Bosnians commemorated on Saturday the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, marking the 25th anniversary of killings that shocked the world and have stood out as Europe’s only atrocity since World War Two constituting genocide.
Grieving families stood by green-draped coffins of nine newly identified victims who will be buried at a flower-shaped cemetery near the town, where tall white tombstones mark the graves of 6,643 other victims.
About 1,000 victims of the massacre in the eastern town during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war are still missing.
World leaders addressed the solemn ceremony by video link, unable to attend because of coronavirus epidemic. Instead of tens of thousands visitors who typically attend the annual commemoration, only a few thousand came after organisers banned organised visits.
During the Bosnian war, Bosnian Serb forces pushed non-Serbs out of territories they sought for their Serb statelet. Fleeing Muslims took shelter in several eastern towns, including Srebrenica, that were designated as United Nations “safe zones”.
On July 11, 1995, the Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic attacked and overrun Srebrenica, which was protected by lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers.
They separated women and children from men and bussed them to territory controlled by the Bosnian army. The men and boys were killed, while those who tried to escape through the woods were captured and executed. Their bodies were dumped into mass graves and later exhumed by U.N. investigators and used as evidence in war crimes trials of Bosnian Serb leaders.
“We grieve with the families that tirelessly seek justice for the 8,000 innocent lives lost, all these years later,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Washington brokered Bosnia’s peace deal months after the massacre.
Most people at the commemoration were Muslim Bosniaks, showing that Bosnia has not achieved reconciliation nearly 25 years since the end of its war, in which about 100,000 people were killed.
The U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted Mladic and his political chief Radovan Karadzic over Srebrenica genocide but they remained heroes for Serbs, many of whom deny that genocide happened.
On Saturday, a non-government organisation called “Eastern Alternative” in the nearby town of Bratunac organised an event honouring July 11 as the “Srebrenica Liberation Day”, when killings of Serbs in the area by the Bosnian army stopped.
“There can be no trust as long as we witness attacks on the truth, denial of genocide and glorification and celebration of executors,” Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, told the commemoration gathering.