Saturday marks 20 years since the genocide at Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, during the Bosnian war. Serbian forces killed more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the massacre, and about 20,000 civilians were forced to flee the area. Historians say it was the worst episode of mass murder in Europe since World War II.
The Bosnian war lasted more than three and a half years and reached a climax in July 1995 when troops commanded by Gen. Ratko Mladic overran the U.N.-designated safe haven in Srebrenica. Mladic was later indicted for war crimes at The Hague, along with former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic. Milosevic died in prison in 2006; Karadzic and Mladic are still facing the war crimes tribunal.
According to The Guardian newspaper, a new survey of evidence shows that the fall of Srebrenica was part of a policy by Britain, France, the United States and the United Nations to pursue peace at any price, something that happened at the expense of Srebrenica. Although the superpowers could not have predicted the extent of the massacre, they were aware of Mladic’s rhetoric calling for the Bosniak Muslim population of the region to “vanish completely.”
The war was finally brought to an end with the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in December 1995 in the U.S. after an agreement was reached among the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.
This Saturday, heads of state will gather at a memorial in Srebrenica to remember those killed. They will be welcomed by the mayor of Srebrenica and representatives of victims’ associations. Former President Bill Clinton, under whose administration the Dayton Accords were signed, is expected to lead a U.S. delegation at the ceremony.
During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment The Week Ahead, Del Walters spoke to Ivica Puljic, the Washington, D.C., bureau chief of Al Jazeera Balkans, and to Adisada Dudic, an attorney and a witness of the massacre at Srebrenica, who joined the conversation from Sarajevo.
Puljic said that not addressing what happened in Srebrenica is a lack of political will. “People feel betrayed all over the region,” he said. “They couldn’t find a solution or justice all of these years. They’re expecting the United Nations to do something on their behalf.”
Last week U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon paid tribute to the victims of Srebrenica at a U.N. commemorative event, saying, “The United Nations, which was founded to prevent such crimes from recurring, failed in its responsibilities to protect the lives of innocent civilians seeking protection from the conflict and violence around them. The U.N. Secretariat, the Security Council and member states share the blame.”
Serbia has asked Russia to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution on the genocide in Srebrenica. It was drafted by the U.K. to mark the 20th anniversary and is expected to be voted on this week, but Belgrade says adopting the resolution would only deepen ethnic divisions in Bosnia.
“This is definitely a shame on the international community that we cannot stand together and actually call this genocide,” said Dudic. “The systematic murders that happened in the span of a few days were premeditated, deliberate murders. It’s been established by years of testimony, evidence and witnesses reliving horrific events during the trials. It’s been established by the ICJ [International Court of Justice] and ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] as genocide. So today the international community should respect the victims and honor their pain and suffering and call it by the proper name so we can begin some process of reconciliation.”
Puljic agreed and said the 20th anniversary of signing the Dayton Accords is a good opportunity to focus on Bosnia. “To all the people who are denying that something happened in Srebrenica, denial is the last stage of genocide. The United Nations and the U.S. government have documents proving that it was genocide.”
Regarding former leaders being charged with war crimes 20 years later, Dudic said, “I must admit the trials are slow, but the people of Srebrenica are grateful that they’re happening. We do want the trials to proceed, and we do want the people who are responsible to face their trials and actually hear the testimonies of the witnesses.”
Dudic said financial compensation may be an option but added, “I don’t know how you can put a price on all this. The debate should be more about how a lot of the families — including mothers, sisters, daughters and sons — are left with no way of feeding themselves. Bosnia is still in disarray, and many people from Srebrenica are still in financial ruin. Financial compensation may help provide an education for someone or help them start their lives over, but there is no way to put a price tag on the pain that they are suffering and will likely continue feel for the rest of their lives.”