After four months interning here, I had resolved to stay silent on many of the issues I encountered in Bosnia. The internet is already flooded with opinions surrounding issues facing contemporary Bosnia, and I did not feel my thoughts would add anything productive to the discussion.
But then I visited Srebrenica. I had been to the Hague, sat in on a hearing of Ratko Mladić, the so-called “Butcher of Bosnia,” and read thousands of pages of war crimes cases from the Bosnian State Court. Further, I used my free time to imbibe in film and books that would help educate me about the war (you will note I say war and not conflict) in Bosnia. Needless to say, I felt it was very important to understand the context surrounding Srebrenica before visiting the memorial site.
On July 6, 1995, the U.N. protected enclave of Srebrenica fell. While the U.N. had declared the enclave of Srebrenica, in the Drina Valley of north-eastern Bosnia, a “safe area” in 1993, the Dutch soldiers station at Srebrenica, for a variety of reasons, were unable to enforce this “safe area.” So, when a Serbian paramilitary unit called the “Scorpions,” and members of the Army of the Bosnian-Serb Republika Srpska, led by General Ratko Mladić, swept in to the valley of Srebrenica, the Blue Helmets had little choice but to surrender the Bosnian Muslim population that had sought refuge from the fighting, especially considering Mladić was holding some forty Dutch soldiers hostage.
Quickly, the Bosnian Serb troops put women and children on buses headed west to territory controlled by Bosnian Muslim forces. In the following three days, over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, mostly men and boys, were murdered. After the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia declared the massacre at Srebrenica a genocide in the 2004 Prosecutor v. Krstić case, many often overlook that the forcible transfer of over 25,000 Bosnian Muslims also took place at the time of the massacre.
In 2005, on the ten-year anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a press release on the Srebrenica genocide. In this press release, Annan affirmed that, while primary responsibility for the terrible events that transpired at Srebrenica lies with the perpetrators themselves, that Srebrenica would forever remain a dark mark on the history of the UN.
Almost twenty years later, more than 6,000 of the Srebrenica victims have been identified and laid to rest. The town of Srebrenica, once part of a thriving industrial valley, now boasts an almost 80% unemployment rate. Understandably, Bosnian Muslims have, by in large, chosen not to return to the area. While the municipality of Srebrenica is vast, town of Srebrenica itself is actually quite small (there are, literally, two streets), but at the top of hill at the end of a long road you can find some amazing natural springs of both iron and sulfur.