This past weekend was dreadful. There was a sense of mourning in the air as international media outlets covered the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, airing the familiar images of family members grieving their loved ones at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Center & Cemetery. Every year on July 11, Bosnian Muslims bury the remains of recently identified victims of the 1995 genocide which resulted in the massacre of 8,732 Bosnian men and young boys at the hands of Bosnian Serb and Serbs soldiers, in a span of 10 days.
The genocide, which has been termed the worst form of violence to occur since the World War II Holocaust, aimed to ethnically cleanse the former Yugoslavia of its Bosnian Muslim population. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav wars, ethnic nationalism grew. Serb nationalism was spearheaded by the likes of Slobodan Miloševic, former president of Serbia, and Radovan Karadžic, then president of the Republic of Srpska. By 1991, the RAM plan was drawn up by a group of senior Serb officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) to consolidate Serb power. The plan aimed to cleanse the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina of Bosnian Muslims, using mass rapes as a tool to humiliate and forcefully impregnate Bosnian women with Serb children and also to systematically kill Bosniak men and boys.
Fast forward to July 1995, Serb forces had taken over Bosnia’s Srebrenica, where 50,000 Bosniaks were seeking shelter in the village of Potocari, a declared United Nations safe place. Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian Serb military commander, declared on July 11 that “the time has come to take revenge on the Turks.” This meant the army was actively avenging the Battle of Kosovo of 1398, where invading Ottoman forces had annihilated Serbian forces and that it saw all Bosnian Muslims as invaders.
The RAM plan had successfully ‘otherised’ Bosniaks through propaganda as was evident by eye-witness accounts describing how buses transporting Bosniak women and children away from the UN safe zone were stoned by Serb citizens. Over 8,000 men and boys had been separated by being told they would join their families later but were taken to the nearby forest and shot indiscriminately, in groups.
Twenty-five years after the genocide, the victims of this Srebrencia have failed to find justice, let alone even an acknowledgement of the genocide. Some protagonists of the genocide continue to live freely in neighbouring Croatia and Serbia and even indulge in politics. Meanwhile, a narrative of denial of the genocide continues in Bosnia. There is no law forbidding the denial of the Bosnian genocide as is the case of the Holocaust. Serbs and Bosnian Serbs attempt to whitewash the genocide and even go so far as saying that the genocide never occurred, even though the UN court had already ruled in 2004 that Srebrenica was a genocide and the ICTY has convicted Miloševic and Kradzic of the crime.
Meanwhile, family members of the victims of Srebrenica still live on in hopes that their sons, husbands, uncles, fathers and brothers had managed to escape the killing and continue to live on somewhere. Some have tried to find closure, while most feel that not enough has been done to bring the perpetrators to justice. Sir Geoffrey Nice, the lead prosecutor of the Milosevic trial, recently stated that the UN has failed to establish the exact events of the genocide as major international players have prevented from doing so as they were complicit in the act as they stood by and watched the genocide take place.
With time passing on, those who were affected by the genocide continue to keep the memory of the Bosnian War and Srebrenica genocide alive in the global conscience. But the world fails to learn as is visible by the events of Yemen, Syria, Rohingya, and elsewhere around the world.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2020.