Srebrenica: 25 years after the genocide, victims are still fighting for truth, justice and reparation

A quarter of a century has passed since the heart of Europe was shaken by the genocide of more than 8000 muslim boys and men in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, at the hands of Bosnian Serb troops during an operation of ethnic cleansing, witnessed by UN peacekeeping troops who failed resoundingly in their protection mission. Significant but limited justice has been rendered by international tribunals, and the repeated denial by several government officials of what happened reminds us of the still pressing need for the international community to support efforts to obtain truth, justice and reparation for victims and survivors.

In the midst of the conflict in the Balkans during the 1990’s, the small city of Srebrenica, in Eastern Bosnia, was established as a “safe area” by the UN for civilians fleeing fights between Bosnian government and separatist Serb forces, during the breakup of Yugoslavia. On 11 July 1995, Serb forces attacked Srebrenica lead by Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić, conducting a ten-day operation to take over Srebrenica and subject it to ethnic cleansing. More than 8000 people were killed, mainly Bosnian muslim boys and men.

The reality of the genocide in Srebrenica was officially recognized in 2007 in a judgment delivered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). From 1993 to 2017, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted 161 individuals for war crimes, 90 were sentenced, among which 62 Bosnian Serbs, and 13 referred to national jurisdictions. Two of the instigators of the massacre, Radovan Karadžić (2016) and Ratko Mladić (2017), were sentenced respectively to 40 years and to life imprisonment on counts of genocide.

But countless Srebrenica survivors remain awaiting truth and justice. On 11 July each year, newly identified remains are buried at the Srebrenica memorial cemetery at Potočari. Organisations like Mothers of Srebrenica or movements like Women in Black advocate to continue the search for the missing persons and to identify those who were involved in and responsible for the massacre and bring them before local and international courts. Yet, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina still lacks resources and a comprehensive strategy to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the crimes committed. Moreover, the communities are still deeply divided, and both the governments of Serbia and Republika Srpska continue to deny what happened at Srebrenica.

As Judge Carmel Agius, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) underlined during his commemoration speech last year, “particularly now, it is crucial that the rule of law and the role of the courts be defended. There is a new urgency to push back strongly against the attempts by the deniers to rewrite history. This will require a concerted effort on the part of the leaders and people of this country, and the support of the international community.”

At the European level, the European Parliament adopted a resolution making the 11 July as a day of remembrance for the victims of the massacre in Srebrenica. However, a similar resolution at the UN, marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, was vetoed by Russia in 2015, which constituted a shameful disregard for the victims and survivors of the massacre.

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