On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb militia forces under the command of Ratko Mladic entered Potocari, which was under the protection of Dutch soldiers who were part of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia. The army of Bosnian Serbs held all U.N. soldiers captive and captured Srebrenica.
That night, all the refugee women and children taking shelter in the U.N. camp in Potocari were forced to get on buses and trucks and leave the city. In front of the eyes of the entire world, the Serbian soldiers held more than 1,500 Muslim men captive for 10 days and tortured, raped and killed them, regardless of their age.
After the split of the former Yugoslavia, soon afterwards Bosnian Serb forces – supported by the Serbian government – armed by western artillery attacked the newly formed country of Bosnia.
They began removing Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) from their territory in a bid to create a “Greater Serbia” – a self-proclaimed policy of ethnic cleansing.
This all took place on live TV, watched by millions around the world.
Ratko Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serb units, told the terrified civilians not to be afraid as his forces began the slaughter. They did not stop for 10 days.
The war was brutally fought between the Bosnian Serb army, supported by the government and the Bosniaks armed with little more than sticks and stones and guerrilla warfare.
In April 1993, the UN Security Council declared the enclave a “safe area… free from any armed attack or any other hostile act”.
Lightly-armed UN peacekeepers, in what had been declared a UN “safe area”, did nothing as the violence raged around them.
Dutch soldiers witnessing the Serb aggression did nothing and about 5,000 Muslims sheltering at their base were handed over.
Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan later declared: “The tragedy of Srebrenica will forever haunt the history of the United Nations.”
The massacre was part of a genocide committed against the Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces during the Bosnian War, one of several conflicts fought in the 1990s as Yugoslavia imploded.
The Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina – as it was known when it was part of Yugoslavia – was a multi-ethnic region of Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.
Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence in 1992 following a referendum and was recognised shortly afterwards by the US and European governments.
The worst massacre in Europe since World War II was classified as genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Since 1996, Bosnian and international scientists have slowly unlocked what was once described as the “biggest forensic puzzle anywhere in the world,” unearthing the bones from those gruesome death pits and connecting them with the names of the people they belonged to.
The effects of that massacre still reverberate to this day. Three generations of Bosniaks were killed in one day, toyed with and teased with life and death games, with death as a reward.
New mass graves and bodies of victims are still being discovered, 25 years after the genocide.
When the remains are identified, they are returned to their relatives and reburied in the Potocari memorial cemetery. And each year on July 11, the anniversary of the day the killing began in 1995, relatives gather for a funeral of the recently identified.
Most of the dead were men and boys, so most of the mourners are mothers, sisters, daughters and wives, who were probably raped but survived to live the memory.
A 2002 report blamed the Dutch government and military officials for failing to prevent the killings. The entire government resigned in the wake of the report. In 2019, the country’s supreme court upheld a ruling that the Netherlands was partially responsible for 350 deaths at Srebrenica.
In 2017, a UN tribunal in The Hague convicted Mladic of genocide and other atrocities. The commander had gone into hiding after the end of the war in 1995 and was not found until 2011, in his cousin’s home in northern Serbia.
Serbia has since apologised for the crime but still refuses to accept this was a genocide.
During this genocide, world powers confined themselves to watching these scenes of horror. However, after the Bosnians were butchered and subjected to unprecedented brutality, the international powers decided to intervene in the ongoing war and stop the Serbian forces.
25 years later, do people really care about the genocide the Bosnian Muslims suffered at the hands of Mladic’s Serb army. We’ve all seen heroic AMerican movies of the bravery of American soldiers, whilst taking pictures, but will they make a ‘Schindlers list’?
Where are the reparations for the Bosnians that survived? Precedent suggests they should be given land and with decades of investment.