Srebrenica massacre

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The Srebrenica massacre was the July 1995 killing of a large number of Bosniak men and teenage boys in the region of Srebrenica by the Bosnian Serb army of general Ratko Mladić. One of the largest killings in Europe since World War II, it is estimated there were almost 8,000 victims in the massacre; the exact numbers of dead and the details and causes of their deaths are debated to this day due to the nature of the event. It is generally regarded to be one of the most horrific and controversial events in recent European history.

Mladić and other Bosnian Serb army officers have since been indicted for various war crimes, including genocide, at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

In Prosecutor v. Krstić, a landmark ruling that put to rest any doubts about the legal character of the massacre, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia unanimously ruled that it was an act of genocide.



See also History of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Following the breakup of Yugoslavia and the war that ensued, Bosnian Serbs took control of most of eastern Bosnia, conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Bosniaks or Muslims. This regional campaign was documented by international organizations and thousands of eyewitnesses. Srebrenica was one of the handful of remaining Bosniak enclaves in that area.

Many Serbs from the outlying areas and the city itself joined the Serbian army at the outset of the conflict, or simply left, or were expelled from the Bosniak-controlled areas for the areas under the control of the Bosnian Serb Army. There is also evidence, such as video footage, that the Serbian population in the region who were not officially part of the Serbian army had taken part in the aggression by providing the Serb forces with arms and ammunition, such as mortar shells. Some even independently participated in the attacks, often looting and destroying Bosniak homes.

In 1993, Serb forces launched an overwhelming offensive on the city, forcing its defenders to agree to a UN monitored demilitarization plan. Srebrenica became the first "safe area" of the Bosnian war and some 600 Dutch Peacekeepers were assigned to safeguard the civilians in the city. However, they soon got involved in the local quagmire, as the Bosniak forces under Naser Orić were able to keep some of their weapons and many of their trenches behind the borders of the "safe area", contrary to the conditions of the cease-fire agreement.

Orić used this to his advantage, setting out on numerous night time revenge raids against outlying Serbian villages, including that of Kravica, notoriously raided on January 7th, Orthodox Christmas. These attacks were often followed by a wave of desperate, hungry Bosniak civilians, many of whom had been 'cleansed' from their own communities, looting and burning homes and exacting vengeance on the Serbs they caught. Hundreds were brutally killed and injured in these events, with many instances of torture and brutality, with Serb estimates claiming around 2000 casualties, others putting the number around 1300.

On June 4, 1995, the commander of United Nations military forces in the former Yugoslavia, Lt. General Bernard Janvier of France, secretly met Mladić to obtain the release of the hostages, more than half of whom were French. Mladić demanded that Janvier first promise there be no future air strikes. Five days later chief UN representative in the region, Yasushi Akashi, said that the UN would now "abide strictly by peacekeeping principles".

The Massacre

On July 7 1995, the Bosnian Serb forces led by general Ratko Mladić occupied the enclave. Dutch Peacekeepers requested aerial assistance, but none came, and they were taken as hostages by Serb forces. Orić was gone from Srebrenica by then, and left the command in the hands of his lieutenants, prompting some members of the media to accuse the Bosnian forces of not putting up an adequate defense.

Most civilians immediately left for Potočari, the main base of UN forces, or boarded buses for government held territory. At the base the Serbs forces segregated the civilian population into a group of men, and a group of women and children. Most of the male population however, including soldiers, older men, and young boys formed a column instead and attempted to force their way to Tuzla and Bosnian government held territory. A similar exodus began from the town of Žepa, which the Serbs had also overrun.

They were estimated to number about 12,500 in total. In their attempt to escape, they were surrounded by Serb forces who opened fire on them, using anti aircraft cannons and heavy machine guns. Hundreds were killed in the ambush, with many more wounded being systematically executed later on. Those who chose to surrender or were captured were later taken away by Serb forces and executed as well. Serb forces continued to pursue what remained of the group, killing hundreds more until they had escaped to Bosnian government held territory. Of the 12,500 men who attempted the escape, about 5,000 made it to safety. Many official witness statements of the atrocities committed have been collected by the Association 'Women of Srebrenica' (Van Gennep, 1999).

