Readers may have seen footage yesterday of the Serbian Prime Minister being stoned by crowds at the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre. As the Telegraph reports:
The occasion was held to remember four bloodsoaked days in July 1995 when almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces. After Srebrenica fell into Serb hands, the women and children were forcibly separated from sons and husbands.
The men and boys were then led away by armed escorts, before being lined up and shot during a series of massacres in the countryside nearby. Afterwards, the corpses of the victims were either heaped into mass graves or left scattered among the pine trees.
Srebrenica is still giving up its dead: month after month, more human remains are being found and identified by their DNA. So far, 6,974 victims of the massacre have been named, including 136 as the ceremony on Saturday began.
In all, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia places the final death toll at 7,826.
. . .
When the Serbian leader appeared for the ceremony, an angry crowd stoned his black-clad delegation, causing all of them to run back to their cars. With jeers ringing in his ears, Mr Vucic was forced to leave the occasion, his foreign minister condemning the incident as an attack on Serbia.
So it was that the ceremony came to focus on remembrance, rather than reconciliation. "All of my family members are here under these tombstones. This cannot be denied,” said Kada Hotic, who lost her son and husband in Srebrenica.
. . .
What made Srebrenica’s ordeal all the more painful was that outside powers had declared the town to be a haven. United Nations Resolution 819, passed in 1993, named Srebrenica as a “safe area which should be free from any armed attack or hostile act”.
Thousands of refugees, who had been driven from towns and villages across central Bosnia, had gathered in Srebrenica before the massacre, hoping that the phrase “safe area” would mean something. A contingent of Dutch peacekeeping troops had been deployed in the town, although whether they had a mandate – let alone the will or the means – to protect civilians was unclear.
. . .
Karadžić’s directive singled out Srebrenica as one of the towns where Serb forces should impose “an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life”.
General Ratko Mladic – now also on trial at The Hague – carried out this order by capturing Srebrenica as commander of Bosnian Serb forces on 11 July 1995. Exactly 20 years ago, he was filmed in the town, apparently uttering words of reassurance to terrified civilians. The massacres began only 24 hours later.
Today, two international courts have labelled what followed as “genocide”, ruling that the killings in Srebrenica did indeed meet the legal definition of this crime. An international convention from 1948 defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
The victims in Srebrenica were killed because they were Muslims.
There's more at the link.
The Srebrenica Massacre was the worst atrocity of its kind in Europe since World War II. It has been compared - with some justification, in my opinion - with the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar, or the expungement of the Warsaw Ghetto. Because it was explicitly cast by the Serbs - who were, in the main, Orthodox Christians - as part of a religious 'crusade' against Bosnian Muslims, it's been seen ever since by the Islamic world as a sign that the West doesn't care about what happens to Muslims, up to and including mass murder. It was one of the incidents cited by Osama bin Laden in his appeals to Muslims to support his Al Qaeda terrorist movement.
I've seen massacres at first hand - one of them considerably larger than Srebrenica - but that doesn't detract from the awful bitterness of this tragedy. Those who were murdered were nominally under United Nations protection at the time. That protection proved worse than useless - in fact, it was never really there to begin with. As the Guardian reports:
In the spring of 1992, Bosnian Serb troops had launched a hurricane of violence in pursuit of a racially pure “statelet”, after multi-ethnic Bosnia voted for independence from disintegrating Yugoslavia. And nowhere more savagely than in eastern Bosnia, where entire villages were eradicated, towns torched, their populations killed or put to flight by what Karadžic called “ethnic cleansing”.
Survivors fled into three eastern enclaves where the Bosnian republican army had resisted: Goražde, Žepa and Srebrenica, their populations swelled by displaced deportees, cowering, bombarded relentlessly and largely cut off from supplies of food and medicine. The population of Srebrenica swelled from 9,000 to 42,000, and by March 1993 the situation was sufficiently horrific for a French general, Philippe Morillon, to lead a convoy into the battered pocket and, appalled, promised: “You are now under the protection of the UN. I will never abandon you.” The UN duly proclaimed Srebrenica as one of six “safe areas” to be defended by the United Nations Protection Force (our emphasis), or Unprofor.
. . .
By spring 1995, the Contact Group – the US, UK, France, Germany and Russia – appeared to abandon the 1993 resolution against rewarding ethnic cleansing, as it sought to partition Bosnia between a Serb statelet and a Muslim-Croat federation. Then the French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, had privately confided the working map in mid-1994: it showed the three eastern “safe areas” to be contiguous with one another and part of the federation.
