Lara Kajs | 11 Jul 2022 |
The word “genocide” conjures the worst acts and for many, horrific memories, and deep trauma. Genocide is the destruction of humanity, by humans. It is not spontaneous, but is, as seen in every case throughout history, planned and systematically carried out; ordered by someone in authority – as was the case in Srebrenica.
On a summer night in the town of Srebrenica in 1995, General Ratko Mladic commanded his Bosnian Serb military troops, along with a para-military group from Serbia, to commit the mass execution of more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys. He commanded them to commit genocide in Srebrenica.
Genocide in Srebrenica
As Mladic and his troops entered the town, some 20,000 people took refuge in factories and fields. The people were waiting for help from the UN to arrive. However, by nightfall, the realization that protection was not coming and that the people of Srebrenica were on their own, set in.
At midnight, some 15,000 men, women, and children organized columns and began the long journey to safety – forty miles or more from Srebrenica. The columns were ambushed several times by Serbian Military forces, thousands were killed along the way. For some, the journey took five days, while others traveled thirteen days or more before they finally reached safety. Of the 15,000 people who left Srebrenica on that dreadful night, only a few thousand survived.
For those who stayed in Srebrenica, the men and boys were executed, then buried in mass graves. The list of the missing contained 8,372 names. Through DNA analysis of the remains recovered from the mass graves, 6,838 genocide victims have been identified. There are still 1,472 people missing.
Responsibility and Accountability
What makes the Srebrenica genocide exceptional, is that the town was under UN protection when the atrocity occurred. The UN has recognized that it failed in its responsibility to protect the people of Srebrenica. Failure to demilitarize the Bosnia and Herzegovina army within Srebrenica and to force the withdrawal of the Bosnian Serb military surrounding the town resulted in its fall and made it possible for the genocide to happen.
The UN War Crimes Tribunal and the ICTY in The Hague ruled that the ethnic cleansing of Bosniak men and boys, and the subsequent forcible transfer and abuse of between 25,000 and 30,000 Bosniak women, children, and elderly were genocide. As for General Ratko Mladic, he was convicted on ten counts: one count of genocide, four counts of war crimes, and five counts of crimes against humanity. The genocide charge was reversed. Mladic was also found responsible for the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre. He received a penalty of life imprisonment. In 2021, his appeals were denied and exhausted. He will never be free again.
Some Serbs have claimed that the genocide was in retaliation for civilian attacks on Serbs in Srebrenica. These claims of “revenge” have been rejected and condemned by the UN and the ICTY as an attempt to justify genocide. But genocide deniers spread their toxic beliefs – including claiming the mass execution never happened, and that the people moved away. Deniers make excuses and spread misinformation and disinformation to justify murder. Spreading hate does not change the crimes or justify the actions.
Honoring the Memory
In the twenty-seven years that have passed since that ill-fated night of 11 July 1995, the survivors, the families, and friends of those killed have worked to keep the memory of their loved ones alive. They hold memorials, collect oral histories, and share the truth of what happened that night; to make sure that the world never forgets.
We must stand against genocide, war crimes, genocide denial, hate speech, and the glorification of war criminals. There must be justice. The testimonies of the survivors of the genocide in Srebrenica have been critical in holding the perpetrators accountable. Hundreds of thousands of pages of forensic evidence and testimonials corroborate genocide and other atrocity crimes in Srebrenica. That evidence has been and will continue to be used to charge, convict, and punish the offenders. There can be no impunity… no glorification… no revisionist histories.
Only then, will we edge closer to a world where we can say “Never Again”, and mean it.
Photo Credit: Potocari, Srebrenica by Armin C. License CC 2.0