Genocide Timeline

Life Under Siege

Foto: BIRN BiH / Srebrenica prije genocida

Bosniaks from Zvornik, Bratunac, Vlasenica, and other municipalities in Eastern Bosnia, who survived the attacks of the Serbian army and ethnic cleansing, found refuge in a limited area of the Srebrenica municipality in the spring of 1992. By April 1993, the town of Srebrenica and the surrounding villages were overcrowded with displaced populations from the aforementioned municipalities, leading to a humanitarian crisis amidst constant attacks by the Army of the Republic of Srpska (VRS). Following the arrival of UNPROFOR commander General Philippe Morillon in April 1993, Srebrenica was declared a UN-protected safe area, retaining this status until July 11, 1995. The security of the population in the Srebrenica enclave was supposed to be ensured by UN forces. The period from April 1993 until the fall of Srebrenica in 1995 was marked by the presence of UN forces, initially Canadian and later Dutch battalions.

The presence of UN forces gave hope to the population in the protected enclave that the international community would find a solution for the 40,000 people living under siege on a territory of 12 kilometers long and 9 kilometers wide. Thus, from March 1993, UNHCR aid trucks began to arrive to alleviate the situation for the population. However, by the end of the summer of the same year, the humanitarian aid stopped arriving, and the population was forced to adapt to the given circumstances.

A temporary stabilization of the humanitarian crisis and the cessation of VRS military attacks during 1993 and 1994 gave hope to the demilitarized population that there would be a normalization of the situation as much as possible under wartime conditions.

The siege of Srebrenica led to a humanitarian crisis with a serious shortage of food, medicine and basic necessities. Over 40 thousand people were accommodated in a very limited space. People were faced with hunger, lack of shoes, clothing and poor housing conditions, which had serious consequences for their physical and mental health. Although abandoned by the UN, the inhabitants of the Srebrenica enclave did not accept the disappearance secretly, but tried to organize their lives with minimal resources. Forced to survive and with a strong desire not to lose spirit, the inhabitants of the enclave developed a limited market in the conditions of the siege, which functioned on the principle of natural exchange. Goods were scarce and prices were rising due to lack of food and other basic necessities. Agricultural production was started on all available arable land.

Also, schools and other educational institutions were opened, religious activities were organized, and artisans started making clothes and shoes for the population from available materials. Many separated families hoped that they would be reunited. Namely, in March and April 1993, several thousand women and children, whose fathers, brothers and husbands remained in the protected enclave, were deported to Tuzla, which was in the free territory, under the escort of UNPROFOR, awaiting reunification with family members with whom they maintained communication through strictly censored messages via the Red Cross.

Life in the enclave had particularly severe consequences for women and children as vulnerable categories of the population. The children grew up in extremely difficult conditions, facing a lack of food, education and a normal childhood. The presence of the UN and organizations like UNHCR had a significant impact on the life of the population of Srebrenica during the siege. The flow of humanitarian aid, although later cut off, was vital to people's survival immediately after demilitarization, but was also severely limited by political and military factors. Long-term exhaustion due to lack of salt were impacting lasting consequences on the physical and mental health of the population. Specifically, the RS army systematically and persistently took salt from food convoys entering Srebrenica from the direction of Bratunac in order to physically and mentally exhausts the population for whom it was preparing genocide.

The initial enthusiasm for starting some normal life activities subsided over time, since poverty, powerlessness, exhaustion due to lack of food began to generate negative social occurrences such as alcoholism, gambling, profiteering... Under the pressures of uncertainty, the established survival strategy began to fall apart.

Life under siege exposed the population to continuous stress and trauma due to the constant threat of attacks, lack of food and basic necessities, as well as the loss of loved ones. The prolonged siege and the absence of a visible way out led to a loss of hope and the development of depression among the population. Such a state has left deep psychological effects on the lives of people, who tried to develop various coping strategies with the given situation such as optimism, humor, or mutual support in order to overcome difficulties. Many found solace in devoting themselves to religious activities, which took on a dynamic flow in the enclave.

Life under siege also changed the dynamics of social relations within the enclave. People developed new ways of interaction and support to survive, but some also experienced mutual conflicts and increased isolation. The presence of UNPROFOR forces and the influx of humanitarian aid had both positive and negative psychological impacts on the population. Although humanitarian aid was crucial for survival, the limitations and uncertainty increased the feeling of helplessness.

In such a state, the population entered the year 1995, when the Serbian army occupied Srebrenica and committed genocide. A number of people tried to escape from Srebrenica to free territories. Over 8,000 men and at least 500 minors did not reach freedom. They were killed in the genocide of 1995, carried out by the army and police of the Republic of Srpska, supported by military units from Serbia.

Život u zaštićenoj zoni

Sources

  1. GENOCID NAD BOŠNJACIMA, SREBRENICA 1995–2020: Uzroci, razmjere i posljedice, zbornik radova, Institut za istraživanje zločina protiv čovječnosti i međunarodnog prava Univerziteta u Sarajevu, Univerzitet u Tuzli, Institut za historiju Univerziteta u Sarajevu, Sarajevo, 2021.
  2. Jan Willem Honig, Norbert Both, Srebrenica: hronika ratnog zločina, Sarajevo, 1997.
  3. Hikmet Karčić, Emrah Đozić i Resul Alić, „Tragom jednog video snimka: vjerski život u UN “Sigurna zona” Srebrenica 1992-95,“ Novi Muallim, br. 77, 2019.
  4. Mevludin Hrnjić, „Svjedok srebreničkog genocida“, Institut za društvena i religijska istraživanja, 2022.