On this day, the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities (AIPG) marks the twenty-eighth anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide. Recognized by the United Nations as the largest massacre in Europe since the Holocaust, this tragic event not only prompted a ceasefire that marked the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina but also inflicted profound emotional wounds on survivors, the families of victims, and the wider society. These enduring scars have posed significant challenges to reconciliation among the country's diverse ethnic groups.
In 1992, the Bosnian War erupted between three ethnic factions: Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Bosnian Serbs, and Croats. Facilitated by a declaration of independence by Bosnia and Herzegovina, which effectively ended the state of Yugoslavia, the ensuing conflict left over 100,000 people dead before a peace deal was brokered in 1995. Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has described the event as a failure that will "haunt our history forever."
On July 11, 1995, elements of the Vojska Republike Srpske (VRS; also known as the Army of Republika Srpska) entered the town of Srebrenica, which the United Nations Security Council had officially designated as a "safe haven" just two months prior. Upon arrival, the VRS quickly overran the poorly equipped international peacekeeping force and attacked Srebrenica's residents. In the ensuing chaos, members of the VRS rounded up and systematically executed over 8,000 of the city's Muslim boys and men, depositing their bodies in mass graves. Tens of thousands of women, children, and elderly members of the Bosniak community in Srebrenica were forcibly displaced from their homes and communities, and many were also subjected to a host of other abuses.
Following the Srebrenica massacre, the Bosnian Serb Army made deliberate efforts to hide the evidence by excavating the primary mass graves using heavy machinery. They carried out this operation covertly during nighttime, relocating the exhumed remains to secondary and tertiary sites. Consequently, the victims' remains became dispersed across various locations, necessitating multiple DNA tests for identification.
On February 26, 2007, the International Court of Justice ruled that the atrocities committed at Srebrenica constituted genocide. The court reasoned that, while other atrocities committed during the Bosnian War lacked sufficient evidence to prove intent, the evidence against the VRS perpetrators of the July 1995 massacre proved the intent required to qualify the event as a genocide. In 2017, the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted General Ratko Mladić of the VRS of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws or customs of war for his role in the Srebrenica Genocide and other events during the armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 through 1995.
In 2021, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals rejected Ratko Mladić's appeal against the convictions and upheld his sentence of life imprisonment. To date, Mladić is one of the highest-ranking officials to be tried by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and by the Residual Mechanism.
In June 2023, three members of the Movement of Mothers of Srebrenica and Žepa Enclaves, an activist association representing 6,000 genocide survivors, visited the United Nations to meet with senior officials and visit the exhibit entitled "Stories of Survival and Remembrance - A Call to Action for Genocide Prevention." Founded in 1996 by genocide survivors and families of the missing, the NGO advocates for justice and accountability while also raising funds to support the surviving members of the genocide. For more information on "Remembering Genocide: The Mothers of Srebrenica," please visit the website here.
Today, the Auschwitz Institute commemorates the 28th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide amidst a climate of unprecedented global volatility and the proliferation of hate speech, genocide denial, and the glorification of war criminals. During these challenging times, full of division and historical revisionism, we remember and honor the victims of Srebrenica and their families. In recognizing that prevention is a continued responsibility, AIPG reaffirms its commitment to them by using the legacy of the Srebrenica Genocide to fight mass atrocities around the world and continue to seek justice for those affected.