In the Bosnian silver-mining town of Srebrenica in July 1995, one of the most notorious modern acts of genocide took place. While the international community and U.N. peacekeepers looked on, Serb forces separated civilian men from women and killed thousands of men en masse, or hunted them down in the forests.
In June 1995, Bosnian Serb forces, pushing for a resolution to the ethnic "anomaly" of the Muslim enclaves, closed their noose around Srebrenica and the other "safe areas." In Srebrenica, mass panic took hold of the civilian population.
Women and children gathered at the U.N. base of Potocari, together with about 1,700 men,while most of the "battle-age" males -- mostly unarmed non-combatants -- took to the hills in a desperate attempt to flee to Muslim-held territory to the west. At Potocari, Dutch troops meekly allowed the Serbs access to the camps and the refugees they held.
Then, the following day -- July 11 -- some 1700 men, disproportionately the elderly and infirm, were separated from women and children. The peacekeepers "stood inches away from the Serb soldiers who were separating the Muslim men, one by one, from their families" (Sudetic,Blood and Vengeance, p. 306). At Serb command, the Dutch drew up a registry of 242 Bosnian men remaining in the camp, again mostly elderly and infirm. Then they handed the men over to the Serbs. Not one of the 242 men is known to have survived. The children and women were abused, with isolated exceptions, to safety in Tuzla. Men, almost without exception, were carted away to their deaths.
|Satellite photo of Nova Kasaba mass graves.|
picked out Muslims whom they either knew about or knew, interrogated them and made them dig pits. ...During our first day, the Cetniks [Serbs] killed approximately 500 people [men]. They would just line them up and shoot them into the pits. The approximately one hundred guys whom they interrogated and who had dug the mass graves then had to fill them in. At the end of the day, they were ordered to dig a pit for themselves and line up in front of it. ... [T]hey were shot into the mass grave. ... At dawn, ... [a] bulldozer arrived and dug up a pit ..., and buried about 400 men alive. The men were encircled by Cetniks: whoever tried to escape was shot." (Quoted in Mark Danner, "The Killing Fields of Bosnia", New York Review of Books, September 24 1998.)
A great many of the men who had sought to flee through the hills to Tuzla were doomed as well. The Bosnian Serb commander, Gen. Radivoj Krstic, in a radio transmission intercepted by western eavesdroppers, told his forces: "You must kill everyone. We don't need anyone alive." (Mark Danner, "Bosnia: The Great Betrayal", New York Review of Books, March 26 1998.) Serb forces took special pleasure in isolating trees where men had sought to hide, and riddling them with shrapnel from anti-aircraft guns.
Trapped in the hills under Serb bombardment, sleepless and thirst-maddened, men succumbed to hallucinations, paranoia, and despair. "The psyches of the men ruptured. Muslims mistook other Muslims for infiltrators. They threw hand grenades and fired their automatics at one another. ... Men shot themselves hoping the Serbs would show the wounded mercy" (Sudetic, Blood and Vengeance, p. 301). Many committed suicide. Thousands finally surrendered to Serb troops along the "Ring of Iron," who lured them with the sight of captured UN vehicles and promises of safe passage. All of those captured were taken to nearby fields and warehouses, executed, and buried in mass graves.
|Mass graves found.|
How many died?
The Red Cross lists 7,079 dead and missing at Srebrenica. Other estimates range as high as 8,000 or 10,000. David Rohde notes that the massacre "accounts for an astonishing percentage of the number of missing" from the brutal Balkans conflict as a whole. "Of the 18,406 Muslims, Serbs and Croats reported still missing ... as of January 1997, 7,079 are people [men] who disappeared after the fall of Srebrenica. In other words, approximately 38 percent of the war's missing are from Srebrenica." By any standard, it was one of the worst and most concentrated acts of gendercide in the post-World War II era -- and the worst massacre of any kind in Europe for fifty years.
Who is responsible?
Chuck Sudetic writes of the Srebrenica massacre that "the men who carried out the executions were reportedly under orders handed down by General [Ratko] Mladic and Radislav Krstic, a colonel in the Bosnian army who was promoted to general and named commander of the army's Drina corps by Mladic within a few days of the killings. Among the units that took part in the killings was the Tenth Commando squad, which answered directly to Mladic's headquarters ... Men from Srebrenica, Bratunac, Kravica, Milii, Visegrad, Bajina Basta, Loznica, Zvornik, and other towns also participated." (Sudetic, Blood and Vengeance, pp. 317-18.)
In 1996, the International Criminal Tribunal indicted Mladic and Krstic for crimes of humanity committed at Srebrenica. Joining them on the list of indicted war-criminals was Radovan Karadzic, leader of the self-styled "Republika Srpska" or Serb-controlled territories in Bosnia. Karadzic was intimately involved in planning the "endgame" in the Bosnian war, for which Srebrenica was to serve as a centerpiece. In July 1999, the Tribunal found that these mass murderers had been operating under "a direct chain of military command" from Belgrade and the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic. For the first time, the Tribunal defined the Bosnian war as "an international conflict," recognizing both Bosnian independence and Serbian aggression . As yet, however, Milosevic remains unindicted for the atrocities he directed in Bosnia.
The United Nations must shoulder a large share of responsibility for allowing the massacre to take place under the noses of its troops. In November 1999, the UN released a highly self-critical report on its performance, stating that "Through error, misjudgment and the inability to recognize the scope of evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder." (See Barbara Crossette, "U.N. Details Its Failure to Stop '95 Bosnian Massacre",
Muslim Defence League