Many survivors have provided detailed accounts of alleged use of chemical weapons in biological warfare by the Serb forces against the fleeing men, possibly a Benzilate compound, that is said to have rendered its victims disoriented and hallucinatory. In a November 1998 report titled, "Chemical Warfare in Bosnia? The Strange Experiences of the Srebrenica Survivors", Human Rights Watch concluded that the use of an incapacitating agent "cannot be ruled out" though "conclusive evidence remains elusive". On the other hand, the Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie (NIOD) concluded that "[t]here are no indications that the Bosnian Serbs had combat gases" (NIOD, 2002, App. III.3).

Due to the nature of these events, mass confusion, and propaganda from both sides, the exact numbers, details, and causes of the victims' deaths are debated to this day.

Although Bosnian Serbs have long been blamed for the massacre, it was not until June 2004 - following the Srebrenica commission's preliminary report - that Serb officials acknowledged that their security forces carried out the slaughter. A Serb commission's final report on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre acknowledged that the mass murder of more than 7,800 Bosniak men and boys was planned. The commission found that more than 7,800 were killed after it compiled 34 lists of victims.

The progress of finding victim bodies in the Srebrenica region, often in mass graves, exhuming them and finally identifying them was relatively slow. By 2002, 5,000 bodies were exhumed but only 200 were identified. However, since then the exhumed body count has risen to 6,000 and the identification has been completed for over 2,000, as of 2005.

Recent developments

Missing image
Identified Victims of Srebrenica Massacre

Ratko Mladić and the political leader of Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadžić have both been indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. In 2001, Radislav Krstić, a Serb commander who had led the assault on Srebrenica alongside Mladić, was convicted by the tribunal on genocide charges and received 46 years to life in prison.

After a long-running discussion about the event in the Netherlands, the Dutch second cabinet of Wim Kok chose to resign in April 2002 after the official inquiry and report by the Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie.

The Enclave, a three-part series based on the Srebrenica incident, was released in 1995 by the Dutch Public Broadcasting station. It has since been condensed into one movie and is regularly shown on US free satellite channel LinkTV.

In 2004, the international community's High Representative Paddy Ashdown had the Government of Republika Srpska form a committee to investigate the events. The committee released a report in October 2004 with 8,731 confirmed names of missing and dead persons from Srebrenica: 7,793 between 10th and 19th of July 1995 and further 938 people afterwards.

Findings of the committee remain generally disputed by the Serb nationalists, as they claim it was heavily pressured by the high representative. Nevertheless, Dragan Čavić, the president of Republika Srpska, acknowledged in a televised address that Serb forces killed several thousand civilians in violation of the international law, and asserted that Srebrenica was a dark chapter in Serb history[1] ( In his statement he used the word 'massacre' instead of 'genocide'.

On November 10 2004, the government of Republika Srpska issued an official apology. The statement came after government review of the Srebrenica committee's report. "The report makes it clear that enormous crimes were committed in the area of Srebrenica in July 1995," the Bosnian Serb government said [2] (

As of 2004, the mass graves are still being dug up and the victims honorably laid to rest, providing a sense of closure for many families who lost their loved ones.

On January 18, 2005 two former Bosnian Serb officers, Vidoje Blagojevic and Dragan Jokic, were convicted and imprisoned for their complicity in the Srebrenica massacre.

Missing image
Stills from recently released video footage.

On June 2, 2005 video evidence emerged. It was introduced at the Milosevic trial to testify the involvement of members of police units from Serbia in Srebrenica Massacre [3] ( The video footage starts about 2hr 35 min. into the the proceedings. The footage shows an orthodox priest blessing several soldiers. Later these soldiers are shown with tied up captives, dressed in civilian clothing and visibly physically abused. They were later identified as four minors as young as 16 and two men in their twenties. The footage then shows the execution of four of the civilians and shows them lying dead in the field. At this point the cameraman expresses disappointment that the camera's battery is almost out. The soldiers then ordered the two remaining captives to take the four dead bodies into a nearby barn, where they were also killed upon completing this task.

