Srebrenica: Twenty Years after the Genocide, Have we Learned Anything?

I doubt it. Many Americans don’t know anything about the Bosnian War (1991-1995) much less Srebrenica. And if they did they would likely be baffled by the confusing mix of ethnic and religious groups, and conclude, like we did during the conflict, that there is nothing we can do! In addition, our focus, in terms of foreign policy, has been taken over by the troubles in the Middle East. At the time of I don’t think we ever learned them, but it’s never too late to learn something. Therefore, it is worth remembering what happened in Srebrinica.

On this day twenty years ago the Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladić entered the U.N. declared “Safe Area” at Srebrenica, where thousands of Bosnian Muslim refugees had sought safety. No one thought that the Serbs would dare attack a U.N. “safe area” while the world was watching, but Mladić knew that the Dutch U.N. soldiers could do nothing. They were there to protect the Bosnian Muslims, yet their mandate only allowed them to use their weapons in their own defense. This situation was the result of the reluctance of Western nations to risk their own soldiers’ lives in defense of others.

After negotiations, Mladić was able to manipulate the U.N. into paying for the gas for buses that would, unbeknownst to the U.N., be used to take only the women out of Srebrinica. They had something else in mind for the men. Even before the Dutch soldiers had gone the Serbs separated the men from the women. However, they made sure that the Dutch would not see the killing, and therefore sent them on their way before the real killing began. In the end, they massacred approximately 8,000 Muslim men.


The point of the massacre, and those at other “safe areas,” was to ethnically cleanse (a term the Serbs coined themselves) the remaining Muslim enclaves in pursuit of their dream of a Greater Serbia that was free of all non-Serbs. Ironically, this massacre and the “cleansing” of the other safe areas opened the way for a peace agreement that was signed on December 14, 1995 in Dayton, Ohio. On May 25, 1992, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established to try and convict those who had committed war crimes during not just the war in Bosnia, but from the beginning of conflict in Slovenia and Croatia in 1991. But to date the highest ranking military official involved in the war and genocide to be tried and convicted by the ICTY has been Radislav Krstić, a commander involved in the Srebrenica assault. The main architects of the genocide after Slobodan Milosević, the former Serbian president who died while at trial, Ratko Mladić and Rodovan Karadzić remained free until they were captured in 2011 and 2008 respectively. They are now in custody at The Hague awaiting their own trials.

Krstić was convicted of the crime of genocide in 2000. Even though the Serbs only killed the men of Srebrenica, the Court ruled that the massacre was genocide since “by deciding to kill all the men of Srebrenica of fighting age, a decision was taken to make it impossible for the Bosnian Muslim people of Srebrenica to survive.” This was the first conviction of genocide by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.

Despite this fact, Serbia and its ally Russia have refused to acknowledge that a crime took place at all, much less that it was genocide. As a result, Russia has vetoed the U.N. resolution condemning the massacre at Srebrenica as a “crime of genocide” last week. This is unfortunate. Serbia’s persistent denialism posses a threat to the future peace of the region as many Serbs refuse to acknowledge what happened. Resentment will only increase on both sides. In order to heal, those who were victims of the tragedy need to feel that their suffering is acknowledged and justice has been achieved.

I agree with

It is also an opportunity for us, in the U.S., to reflect on our own role in the tragedy. We knew what was happening, as we did in Rwanda (1994), when 800,000 Tusis were slaughtered by their Hutu neighbors, and we did nothing.

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