Bosnians have been marking the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the only crime in Europe since the Second World War that has been classified a genocide.
More than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town in Bosnia and Herzegovina were killed by units from the Bosnian Serb army, despite Srebrenica being declared a “safe area” under United Nations protection.
A ceremony took place as nine newly identified victims were buried at a flower-shaped cemetery near the town.
They were laid to rest among the graves of 6,643 other victims.
Body parts are still being unearthed in mass graves and are being identified through the analysis of DNA.
The remains of around 1,000 victims are still missing.
Dozens of world leaders, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Spain’s PM Pedro Sanchez, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Prince of Wales, sent video messages to be played at the ceremony – unable to attend in person because of coronavirus social distancing requirements.
Mr Pompeo said: “We grieve with the families that tirelessly seek justice for the 8,000 innocent lives lost, all these years later.”
One of the few Bosnian officials attending in person, Bosniak Muslim member of the country’s tripartite presidency Sefik Dzaferovic, went further, calling on the world to require Serb leaders to finally accept responsibility for what happened.
He said: “I am calling on our friends from around the world to show not just with words but also with actions that they will not accept the denial of genocide and celebration of its perpetrators.
“The Srebrenica genocide is being denied (by Serb leaders) just as systematically and meticulously as it was executed in 1995… we owe it not just to Srebrenica, but to humanity, to oppose that.”
During the Bosnian war from 1992 to 1995, Bosnian Serb forces embarked on what was then called ethnic cleansing, pushing non-Serbs out of territories they sought for their Serb state.
Many of those who were forced to flee took shelter in several towns in the east of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including Srebrenica.
The UN said they would be protected and posted peace keeping troops to the “safe” zones.
But on 11 July 1995, Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladic overran Srebrenica, which was protected only by lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers.
The Bosnian Serb forces ordered women and children to leave but rounded up the males and executed all those they found.
Bodies were then dumped into mass graves.
It was only later, after the massacre came to light, that many of the remains were exhumed by UN investigators and used as evidence in war crimes trials against Bosnian Serb leaders.
But it took until 2004, after the formation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague, before the massacre was ruled a genocide, a crime under international law.
The UK says it has spent millions of pounds supporting projects relating to Srebrenica, including for the families of the victims and their fight for justice.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, a former Foreign Office diplomat posted to The Hague, said: “We remember the victims and the anguish of their families.
“During my time in the Hague between 2003 and 2006, pursuing those responsible for this dark chapter in European history, I was reminded daily of the heinous cruelty perpetrated against the innocent.
“The UK is determined to end impunity and help rebuild those countries affected – as our commitment to the ICC, and UK investment and support for Bosnia demonstrates.”
About 100,000 people were killed in the Bosnian war, and reconciliation is far from complete.
Mladic and his political chief Radovan Karadzic were convicted by the ICTY but they remain heroes for some Serbs, many of whom deny the genocide happened.
On Saturday, Serbs in the nearby town of Bratunac organised an event marking 11 July as “Srebrenica Liberation Day”.
Sefik Dzaferovic added: “There can be no trust as long as we witness attacks on the truth, denial of genocide and glorification and celebration of executors.”
A memorial also took place at The Hague, in the Netherlands.
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