In mid-July 1995, Bosnian Serbs invaded a United Nations "safe area” in Bosnia and Herzegovina and committed the single worst crime in Europe since World War II: the murder of more than 8000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. This month, we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.
After the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, ethno-nationalism drove up tensions and animosities among the myriad ethnic groups that made up the country, culminating in the Yugoslav Wars, first in Croatia and Slovenia, and then in multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina.
At the start of the war, the population of Eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina was mostly Bosniak, a majority Muslim Bosnian ethnic group. For over three years, the Bosniak population there was terrorized by Bosnian Serb nationalists, thousands of lives were lost and homes and livelihoods, destroyed.
On July 11, 1995, units of the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska, under the command of General Ratko Mladić, forcibly entered the besieged enclave of Srebrenica, which had been declared a "safe area" two years earlier, under United Nations protection.
The town was teeming with tens of thousands of refugees from the surrounding villages, who had sought shelter there. The Serbian troops rounded up the population, separated the women and youngest children, and then systematically murdered all males over the age of 15. Between July 11 and 25, they massacred close to 8372 unarmed men and boys simply because they were Bosniak.
The 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group". And that is what happened in Srebrenica, according to a report issued in 2004 by the Commission for Investigation of the Events in and around Srebrenica.
The two men most responsible for the Srebrenica massacre were former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadžić and his military commander Ratko Mladić. Both were eventually captured and tried before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and found guilty of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Twenty-five years after the atrocities in Srebrenica, we extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a time to reflect on the terrible tragedy of Srebrenica and recommit to holding accountable those responsible for crimes against humanity anywhere.
The 25-year anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide also reminds us of the importance of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it provides a renewed opportunity for its leaders to take the necessary steps towards building lasting trust, mutual respect, and reconciliation. This is essential to ensure that a tragedy like Srebrenica is never repeated and that Bosnia and Herzegovina moves towards a more stable and prosperous future for all of its citizens.