Graves of some of the more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys who were massacred by Serbian Christian para military in Srebrenica in the biggest single atrocity committed in Europe since World War Two. (Photo: Andalou Agency)
Twenty years ago, more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred by Serbian Christian paramilitary in Srebrenica in the biggest single atrocity committed in Europe since World War Two. At the time, little was said about the heinous crimes in what was designated UN Safe Area and under the watch of the UN’s Protection Force.
“Through error, misjudgement and an inability to recognise the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder,” former UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan, admitted but not until four year after the massacres in July 1995.
It contrasted with what UN Secretary General at the time Boutros Boutros-Ghali told the BBC when the Serbian paramilitaries entered Srebrenica. “We have been humiliated and duped. We will have to live with it. But in several days, it will belong to the past.”
Two decades on, it was down to his successor Ban Ki-moon going further in relating the extent of responsibility for the genocide, when addressing commemorations at the General Assembly in New York. “The atrocious murder of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica will forever weigh on the collective conscience of the international community”, he said two weeks ago.
According to classified documents and new research, Srebrenica was abandoned to its fate by the three key lead western powers, Britain, the US and France. The three governments were effectively negotiating to cede the so-called ‘safe area’ town to Serbs, having apparently decided to sacrifice the enclave, knowing six weeks before the massacre that it would fall.
It was not a shocking and unheralded event, as has long been maintained. It was a central element of the strategy pursued by the three western partners and by the UN leadership, a survey of the mass of evidence by The Observer found. It was peace at virtually any price.
During the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia, the population of Srebrenica swelled from 9,000 to 42,000, having been proclaimed as one of six safe havens for Muslims after entire villages had been torched and eradicated. It was under siege for two years before the Serb paramilitaries were given a green light.
So far14 of the main culprits have been convicted at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, while the Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadžic and his military counterpart, General Ratko Mladic await verdicts in trials for genocide.
While western powers may not have forecast the extent of the massacre that would follow, but the evidence demonstrates they were aware – or should have been – of Mladic’s declared intention to have the Bosniak Muslim population of the entire region “vanish completely”.
* As we go to print the remains of 136 Srebrenica genocide victims from the city of Visoko were buried in the cemetery in Potocari village, just northwest to Srebrenica town, on July 11 to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide.