In July 1995, the mass murder of more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks and the expulsion of more than 20,000 took place in and around the small town of Srebrenica, located in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The massacre has been labelled a genocide and condemned by many political figures, however in Serbian society there is a culture of denial of the Srebrenica genocide.
The attack was ordered by General Ratko Mladic and carried out by his Serbian paramilitary units, in an attempt of the ethnic cleansing of the non-Serb population of Srebrenica. Srebrenica was specifically targeted by Bosnian Serb forces in a campaign to gain control of a section of territory in Eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. The end goal was to have this section of territory annexed to the nearby republic of Serbia, but the territory’s Bosniak inhabitants opposed this, making the Bosnian Serb forces believe that the expulsion of these inhabitants was necessary. In March 1995, the president of the Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Republic), Radovan Karadžić directed the military forces to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica” and by May, the Bosnian Serb soldiers had imposed a restriction on food and other supplies from entering the town.
In addition to the deaths of more than 8,000 men and boys, women and young girls were imprisoned in rape camps, being sexually abused up to several times daily including girls as young as the age of 12. Rape during the Bosnian war was said to have been used gender-targeted, instrument of terror as part of the ethic-cleansing. The exact number of rapes is unknown, as the majority of victims have remained silent because of stigmas, shame and fear, however the number is estimated to be around 12,000 whereas the UN Commission of Experts identified 1,600 cases. Justice has still not been completely achieved for the horrific torture of these vulnerable women, many still facing the psychological impacts of the torture.
The treatment of the innocent civilians is comparable to that of caged animals, maybe even worse, and the United Nations are partly to blame. In April 1993, the United Nations declared Srebrenica a “safe area”, being placed under the protection of UNPROFOR, the UN peacekeeping units, as well as other towns such as Zepa, Gorazde, Tuzla and Bihac. The member states that had voted in favour of the “safe areas” were not actually willing to take the required steps to ensure the security of said areas. The situations with the Safe Areas were deteriorating, subsequently leading to the massacre and by the end of the war every one of the Safe Areas had been attacked by the Serbs, with Srebrenica and Zepa overrun.
“Through error, misjudgement and an inability to recognise the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder.”
The dehumanisation of the Bosniaks living in Srebrenica is one of the worst hate crimes that is not widely known. Whilst the holocaust is acknowledged by many, the genocide that occurred in Srebrenica is kept quiet despite being considered one of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II. Remembering Srebrenica is one organisation that dedicates it’s time to educate people, mostly young people, about the inhumane rapes and the killings that took place as well as promoting the message of spreading love instead of hate. It’s main focus is on the horrors the women had to face, and how this still impacts us as a generation in the modern age. This year, my school had taken a group of students, including me, to our local cathedral to attend a memorial for the Srebrenica victims which was hosted by Remembering Srebrenica. To say the least the memorial was beautiful and very humbling, from learning about the background of the genocide, hearing a survivor’s story, and reciting prayers with different faith leaders. Seeing the diversity displayed merely by the representation of different faiths through the different leaders made the experience more unique and memorable.
Let’s all remember to say a prayer and reflect upon the victims and the lives lost as we sit at our dinner tables surrounded by our loved ones.