Srebrenica: The Forgotten Genocide

With the disintegration of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991, the former republic of Yugoslavia also began to disintegrate. The multi ethnic Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was mainly inhabited by Muslims, comprising 44% of the population, with Orthodox Serbs comprising 31% and Catholic Croats 17% of the population. Following the declaration of sovereignty on Oct 15, 1991, a referendum was held in Feb 1992 for independence. The result was in favor of independence but it was rejected by the representatives of the Bosnian Serbs. On April 6, 1992, the Republic of Bosnia Herzegovina was recognized by the European Community and by the US the following day. After this declaration, the Serb Forces supported by the Serb Govt of Slobodan Milosevic and Yugoslav People’s Army attacked the newly formed Republic in order to secure a separate Serb territory. This resulted in ethnic cleansing of non Serb population in areas which were under the Serb control. The Bosniak Muslims of Eastern Bosnia were the major victims of this ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Serbs.

On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces entered the town of Srebrenica and in the ensuing days killed 8,100 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in mass executions in what is considered the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II. The town was a UN designated ‘’safe haven’’. The Bosnian Serb Soldiers took military-age men, boys, and some elderly men from the town and over the coming days they executed them and dumped their bodies into pits in the adjoining forests. These executions were well planned and the Serb Army made efforts t conceal their activities. The process of killing these innocent and unarmed civilians took just a few days, but it took years to identify these bodies. The process of identifying them and burying them properly continues to this day. One thousand people are still identified as missing, even twenty years after the massacre. A number of genocide convictions have been made in connection with the Srebrenica massacre by International tribunals. Many trials and appeals are still going on.  Earlier this month, Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have condemned the massacre as a “crime of genocide,” 

The Bosnian Institute in the UK has published a list of 296 villages destroyed by Serb forces around Srebrenica during the first three months of war (April – June 1992):

”More than three years before the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, Bosnian Serb nationalists – with the logistical, moral and financial support of Serbia and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) – destroyed 296 predominantly Bosniak villages in the region around Srebrenica, forcibly uprooting some 70,000 Bosniaks from their homes and systematically massacring at least 3,166 Bosniaks (documented deaths) including many women, children and elderly.”

Each onslaught by the Serb Army was followed a similar pattern. Serb soldiers and paramilitaries surrounded a Bosnian Muslim village or hamlet, called upon the population to surrender their weapons, and then began with indiscriminate shelling and shooting. In most cases, they then entered the village or hamlet, expelled or killed the population, who offered no significant resistance, and destroyed their homes. During this period, Srebrenica was subjected to indiscriminate shelling from all directions on a daily basis. 

According to a former soldier of the Serb Army, they used various tactics to starve and kill the besieged population of Srebrenica.  The former soldier described the Serb Army, who outnumbered the Muslims, as the hunters and their victims as the prey. The Serb Army did not allow food inside the town and starved people to death. If anyone would come out in search of food, they would kill them.

The Serb offensive against Srebrenica began in earnest on 6 July 1995. On the morning of 10 July 1995, the situation in Srebrenica was tense. Residents had crowded the streets. Late in the afternoon of 11 July, General Mladi?, accompanied by other Army officers took a triumphant walk through the deserted streets of the town of Srebrenica. On 12 July 1995, the refugees assembled in the United Nations Protection Force UNPROFOR compound could see Serb soldiers setting houses and haystacks on fire. Throughout the day the Serb soldiers indulged in summary executions of men. Witnesses saw piles of bodies heaped up in the vicinity. Many women and girls suffered rape and sexual abuse and other forms of torture. According to witnesses, the Serbs began at a certain point to take girls and young women out of the group of refugees. They were raped. The rapes often took place under the eyes of others and sometimes even under the eyes of the children of the mother.

After the deaths in July 1995, Serb forces dug up the bodies and reburied them in secondary and even tertiary graves in order to hide evidence of the mass slaughter. Since 1995, 233 mass graves with bodies from those killed at Srebrenica have been found and investigated by the Bosnian Institute for Missing Persons and the International Commission on Missing Persons. Twenty years after the massacre and the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war, in Dec 1995, Bosnia still remains a largely dysfunctional state. The victims are yet to see closure as most of the perpetrators of these ghastly crimes haven’t been punished. Twenty years on, justice continues to elude most Bosnian Muslim victims of the genocide.  

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