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SREBRENICA: STILL AN OPEN WOUND


The bloody victory of the international diplomacy over the life of thousands.


Srebrenica, BiH - Twenty-one years ago, on the 6th of July 1995, at 3.15 AM the Bosnian-Serb forces loyal to Serb Gen. Ratko Mladić began a full-scale offensive against the Bosnian and UN proclaimed “safe area” of Srebrenica.
The enclave, comprehensive of an area of fourteen square kilometres including the village of Potočari, soon became scene to the most bloody act perpetrated in Europe against a civil population since the Second World War.
During the following days a campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out against the Bosniak population, and in general against the non-Serbs people, began in the form of systematic persecutions such as torture, murder, rape, intimidation, forced displacement of people and confiscation and destruction of property, including cultural objects and places of worship.
In a few days more than 8000 people had their lives taken with the premeditated intent to destroy and eradicate a national, ethnic and religious group.
Today, after more than twenty years, the wounds this massacre has left behind have not completely healed yet, but although all of this happened so close to the peacefulness of our home-towns in Western Europe, everything seems now sealed in the past, as if it was none of our business or extraneous to our living.

Before the war the Srebrenica municipality counted about 37.000 people, 72.5 percent of whom were Muslims (Bosniaks) and 25.5 percent Serbs.
When the Bosnian-Serb army, initially with the active assistance of the Yugoslav army (Jugoslavenska Nardona Armija – JNA) and then with the support of Serb paramilitary groups, began its brutal campaign during April and May 1992, most of Bosnian territories quickly fell under Serb control. Therefore, many people fled into the enclave making Srebrenica's population swell to an estimate of 55-60.000 people.
During the three years long siege the outnumbered region's territorial units, led by Commander Naser Orič, somehow managed to stop the Bosnian-Serb incursions. Only on the 16th of April 1993 UN declared Srebrenica, with Resolution 819, a “safe area”, thus allowing regular humanitarian aid convoys to be delivered in the enclave, permitting to a group of 20.000 people to leave and to a first UN protection force (UNPROFOR) to settle in.
The UN forces role in the “safe area” has long been discussed, especially under the light of what subsequently happened and the accusations of negligence and passiveness moved to the Dutch peacekeepers. Indeed, a report compiled by the then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (“Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to Resolution 844”) clearly stated that UNPROFOR troops were authorized to use the force in order to protect the “safe area”, but due to a lack of units UN could not guarantee this would have happened.
Only few hundreds units were in fact deployed in Srebrenica instead of 34.000 estimated to ensure full respect for all the six “safe areas”. Furthermore, the UN aids coming from Belgrade must underwent controls on behalf of Serb officials in regard of quantity, content and frequency of the deliveries, often meaning their requisition.

In the months previous the beginning of Operation Krivaja '95 (that the codename of the operation for the capture of Srebrenica) an increasing number of troops and military vehicles started to gather on the hills around the enclave, and since April bombings became an everyday routine.
Bosnian-Serb forces justified their attacks pointing out that “terrorist activities” were being carried out by the Bosniak population. Actually, during the siege some and small in scale raids hit few Serbian villages, once again underlining the impotence of the UNPROFOR Dutch company, but they were usually intended to obtain food and ammunition from the Bosnian Serbs. By then the humanitarian convoys from Belgrade had become just occasional and insufficient, and people had started to die of hunger in the pocket.
What Serbs referred to was probably the long history of atrocious Bosnian Muslim violence perpetrated in 1992 and 1993 against the Bosnian-Serbs by Orič and his militias. Orič is indeed described at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, by Gen. Philippe Morillon (former UNPROFOR commander in Bosnia), as “a warlord who reigned by terror in his area and over the population itself”. Morillon also described Sebrenica as a “hellish circle of revenge”, stating that what happened in 1995 in the enclave was a direct consequence of previous events.
“I knew that the enclaves would fall. I think most of us knew. It was obvious that the Bosnian Serbs needed a victory, since people on their side have been getting sicker and sicker of the war, and it was obvious that no one was going to stop them if they were serious”, as Margriet Prins, at that time UNHCR's head of logistics in Tuzla, stated.
Prior the offensive, Mladić forces undermined the peacekeepers effectiveness in many ways, so that by early July UN troops were completely out of fuel, out-gunned, considerably outnumbered and psychologically and physically exhausted.
As the calm before the storm, on July the 5th almost no incidents were reported. What happened next has then become part of modern history, but some of the details and informations leaked during the last years has not.

Just few days before the 20th anniversary of the massacre the news that the Ally coalition led by UK, USA and France, traded the Srebrenica population for the peace in the Balkans has hit the headlines.
According to some recently US declassified documents, the massacre had been predicted and accepted in order to achieve the peace even at the cost of the blood of the Bosnian community.