The video has caused a public outrage in Serbia. In the days following its showing, the Serbian government quickly arrested some of the former soldiers identified on the video. The event has most extensively been covered by the newspaper Danas and radio and television station B92. As was reported by Bosnian media, at least one mother of a filmed captive saw the execution of her son on television. She claimed she was already aware of her son's death, and said she had been told that his body was burned following the execution. His remains were among those buried in Potočari in 2003.

Alternative views and denial of the massacre

Some people have initially cast doubt on the reports about the massacre, claiming either that the numbers were too large or that there was no massacre at all.

In addition, it was claimed that the bodies found were not those of the Muslim fighters who tried to flee through the Bosnian Serb lines and join the rest of the Bosnian Muslim Army, but of unarmed Serb civilians murdered by Srebrenica Muslim fighters under the command of Naser Orić. It was also stressed later on by the Bosnian Serbs that the killings have occurred largely as a retaliation for the crimes previously committed by Orić's troops on the Serbian civilians who lived in villages surrounding Srebrenica.

Around fifty Serb-inhabited villages and hamlets had been attacked by raids from Srebrenica between May 1992 and February 1993, led by its Bosniak warlord Naser Orić of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who himself told this to western journalists and backed it by footage from his own videotape collection. Orić is presently awaiting trial at the ICTY on unrelated charges including his torturing of Serb prisoners of war and commanding Muslim troups which killed Serbian civilians in the surrounding villages. It is accepted by all sides that these acts happened and that there is a number of Serb people from those villages who are still unaccounted for. The Serbian government submitted a report to the United Nations in May 1994 explaining two dozen incidents of ethnic cleansing in the region of Srebrenica, Bratunac and Skelani, naming 371 people killed by Orić's troops.

CIA satellite photographs were used during the war to publicize suspected locations of the mass graves near Srebrenica. Several mass graves from which the bodies were exhumed were not found there; instead, they were found near the sites of Orić's raids.

The Serbs distrusted the western explanation of the events due to the long delays in proving that there were mass graves in the area, and that people in them were indeed Bosniaks (it took almost a decade for a notable percentage of bodies to be identified). In their eyes, further doubt was cast at the mainstream story when the UN high representative Paddy Ashdown relieved and replaced the examining commission of Republika Srpska which reported that the initial explanation was correct. This only exacerbated the concern that there was bias among the westerners regarding how there is much more concentration on the wartime acts of Serbs than there is on the wartime doings of the Bosniaks and the Croats.

However, the exact number of victims of the raids by Orić's forces is unknown (the Serbian government's list of 371 people is from 1994), and their bodies have not yet been found in mass graves. On the other hand, Bosniak bodies continue to be excavated, identified and buried.

The Bosnian Serb side has, under the heavy authority of Governor Ashdown, officially admitted the number of killed Muslims and expressed regrets for the massacre in 2004, and the number of killed is presently disputed by very few. All nations and international organizations involved consider it to have been a massacre, and most consider it to be a case of genocide. The government of the Republika Srpska sub-entity has condemned the atrocity. Official Serbia has condemned the massacre from the very beginning, although Serbs from Serbia had reservations about the number of people killed for some time. In the west, radicals on both sides of the political spectrum have disputed the original accounts of the massacre for different reasons. Some radical liberals view the Srebrenica massacre as being another case of government propaganda in an unnecessary war. Their conservative counterparts consider the "truth" to have been manipulated by radical Islamists and their allies. Still, such views are not widely held in NATO countries other than Greece.


  • NIOD, 2002. Srebrenica, een 'veilig' gebied. Boom, Amsterdam. ISBN 9053527168. English translation available at the NIOD Srebrenica website (
  • David Rohde. 1997. Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe's Worst massacre Since World War II. WestviewPress. ISBN 0813335337.
  • Van Gennep, 1999. Srebrenica: Het Verhaal van de Overlevenden [Srebrenica: The Story of the Survivors]. Van Gennep, Amsterdam. ISBN 90-5515-224-2. (translation of: Samrtno Srebrenicko Ijeto '95, Udruzenje gradana 'Zene Srebrenice', Tuzla, 1998).

See also

External links

fr:massacre de Srebrenica ms:Penyembelihan Srebrenica nl:Srebrenica pl:Masakra w Srebrenicy


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