But Miloševic complained to the Contact Group’s negotiator, an American, Robert Frasure, that the safe areas constituted “a monstrous excrescence” within Serbian territory. Frasure reported to the national security council in Washington that Miloševic would not agree to peace unless he had a “modified” map that ceded the safe areas.
. . .
On 2 June, Mladic ordered a “destruction of the Muslim forces in these enclaves”. Voorhoeve insists that western leaders knew of this order, but that he and his troops were kept in the dark. “The intelligence services of at least two of the five permanent members of the UN security council knew already at the beginning of June 1995 – a month and a half before the attack – that the Serbs intended to capture, in the coming weeks, the three Eastern enclaves – meaning Srebrenica, Žepa and Goražde,” Voorhoeve says. “These two big countries had advance knowledge of the Serbian battle plans and did not share it with the Netherlands.”
The Observer has independently verified this and the two countries were the US and the UK.
Smith, Janvier and the UN’s special envoy to the Balkans, the Japanese diplomat Yasushi Akashi, met on 9 June in Split, where Janvier pushed for ceding the enclaves, saying: ‘‘Most acceptable to the Serbs would be to leave them the enclaves. It is the more realistic approach and it makes sense from the military point of view.” He added: “But this is unacceptable to the international community.”
Smith was forthright, warning Akashi of a forthcoming “crisis that, short of air attacks, we will have great difficulty responding to”.
A whole month passed while Mladic prepared his assault and, it transpired, the massacre. On 6 July, he ordered his tanks to advance. Two days later, a UN military observer reported: “The Bosnian Serb army is now in a position to overrun the enclave. Since the UN response has been almost nonexistent, they will continue until they achieve their aims.”
. . .
The stories of the fall and ensuing massacre are well known. Srebrenica’s inhabitants sought protection at the Dutch HQ, but were expelled. The UN’s envoy, Akashi, sent a cable: “The Bosnian Serb army is likely to separate the military-age men from the rest of the population, an eventuality about which Unprofor will be able to do very little.” Indeed, Dutch soldiers watched Mladic’s troops separate women and young children (for expulsion) from men and boys (for killing). Many of them had been expelled from the compound.
Early on 12 July, the Dutch commander in Srebrenica, Colonel Ton Karremans, met Mladic, with orders to “let the Serbs organise the transport” of civilians out of Srebrenica. But, says General Onno van der Wind of the Dutch defence ministry, the UN then provided 30,000 litres of petrol which proved necessary for the genocide. “After Unprofor approval,” says Van der Wind, “the fuel was delivered in Bratunac [the Bosnian Serb HQ outside Srebrenica] after the arrival of a logistical convoy.” The UN petrol was used, he says, to fuel transport of men and boys to the killing fields, and bulldozers to plough the 8,000 corpses into mass graves.
The mass murder was later described at The Hague by Judge Fouad Riad as “written on the darkest pages of history”. A sole “executioner” to turn prosecutor’s evidence at the trials, Dražen Erdemovic, described how death squads asked to sit down – they were so tired, killing wave upon wave, busload after busload, of men and boys.
One of the very few men to survive the killing fields, Mevludin Oric, recalled: “I just threw myself on the ground; my nephew shook, and died on top of me.” Mevljudin remained lying, face down, all day. “When they finished shooting, they went to get other groups. They kept bringing new rounds of men. I could hear crying and pleading, but they kept on shooting. It went on all day.”
For a while, Mevludin lost consciousness. “When I came round, it was dark, and there was a little rain. My nephew’s body was still over me; I removed the blindfold. There was light coming from bulldozers that were already digging the graves. By now, [the Serbs] were tired and drunk, still shooting by the light of the bulldozers. They went to those who were wounded and played around with them. ‘Are you alive?’ And if the man said ‘Yes’, they would shoot again. Finally they turned off the lights.
“I started to move a little. I got my nephew off me. I arose and saw a field full of bodies, everywhere, as far as I could see. And I cried; I could not stop myself.”
Again, more at the link.
Four years after the Srebrenica Massacre the BBC produced this haunting documentary. It's long, but well worth watching. As you do so, remember that this took place in 'civilized' Europe. It's happened before on that continent many, many times over the past couple of millennia. It can happen again - and not just in Europe.
May the murdered victims of Srebrenica rest in peace, and may those who mourn them be comforted . . . and may we never forget.