Thousands of people attended the funeral of 613 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre on July 11 in the Memorial Centre at Potocari.
Before the burial, some 7,000 participated in the “Srebrenica Peace March 2011”.
The Peace March is conducted on a mapped route, similar to that which Bosniaks [Bosnian Muslims] from the so-called “UN safe haven” used in 1995 to reach the territory under the control of the Army of the Republic of BiH following Srebrenica’s fall to the Army of Republika Srpska.
The route includes more than 80 kilometres of rugged hill terrain and mountains. Until now, the march mainly gathered people from Bosnia and Herzegovina but it has since grown into a more international event, drawing people from the United States, Europe, Asia and some African countries.
Bosnian Muslims gather annually in the East Bosnian town of Srebrenica for the remembrance service. Every year the remains of bodies that were recovered from mass graves and identified over the past 12 months are given a proper burial at the site. This year 613 bodies identified through DNA analysis were reburied next to the memorial centre and families will continue to search and identify bodies of loved ones afterwards.
The Srebrenica massacre in 1995 was the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. Thousands of Muslim civilians had sought shelter in a UN “safe area” guarded by lightly-armed Dutch UN Peacekeepers in the town.
When Christian Serb troops arrived and overran the town, they bowed to pressure and stepped aside. 8,372 Bosnian Muslims, mostly men and teenage boys, were systematically executed and their bodies dumped in hastily dug mass graves, in what the UN War Crimes Tribunal has classified as genocide. Many of the bodies were exhumed at the end of the war and buried in secondary graves away from the site, in an attempt to cover up the evidence.
On July 5, judges in the Netherlands ordered the Dutch Government to compensate the relatives of three Bosnian Muslim men killed in the massacre, opening the way to other claims by relatives who say the victims should have been protected in the safe zone during the Bosnian war.
The ruling opens the way for people to sue states for the actions of their troops even when they are under UN control.
It is the first anniversary since the arrest of Ratko Mladic in May 2011, a former Serb military leader accused of being the architect of the massacre.
Both Mladic and politician Radovan Kradzic, arrested in July 2008, were extradited from Serbia to The Hague, Netherlands. They are currently on trial facing several counts of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslovia.
“Having him (Mladic) behind bars brings some comfort but the true relief will come only once I find the body of my 18-year-old son who was sent to death by Mladic,” said Munira Subasic, a member of the Mothers of Srebrenica group. In addition one of the last remaining fugitives, Goran Hadzic, was captured on July 20 in Serbia, a week after the Srebrenica anniversary.
To date only one guilty verdict of genocide relating to Srebrenica has been handed down by tribunal. Milorad Trbic, former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, was sentenced to 30 years in 2009.
Many Serbs still deny the genocide claiming the deaths were part of conflict, and view Mladic as a war hero.
Bakir Izetbegovic, Muslim member of Bosnia’s rotating presidency, said, “The Serb people are not ready to face the truth.” Commenting on the Serbian military leaders he added, “It takes too long for things to improve. We still face provocations from people who consider Ratko Mladic a hero.”
High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr Valentin Inzko, who is the highest political authority in the country and oversees the implementation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the war, said, “Perhaps, there are still those who insist that the killers are not killers, that the victims are not victims, that the dead are not dead. But this depraved and persistent denial will disappear before the truth.”
The Bosnian Grand Mufti, Mustafa Cerić, speaking in 2010, called on Bosnian Muslims to pursue a “state in Europe that will protect us from the next genocide.”
Baroness Warsi, representing the British Government, delivered a speech to the Srebrenica Summer School on July 11 to mark the genocide.
Warsi said, “Srebrenica is a name that now resonates around the world as a lesson in the consequences of unchecked evil. But we must never lose sight of the fact that the genocide at Srebrenica is about the massacre of individuals – each of them mourned by friends, families and loved ones.”