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Genocide in Srebrenica
Eleven Lessons for the Future

Exhibition Description

Upon the 23rd anniversary of the genocide committed against Bosniaks(Bosnian Muslims) in the United Nations “Safe Area” of Srebrenica in July 1995, the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina is organizing an educational exhibition entitled Srebrenica Genocide: Eleven Lessons for the Future.

Srebrenica Genocide: Eleven Lessons for the Future outlines eleven aspects of the genocide,with the aim of not only remembering and commemorating the victims but also educating and informing the public. Each aspect represents one phase of the brutal international armed conflict and aggression endured by Bosnian Muslims from 1992 to 1995, with a focus on Bosniaks in Eastern Bosnia, where Srebrenica is located. The number eleven is symbolic because the Srebrenica enclave was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces on 11 July 1995.

The eleven aspects of the genocide represented in this exhibition are: Antecedents; The Ethnic Cleansing Campaign: 1992; Life under Siege; The Path to Genocide; March of Death; Executions; Mass Graves; The Search for Missing Persons; Denial; Legacy; and Triumphalism.

1 ANTECEDENTS

After World War II, Bosnia and Herzegovina became one of the six federal republics of Yugoslavia. Forty years of relative peace slowly started to dissolve after the death of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980, when ethnic tensions began rising. With the decline of the Communist bloc, Serbian nationalists led by Slobodan Milošević saw a chance to establish a homogenous Serbian state.

Srebrenica during the Austro-Hungarian period

Communism,along with the suppression of memory in the post-World War II period,had opened the door to the growth of nationalist sentiment in the late 1970s. Milošević took this opportunity to use questions about the status of Kosovo (at the time, an autonomous province of the Republic of Serbia) to mobilize the masses in support of the notion of a Greater Serbia. The timing happened to coincide perfectly with the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo (1389),a medieval battle between the Ottoman and Serbian armies.

Bosniak child refugees from Eastern Bosnia who survived the onslaught by Yugoslav Royalist Forces (Chetniks) in 1943
(Source: Gazi Husrev-beg Library)

Milošević was very skillful at using the anniversary of the Kosovo Battle to rally the public and present himself as the savior of not only Serbdom but of Europe, telling a crowd that gathered to commemorate the anniversary:

Serbian President Slobodan Milošević speaking in Gazimestan, Kosovo, 1989
(Credit: CKSKJ)

“Six centuries ago, Serbia heroically defended itself in the fields of Kosovo, but it also defended Europe. Serbia was at that time the bastion that defended European culture, religion, and European society in general.”

In 1991, Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia, resulting in a short-lived war. Croatia was next to declare independence, triggering an aggressive confrontation by the Yugoslav state. With Slovenia and Croatia independent, a majority of the population in Bosnia and Herzegovina opted for independence as well.

Two events are key in understanding the path to mass violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina:

1) the first democratic elections in the newly independent country, in 1990, and

2) the population census in 1991. The 1990 elections brought to power national ethnicity-based parties, and the population census showed that Muslims constituted a significant percentage of the population. To mobilize non-Muslims, nationalist figures used a combination of historical grievances and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The intent of Serb leaders to destroy the Bosniak population can be best illustrated by the intercepted telephone conversations held between Bosnian Serb politicians. One example is a telephone call between Radovan Karadžić and his friend Belgrade poet Gojko Đogo on 12 October 1991, during which Karadžić said:

…They do not understand that there will be bloodshed and that Muslims will be exterminated. They will disappear…from the face of the Earth…”

A few days later, Karadžić made this threat publicly, in the Bosnian Parliament:

Radovan Karadžić in the Bosnian Parliament, threatening Bosniaks,1991.

“Don’t think that you won’t take Bosnia and Herzegovina to hell, and the Muslim people to extinction, because Muslims can’t defend themselves if there is a war here.”