Going back few years, during early 1992, the European Community managed to broker a deal between the three major ethnic groups present in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the Bosnian-Serbs, the so called Lisbon treaty. The US administration did however oppose the UE efforts by pushing Alija Izetbegović, leader of the Bosnian-Muslim community and Bosnians President, to reject the agreement in exchange for the US recognition of Bosnia and an active NATO commitment in the war.
Despite the failure of the Lisbon treaty, Europe made continued efforts in order to negotiate a deal to stop the conflict, but these plans never achieved a strong support among the Bush's administration first and the Clinton's one later on, which remained intensely jealous of the EU efforts to play a leadership role in the Balkan conflict, fearing a weakening of the NATO and US dominance in Europe.
The international diplomats knew what Mladić had widely expressed, that was the intent “to have them [Bosnian-Muslims] vanish completely”. Radovan Karadžić, President of Republika Srpska during the war and right-hand man of the Serbian President Slobodan Milošević's, had himself pledged “blood up to the knees” if his army, led by Mladić, would have entered Srebrenica.
According to statements released by Carl Bildt, EU mediator in Yugoslavia in 1995, “the Bosnian leadership knew that the peace settlement would mean the loss of the enclave. So from this point of view what happened made things easier”.
While the massacre was hitting its peak, western negotiators, Bildt among them, met Milošević and Mladić in Belgrade. However no issue was raised about the mass murders or mention was done about what US documents are today revealing, that CIA was witnessing the killings almost “live” from a satellite post in Austria and was making the Ally immediately aware of the situation.
What is evident is that diplomats in Belgrade were firstly concerned about the evolution of the military operations, and that had foremost in mind the release of the Dutch, English and French troops taken hostage by the Serbs.

An embarrassing and shameful behaviour that of the international community, which, ready to flaunt the achievement of the “safe areas” declaration, did not want to approve, except for an unsuccessful episode, the use of close air support as largely requested by Lt. Col. Ton Karremans, commander of the Dutch battalion head-quartered in the enclave.
The importance of the commitment was being widely highlighted by the leaders of the NATO coalition, but what was not admitted during the negotiations was the fact that Srebrenica was a thorn in Serbs' side and that their defence would have been impossible without a further military effort, which however nobody wanted.

Due to the Serbian attack, and in order to comply with the commitment taken with President Izetbegović, US officers and the NATO command eventually backed the Croatian and Bosnian counter-offensives during the summer of 1995 against Serbia, which led again to additional war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Finally, on the 14th of December 1995 Milošević, Izetbegović and Tuđman (President of Croatia) signed, in front of US President Bill Clinton, the Dayton agreements, which, rather than a peace, only marked the end of the war, outlining the borders of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The signing of the agreements also marked the beginning of a quest for justice for the civil population which suffered from the atrocities of this war.
Slobodan Milošević, extradited to The Hague in June 2001, had died in jail of a heart attack. War crimes, crimes against humanity and multiple violations of customs of war were just some of the charges he had to answer to for the event happened during the Yugoslavian Wars.
Radovan Karadžić, political architect and implementer of the attempted genocide in Bosnia, has been arrested in Serbia in 2008. He has been condemned on the 24th of March 2016 by the ICTY to serve 40 years in jail in response to multiple indictments of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of customs of war. Throughout the whole trial he has been denying the charges moved against him and the committing of those crimes, instead saying that "I should have been rewarded for all the good things I've done".
The verdict has been received by many Serbs and Bosnian-Serbs as a conspiracy of a NATO tribunal against the Serbian population. Many demonstrations have been held on the streets of Belgrade in favour to Karadžić, where he, alongside with Milošević and Mladić, is considered as a national hero.
Now the most awaited sentence is that of Ratko Mladić, arrested in 2011 after fifteen years on the run, who is also accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

One year ago, on the 11th of July 2015, a great crowd has gathered at the Srebrenica-Potočari Genocide Memorial in order to bury 136 of the latest recognised victims of the massacre, and many international politic figures attended the event as well. Among them former US President Bill Clinton, acclaimed and celebrated by the crowd, and, less welcomed, Aleksandar Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia.
Vučić, long time celebrator and protector of Ratko Mladić, has been forced to flee the event after the crowd started throwing stones, bottles and other objects at him, calling him “genocide denier”. Surely the Bosnian-Muslim population will not easily forget the statement he made few days after the fall of Srebrenica, when as member of the Serbian Radical Party he declared: “For every Serb killed, we will kill 100 Muslims”.

Even though the two neighbouring ethnicities are trying to establish a peaceful coexistence, today the country is still divided. Bosnia and Herzegovina has become, following the Dayton agreements, a Federal Republic whose constitution is still largely based on the agreements themselves. The entities which today make up the country, Republika Srpska, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and more recently the Brčko District, indeed largely reflect the territories held by the two warring sides in 1995, and are mostly populated by the respective ethnicities.
The Presidency of the country itself is rotated every eight months between the representatives of the Croat, Bosnian and Serb population, which in turns are called to govern over the country.
Yet again this underlines the fragmentation and the condition of fragile peace on which the country is held, a status-quo that still hold on to the balance imposed by the Dayton treaties.









Among more than 6000 graves, at the Srebrenica-Potocari
Genocide Memorial and Cemetery, only one is Christian, that
of Rudolf Hren. He was part of the ICRC (International
Committee of the Red Cross) staff and at the time of the geno-
cide was living in the enclave. His body was found in a mass
grave in 2009, 15 years after he was killed. Rudolf Hren grew
up in Srebrenica, so his mother decided to bury him "among
his Muslim friends, with whom he lived and died".


The former battery factory, UNPROFOR command head-
quarter during the siege, reflected on the window of one
of the many buses arrived in Srebrenica for the event.


Bullet holes on the roof of the warehouse where thousands of
Bosnian-Muslims sought shelter from Mladić's troops.


The crater of a grenade explosion, just underneath the pictures
from the past commemorations.


The exhibition set up in the former UN headquarter.


A picture of one of the graffiti made by Dutch soldiers in
their shelters.


The stage used by the representatives of the different countries
to address the public and the press just before the burial
ceremony.


The Antidayton paper flag, with the Bosnian coat of arms,
symbol of the 2015 commemoration.