Srebrenica - Summarising the Srebrenica Massacre

“We give this town to the Serb nation…The time has come to take revenge on the Muslims.” - Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladić

When the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, this ensued conflict between Bosnian Serbs and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) to gain territorial control. The Srebrenica massacre was the second biggest account of mass murder in Europe since World War 2. In July 1995, despite being announced as a UN safe zone, Srebrenica was sieged by the Bosnian Serb forces under the command of Republike Srpska’s (the self-proclaimed Serbian republic in Bosnia) General Mladić. Bosnian Serb forces took part in killings, deportation and rapes of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) as part of the governmental plan to ethnically cleanse Bosnia and to create an ethnically homogenous region. The first wave of the campaign of genocide took more than seven thousand Bosniak men, including young boy’s lives in a mere two days, also displacing over 20,000 women and children. Republike Srpska, found it of grave importance to seize control of today’s Eastern Bosnia, this meant that they would secure political entity. The United Nations took responsibility for failing to protect Bosniak civilians, in 1999, UN secretary general Kofi Anan wrote, “Through error, misjudgement and an inability to recognize the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the (Bosnian) Serb campaign of mass murder.” 3 years of murder ended when the West eventually called for a ceasefire, however, Bosnia’s ethnic groups were left scarred and political reconciliations were made difficult amongst them. The failure to protect the enclave that was internationally recognised as a “safe haven” haunts the United Nations and the Dutch peace-keepers that were sent to protect the town, to this very day. 

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“A town of salt-mines, lush green hills, farming fields and a mineral-rich spa, all with a river winding through it – such is the landscape of Srebrenica.”

The serene landscape does much to hide the devastating genocide that took place in the beautiful town of Srebrenica between 1992 – 1995. Deemed at the time one of the worst crimes committed on European soil since 1945, Srebrenica, the United Nation’s first “safe haven”, became a place of massacre. 

“There are still many of those who are not brought to justice and those who never will be,” – Nezad Avdic, Srebrenica survivor

It’s been twenty years since the horrific slaughter of around eight thousand Bosnian Muslims and some of those accused of war crimes have only begun to be charged in the last few years. Bosnian Serb wartime police chief, Tomislav Kovac is among those who have been put to trial, accused of genocide. Kovac was accused of concealing evidence of mass executions, the indictment against him detailed how he had victims’ bodies dug up, later scattering them in unmarked locations. Former general Mladic, known as the “Butcher of Bosnia” and Karadzic who served as the president of Republika Srpska, after years in hiding, were both convicted in The Hague as war criminals recently. Former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was prosecuted for genocide and later died behind bars. 

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“The message of finial and revisionism is loud and clear … your war criminals are our heroes … the light is flickering, it is not extinguished” – Prosecutor Serge Brammertz

Today in Srebrenica you’ll find masses of unmarked graves home to the bodies that have been buried and re-buried to mask the crimes of evil war criminals, in cemeteries dedicated to the victims. You will find a memorial at the very centre of the town. You’ll find tours and exhibitions of the old building used by the United Nations as a base. You will find what seems like an effort to commemorate the lives lost.  However, when those with blood on their hands are regarded as war heroes by Serbians to this very day, when it has taken 14 years to bring the “Butcher of Bosnia” to trial and when families affected by the slaughters have their chance for justice made more difficult with the closure of The Hague tribunal, do we regard Srebrenica as a nightmare of the past- to only commemorate the lives lost on an anniversary? Or do we remember to continue to fight for those who are still dealing with the aftermath?
We must not remember Srebrenica solely for what happened, but we must also bear in mind what still has the potential to happen. In Serb-led areas of Republika Srpska and in neighbouring Serbia, the genocide of Bosniak men and boys is still being denied, the atmosphere is a remnant of war and reconciling the enduring deep divisions that exist in the nation have proven difficult.