2 THE ETHNIC CLEANSING CAMPAIGN: 1992

From July to November 1991, several regional bodies dubbed “Serb Autonomous Oblasts” (SAO) were established in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Bosnian Serbs, with the aim of connecting municipalities that featured a majority Serb population. The SAOs were then joined together and the unrecognized Serb Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Republika Srpska, was declared on 9 January 1992.

On 1 March 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence after a majority of the population voted for separation from Yugoslavia in a referendum. That day, small-scale violence erupted across the country when activists from the SDS (the Serb nationalist party) demonstrated their disapproval of the referendum results. On 6 April, an all-out attack on the country was initiated by a force consisting of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and Serbian paramilitaries,which rampaged Eastern Bosnian towns along the border with Serbia.

The Six Strategic Goals of the Serbian People in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The aims of Bosnian Serb leaders were outlined on 12 May 1992, when the Bosnian Serb Assembly met in Banja Luka and issued the Six Strategic Goals of the Serbian People, which included:

“The establishment of a corridor in the valley of the Drina River, meaning the elimination of the Drina as a border between the two Serb states.”

The Six Strategic Goals are considered the forerunner and prelude to the genocide in Srebrenica, and their implementation soon began. The Bosniak and Bosnian Croat populations in towns and villages throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina were subjected to genocidal violence through massacres, sexual violence, incarceration in concentration camps, humiliation, and torture.

An estimated 600 mosques and other sites of Islamic architecture were destroyed. A pattern,an identical modus operandi of the cleansing of Bosniaks from desired territories, was evident. The intent was to permanently remove all traces of Bosniaks and their lives from these territories.

In the summer of 1992, the existence of concentration camps and rape camps for Bosniaks and Croats was discovered by foreign journalists. In northwest Bosnia and Herzegovina, the town of Prijedor became notorious for camps that incarcerated tens of thousands of people. Images of the camps caused outraged in the international community and prompted the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Journalist Ed Vulliamy later shared an encounter he had with Nikola Koljević, a professor who served as “a senior middle manager” for the Bosnian Serb administration, the day after Vulliamy found the Omarska camp:

“‘So you found them,’ he said sardonically. ‘Congratulations!’ And then, in a piquant voice that evoked his favorite Shakespearean character Iago, he embarked on a double-edged reproach: ‘It took you a long time to find them, didn’t it? Three months! And so near to Venice! All you people could think about was poor, sophisticated Sarajevo. Ha-ha!’ And then, with a chill in his voice:

‘None of you ever had your holidays at Omarska, did you? No Olympic Games in Prijedor!’”

(Ed Vulliamy, “Middle Managers of Genocide,”The Nation, 10 June 1996)

Entrance to Manjača concentration camp, where thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats were incarcerated in 1992
(Source: ICTY Court Records)

On 19 November 1992, Bosnian Serb Army commander General Ratko Mladić issued Operational Directive 04, which, in part, ordered the Drina Corps to:

“…inflict the heaviest possible losses on the enemy, and force him to leave the Birač, Žepa and Goražde areas together with the Bosnian Muslim population. First, offer the able-bodied and armed men to surrender, and if they refuse, destroy them.”

The front page of the Daily Mirror, 7 August 1992

3 LIFE UNDER SIEGE

Srebrenica was conquered by the Novi Sad Corps of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) in April 1992. Small bands of Bosniak resistance fighters in the surrounding mountains regrouped and, by late May, managed to push the Army out. Before long, Srebrenica,Žepa, and Goražde were the only towns in Eastern Bosnia that were safe for Bosniaks, and they became safe havens for Bosniak refugees and survivors expelled from other places.

The small town of Srebrenica was quickly overcrowded, having absorbed 40,000 Bosniak refugees. And soon, Srebrenica, Žepa, and Goražde were all under brutal siege by the Bosnian Serb Army. In response to unrelenting attacks and repeat massacres, the United Nations declared Srebrenica a “Safe Area” in April 1993, through Security Council Resolution 819. Nonetheless, the enclave remained under siege and humanitarian aid was often blocked by Bosnian Serb authorities.

