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FIBGAR / Articles  / Remebering the genocidal massacre of Srebrenica: in search of justice

Remebering the genocidal massacre of Srebrenica: in search of justice

Last May, the General Assembly of the United Nations, in a Resolution, initiated by Germany, Bosnia and Rwanda, established 11 July as the International Day of Reflection and Remembrance of the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide.

The Bosnian war, which took place between 1992 and 1995, saw the largest massacre witnessed on European soil since World War II, with at least 8,372 lives lost, thousands displaced and families and communities devastated. Bodies were buried in mass graves.

The war that followed the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia claimed more than 100,000 lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995, most of them Bosnian Muslims, and displaced more than two million people. The population was detained and interned in concentration camps, and thousands of Bosnian women were systematically raped. The list of atrocities is endless, but Srebrenica became the darkest page of the war.

In the midst of the Balkan conflict, on 11 July 1995 the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which had been declared a protected enclave by UN Security Council Resolution 819 of 16 April 1993, to shelter civilians fleeing fighting between the Bosnian government and separatist Serb forces during the break-up of Yugoslavia, fell into the hands of Bosnian Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladić, under the authority of the then President of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadžić.

During several days of massacres after the fall of Srebrenica, at least 8,372 Muslim men and boys, who had sought safety in the area under the protection of the United Nations Protection Force (Unprofor), were summarily executed by Bosnian Serb forces under the orders of General Mladić and paramilitary groups, including irregular police units. Nearly 30,000 women, children and elderly were forcibly expelled in a massive ethnic cleansing campaign.

The massacre of Bosnian Muslims in the town of Srebrenica – considered a “safe zone” by UN troops – was qualified by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as an act of genocide.

In 2017, the ICTY sentenced Ratko Mladić, former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, to life imprisonment for crimes of genocide, violations of the laws and customs of war and crimes against humanity, including the Srebrenica massacres, committed between 1992 and 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Already in 1999, the UN Secretary General stated in its report on the fall of Srebrenica that the UN had failed to fulfil its mandate, in particular with regard to the protection of so-called “protected enclaves”, and therefore shared responsibility for this.

The tragic events of Srebrenica left deep emotional scars on the survivors and created lasting obstacles to political reconciliation between the different ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since 2002, the Mothers of Srebrenica Association continues to search for missing persons and mass graves, to support survivors and to seek truth and justice.

Despite the gravity of the massacre, the issue is still divisive today, to the extent that the resolution, which also seeks to condemn genocide denial and war criminals, has met with some resistance in Serbia.

At the European level, the European Parliament adopted a resolution establishing 11 July as a day of remembrance for the victims of the Srebrenica massacre. However, a similar resolution at the UN, marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, was vetoed by Russia in 2015. Only this year it was possible to establish this date as an international anniversary.

In the face of such attitudes, it is essential to guarantee the rights of the victims and their families and to promote remembrance as the best guarantee of non-repetition.