for editorial writing. E.R. Shipp of The New York Daily News won for commentary.
The articles for which Rohde of the Monitor won his international reporting prize all dealt with one of the central tragedies of the bitter Bosnian war: the fall of the UN-protected "safe areas" of Srebrnica last July.
In the aftermath of the town's capture by Bosnian Serb forces, Western reporters began hearing rumors of widespread killings of Muslim men caught in the area. After the US released satellite photos of suspected mass graves, Mr. Rohde - the Monitor's Eastern Europe correspondent since 1994 - decided to probe the reports as thoroughly as he could.
In August, with the help of a local translator, Rohde talked Bosnian Serb authorities into allowing him to travel freely in territory under their control without the hindrance of an official "minder." Using a faxed copy of the satellite photos, he found the graves and collected the first on-site evidence that mass executions had in fact taken place.
Once back in territory held by the Bosnian government, Rohde spent weeks in Muslim refugee camps, interviewing survivors of Srebrenica to piece together a comprehensive picture of how, when, and where the massacres took place.
His stories were not making him a favorite of the Bosnian Serb rebels. But in October Rohde traveled back into their territory - this time alone.
He made it through four checkpoints. With the help of location data leaked by a Western official source, he found two more grave sites - corroborating the accounts of the survivors he had talked to. Just before he was able to snap a photo of human bones at one of the sites, he was arrested at gunpoint by a Bosnian Serb watchman.
Rohde was held for 10 days by Bosnian Serb authorities and threatened with an espionage charge that carried a penalty of 10 years in prison to death. He was released after an international pressure campaign that involved top US officials, reporters, and nongovernment experts from around the world.
His groundbreaking stories helped stiffen Western resolve in Bosnia and went a long way toward helping discredit and marginalize Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic.
Rohde, on a leave of absence from the Monitor, is working on a book about the Srebrenica massacres. His work continues to provide evidence for the Hague-based War Crimes Tribunal, and to prod the West toward greater recognition of the atrocities that have taken place in the Balkans.
Just last week, Rohde reported in the Monitor that some of the grave sites he had visited earlier now appear to have been tampered with - even though American forces now in the area had been assigned to safeguard them.
Other Monitor Pulitzer Prizes include:
1978 - Special citation to Richard L. Strout for more than 57 years of Washington reporting.
1969 - National reporting award to Robert Cahn for his series "Will Success Spoil the National Parks?"
1968 - National reporting award to Howard James for his series "Crisis in the Courts."
1967 - International reporting award to John Hughes for his coverage of the coup in Indonesia.
1950 - International reporting award to Edmund Stevens for his series "This is Russia - Uncensored."