A letter from Reisu-l-ulama Jakub-ef. Selimoski in Sarajevo, warning of looming genocide in Srebrenica in March 1993.
A letter from Reisu-l-ulama Jakub-ef. Selimoski in Sarajevo, warning of looming genocide in Srebrenica in March 1993.

Pursuant to Resolution 819, a UN Security Council Commission was established, which was deployed to Srebrenica in April 1993. The conditions and atmosphere inside the besieged enclave were so dire that the Commission described what they saw as a “slow motion” genocide

Report of the Security Council Mission established pursuant to Resolution 819, 30 April 1993, p.6
(Source: ICTY Court Records)

In April 1993, the first United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), comprised from the Canadian contingent, arrived in Srebrenica. In early 1994, these troops were replaced by the Dutch battalion (DUTCHBAT),which remained in the enclave until July 1995.

4 THE PATH TO GENOCIDE

Leaders in Republika Srpska further elaborated on and ‘upgraded’ the objectives laid out in the Six Strategic Goals that were adopted by the Bosnian Serb Assembly in May 1992 by issuing Directives No. 4 and No. 7, which laid out instructions for the Army.

Directive No. 7 issued by Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadžić

In July 1994, Slavko Ognjenović,Commander of the Bratunac Brigade, declared:

“There will be no retreat when it comes to the Srebrenica enclave, we must advance. The enemy’s life has to be made unbearable and their temporary stay in the enclave impossible so that they leave en masse as soon as possible, realising that they cannot survive there.”

The Čaršijska mosque in Srebrenica, on the left, still intact but with its minaret destroyed. This photo was published in the bi-weekly Srpska reč on 31 July 1995, with the caption: “Last photo of the mosque in Srebrenica. Half an hour later it was reduced to rubble”.
Photo credit: Đorđo Vukoje (ERN 0706-6024).
(Source: Overview of destroyed and damaged religious buildings in Bosnia and Herzegovina, compiled by András Riedlmayer)

Directive No. 7 of 8 March 1995 issued the following commands to the Drina Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army:

“…in the direction of the Srebrenica and Žepa enclaves,the complete physical separation of Srebrenica from Žepa should be carried out as soon as possible, preventing even communication between individuals in the two enclaves. By planned and well-thought out combat operations, create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants...”

On 28 June 1995, St. Vitus’ Day (Vidovdan), President of the Bosnian Serb Republic Radovan Karadžić and Speaker of the Bosnian Serb Assembly Momčilo Krajišnik visited the Drina Corps in Vlasenica. Karadžić discussed attacking Srebrenica with the commander, General Krstić. On 6 July 1995, the Bosnian Serb Army and Police launched Operation Krivaja 95, with the aim to take Srebrenica.

VRS General Ratko Mladić (R)and Bosnian Serb soldiers enter Srebrenica on 11 July 1995, hours before the first killings start

After several days of indiscriminate bombardment and vicious military assaults, the enclave was overrun on 11 July 1995. UN troops began abandoning their posts and retreating to the nearby UN base in Potočari. Thousands of Bosniak women, children, and elderly also rushed towards the UN base, seeking refuge and protection. Inhabitants of Srebrenica knew that a repeat of 1992 was likely to occur. Men were separated from women and executed. Women and children were deported by buses towards Tuzla, and some were sexually abused.

Bosnian Serb soldiers giving chocolates to Bosniak children in front of TV cameras, minutes before the separation of men began when the cameras were turned off
(Source: ICTY Court Records)
Military map of the VRS Drina Corps after the end of the operation
(Source: ICTY Court Records)

5 MARCH OF DEATH

A majority of the Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica chose not to surrender to the Serbs, since they knew that would be the equivalent of suicide. A decision was made to try and break through towards the town of Tuzla, which was under Bosnian Government control. An estimated 15,000 Bosniak men and boys gathered and formed a column to make their way through the woods.

March of Death survivor Hasan Hasanović
(Photo credit: Kristian Skeie)

“We were amidst thousands and thousands of men. As far as my eyes could see, there were men walking – from teenagers, to old withered men. We were all supposed to gather on Buljim Hill, approximately six miles from Srebrenica, and set off from there. We were headed to Tuzla, the nearest Muslim territory.

On foot, Tuzla is just over 63 miles from Srebrenica, and you have to pass lots of uneven terrain, mountains, rivers, even minefields. It wasn’t going to be an easy journey, but we had no other option. We wanted to live.

We all gathered on the hill, and began assembling into a column. My uncle, who was with us, said it was best to remain in the middle of The Column. I was only 19 at the time, so I didn’t argue with his decision. As we continued to assemble in line, I heard an onslaught of gunfire. The key hill positions were under the control of the Serb military, so they had a good view of us all lining up. They didn’t care that we were unarmed.

Their primary concern was that we were Muslim, and they wanted us dead. In the commotion of the gunfire, people in the column started to push forward in a panic, desperate for shelter from the bullets. Bodies fell to the ground behind us, but no one knew exactly what was happening. The gunfire was relentless, and it felt like it was coming from every angle.

I could think of nothing but pushing forward. Forward was freedom; forward was survival, forward was everything. I pushed forward with all my might, until finally from the sea of men ahead, I saw woodland. I realised at that moment that I had lost my family. Husein, my father, and my uncle. As much as I wanted to stop and look for them, I knew if I did, I would be killed. I told myself if I wanted to live, I would have to run and not look back.

So, I ran. I ran with countless others into the woods. If we turned back, we would have to go to Potočari, and we were sure the UN would give us up to the Serb army. They had already given up Srebrenica, and by doing so, sacrificed our lives.”

Hasan Hasanović
(“Survivor Stories,” Remembering Srebrenica, 17 November 2014,
https://www.srebrenica.org.uk/survivor-stories/hasan-hasanovic)

Blindfolds used at execution sites
(Source: ICTY Court Records)

6 EXECUTIONS

Bosnian Serb forces routinely ambushed the column of men and boys, and then used the people they captured as bait to coax hiding Bosniaks out from the woods. These forces also stole equipment from the UN, including helmets and uniforms, and posed as UN peacekeepers to trick men and boys in the column into surrendering.

The Kravica Warehouse Massacre; from video stills from Zoran Petrović Priroćanac’s infamous Srebrenica video report
(Source: ICTY Court Records)

Bosniak men and boys who were captured or who surrendered were blindfolded and their hands were tied behind their backs with wire. They were then executed at one of several locations: in Orahovac, Petkovci, Branjevo, Pilica, Kozluk, or Kravica.

Over the course of several days, Bosnian Serb Army and Police forces executed at least 8,372 Bosniak Muslim men and boys.

Execution site, Orahovac
(Source: ICTY Office of the Prosecutor)

At the Grbavci School near Orahovac, a Bosnian Serb soldier watched as prisoners were lined up and shot. He later testified:

Execution site, Orahovac
(Source: ICTY Office of the Prosecutor)

“In that heap, in that pile of dead bodies, who did not resemble people any longer, which was just a pile of flesh in bits, a human being emerged. I say a human being, but it was actually a boy of some five to six years. It is unbelievable. Unbelievable. A human being came out and started moving towards the path, the path where men with automatic rifles stood doing their job

[…] And then all of a sudden they lowered their rifles and all of them, to the last one, just froze. And it was just a child there. Had it been a person of 70 or 80 years old, it would have been horrible, let alone an innocent, sweet child. And the child was covered in bits of bowel tissue of other people

[…] And as the child was emerging out of the pile of those who had been executed, he was saying, ‘Baba,’ this is how they call father. He was saying, ‘Baba, where are you?’”

Serbian Ministry of Interior unit, “The Scorpions” executing 6 Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica
(Source: YouTube)
Serbian Ministry of Interior unit, “The Scorpions” executing 6 Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica
(Source: YouTube)

7 MASS GRAVES

The bodies of executed Bosniaks were dumped into hidden mass graves dug by the Bosnian Serb Army, to conceal the crimes it had committed. These mass graves were later reopened and the bodies were moved to secondary and then tertiary mass graves, leaving many bodies fragmented and dispersed among them. As soldiers used trucks and bulldozers to move the bodies, they crushed and severed them

Aerial images of Glogova
(Source: ICTY Court Records)

This entire process – of executions, burials, and re-burials – was documented by US spy satellites. These images were later used as evidence in war crimes trials

Mass graves in Bosnia and Herzegovina
(Credit: MPI BiH)

8 THE SEARCH FOR MISSING PERSONS

In 1996, the Bosnian Government established an expert group to search for missing persons who had been victims of mass atrocities. The Federal Commission for Missing Persons would spearhead a nationwide investigation that sought the remains of these victims.

Exhumation of a mass grave within the former DUTCHBAT base in Potočari, Srebrenica, by the Missing Persons Institute
(Photo Credit: Muhamed Mujkić)

With the help of investigators from the ICTY in The Hague, the Federal Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) managed to uncover, exhume, and identify almost two-thirds of the country’s 30,000 missing victims of genocide and mass atrocities. And for the first time in history, evidence taken from mass graves, including for DNA analysis, was used in prosecuting war criminals

The remains of genocide victims were found at multiple locations, in primary, secondary, and tertiary mass graves
(Photo Credit: Muhamed Mujkić)
Srebrenica Commemoration and burial.
(Photo Credit: Muhamed Mujkić)

9 DENIAL

The United States permanent Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power (R), Russian permanent Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaliy Curkin (L), Spanish permanent Ambassador to the United Nations Roman Oyarzun Marchesi (L2), and UK permanent Ambassador to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft (R2) attend a session of the United Nations Security Council on the Srebrenica massacre in New York on 8 July 2015, where Russia vetoed a Srebrenica genocide resolution
(Photo Credit: Cem Ozdel / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

The mass murder and genocide of Bosniaks from Srebrenica was denied for years by authorities of Republika Srpska. Today, the Srebrenica genocide is still vociferously denied in many Bosnian Serb and Serbian academic and political circles. This denial is usually two-fold: on one hand asserting that there were no massacres at all and that victims died in battle; and on the other, that victims from Srebrenica deserved their fate for having committed historical crimes

10 LEGACY

In Tuzla, the Podrinje Identification Project (PIP) houses a morgue in which forensic processing and identification of the remains of victims killed in 1995 during the fall of Srebrenica are conducted
(Photo Credit: Muhamed Mujkić)

The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has established that the massacres carried out in and around Srebrenica in 1995 constitute genocide

“The Bosnian Serb forces knew, by the time they decided to kill all of the military aged men, that the combination of those killings with the forcible transfer of the women, children and elderly would inevitably result in the physical disappearance of the Bosnian Muslim population at Srebrenica..

“By killing all the military aged men, the Bosnian Serb forces effectively destroyed the community of the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica as such and eliminated all likelihood that it could ever re-establish itself on that territory...”

(From the ICTY Judgement in the case of Radislav Krstić, former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Drina Corps)

Green-draped coffins of genocide victims lined up in an abandoned factory hangar in Potočari-Srebrenica
(Photo Credit: Jasmin Agović
Imams praying during the Srebrenica commemoration
(Photo Credit: Muhamed Mujkić)

“By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the forty thousand Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general. They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.”

- ICTY Judge Theodor Meron

A visitor with a UN umbrella at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial
(Photo Credit: Kristian Skeie)
Former US President Bill Clinton in Srebrenica in 2003 meeting survivors of genocide
(Photo Credit: Muhamed Mujkić)
Survivors and family members at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial in Potočari, Srebrenica
(Photo Credit: Muhamed Mujkić)

11 TRIUMPHALISM

A peculiar aspect of modern genocide is the celebration phase. In today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, many of the institutions responsible for perpetrating genocide still exist and function, and convicted war criminals are honored as heroes.

This kind of triumphalism is seen as the final phase of genocide.