Remembering Srebrenica – OpEd


July 11 is a dark reminder of man’s inhumanity. Twenty-eight years ago, and some fifty years after the world had said “Never Again” to the horrors of the Holocaust, Europe allowed the genocide of another minority community on its soil. In Bosnia, between 1992-1995 close to 100,000 people were killed, over 2 million were forcibly displaced, and between 20,000-50,000 women were raped as part of the systematic campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing enacted by the Serb forces.

The name Srebrenica has become synonymous with those dark days in July 1995 when more than eight thousand men and boys (and dozens of women) were systematically murdered and buried in mass graves. The victims – all Muslims from an infant of couple hours to a 94-year-old woman – were selected for extermination because of their religious identity. This was the worst atrocity on European soil since the Second World War. 

Oddly, Srebrenica was declared a safe area, the first ever, by the United Nations. One wonders how could this genocide happen in the heart of Europe!

The answer is a simple and an unpleasant one: the Muslim (or as the Serbs call it – the Turk) factor. 

As I have noted in my book – 64 Hours in Sarajevo: A journey through the historic landscape of the Balkans – the ‘Turkish’ factor is very important to understand the criminal mindset and behavior of the Serb leadership that approved and carried out the genocide of the Bosniaks. Consider, for instance the speech made by Ratko Mladić who after entering Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, with his murderous force said, “Here we are, on 11 July 1995, in Serb Srebrenica. On the eve of yet another great Serb holiday, we give this town to the Serb people as a gift. Finally, the time has come to take revenge on the Turks [Muslims] in this region.” 

That evening, Mladić told a local Bosniak, “In order to make a decision as a man and a commander, I need to have a decision from your people. Whether you want to survive, stay or disappear.”

The genocide was allowed to happen by the UN forces. 

In 1999, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan submitted his report on the Fall of Srebrenica. In it, he acknowledged that while the blame lay first and foremost with those who had planned and carried out the massacre, the UN also bore its share of responsibility, having made serious errors of judgement, “rooted in a philosophy of impartiality and non-violence which, however admirable, was unsuited to the conflict in Bosnia; because of that the tragedy of Srebrenica would haunt the UN’s history forever.”

It is worth recalling that on 6 April 1993, the UN Security Council had declared the town of Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia, a “safe area which should be free from any armed attack or any hostile act.” By then, Srebrenica hosted refugees from areas where Bosnian Serb forces had pushed out non-Serbs. The then-U.N. commander, French General Philippe Morillon, made the U.N.’s final stance, declaring at the time: “You are now under U.N. protection of the United Nations…. I will never abandon you.” The UN Security Council would pass another resolution in May declaring five other places in Bosnia “safe areas”: Bihac, Gorazde, Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zepa. 

Despite the U.N. flag flying over the enclave, the Bosnian Serb assault in July 1995 met no U.N. resistance either on the ground or from the air. Within 10 days, tens of thousands of Muslim refugees streamed into the Muslim-controlled city of Tuzla. Missing from the stream of refugees were more than 8,000 men of all ages, who had been executed in cold blood – mass murder on a scale not witnessed in Europe since the Third Reich. 

In this regard, the role of Dutch force under the UN flag remains highly controversial. When the Serb forces took control of the UN Observation Post Foxtrot in the morning of July 8, 1995, Dutchbat forces retreated. As the advancing Serbs moved into Srebrenica, in the early hours of July 10, 1995, Dutchbat commander Colonel Karremans filed a request for Air Support, urging the selective bombing of Bosnian Serb tanks and artillery, which was rejected by NATO’s French commander General Bertrand Janvier.  (Yasushi Akashi, a Japanese diplomat who was then Special Envoy for former Yugoslavia in the UN, was reportedly complicit in this decision making.) Late at midnight, Colonel Karremans told town leaders that 50 NATO planes would bomb Bosnian Serb positions at 6:00 AM the next morning. This did not happen on July 11 under the pretext of requests being made on wrong form, and that the NATO planes were out of fuel. At 2:40 p.m. two bombs were dropped on Serb positions by two Dutch F-16 planes. When Bosnian Serbs threatened to kill the Dutch hostages and shell refugees, further Air Strikes were abandoned. (As can be seen, Japan and some NATO powers like France and the Netherlands were complicit in this genocide.)  

And the rest is history! 

As Mladić and his troops descended upon Srebrenica on July 11 at 4:15 p.m., 20,000 people sought refuge in nearby factories and fields to no avail. As night fell, Dutchbat troops began abandoning their posts, and it became clear to the refugees that no help was coming. At midnight, 15,000 Bosniak men embarked on a perilous 63-mile journey from Srebrenica to assemble at Buljim Hill for the long walk to the free territory of Tuzla. As the men assembled in a column on the hill, Serbian Military forces began heavy gunfire. Unarmed and without shelter, the back of the column disintegrated as the men ran into the woods for cover. Many Bosniaks were killed.
Aware that thousands of men were now hiding in the woods and without any means of contacting each other, the Serbian Military used stolen UN equipment to pose as peacekeepers and coax the men out from hiding. Those who took the bait were encouraged to call out to their relatives- their sons, brothers, and fathers to reveal themselves. They were rounded up and later executed. 

Bosnian Serb soldiers brutally slaughtered 8,372 men in Srebrenica alone. In an attempt to hide their crimes in Srebrenica, the victims’ remains were moved to mass graves, eventually even secondary mass graves and in some case tertiary mass graves with bones scattered between graves.

After five days, and six nights of walking, a mere 3,000 survivors arrived in Tuzla. 

The UN Civilian Head of Bosnia, Yasushi Akashi, failed to report evidence of the Serb atrocities. Colonel Karremans referred to the attack on Srebrenica as being, “an excellently planned military operation”.

After the fall of Srebrenica, U.S. President Bill Clinton dubbed it “a serious challenge to the UN mission,” adding that “unless we can restore the integrity of the UN mission, obviously its days would be numbered.” 

On August 30, 1995, NATO launched a major bombing campaign against Bosnian Serb forces to pressure them to move heavy weapons away from Sarajevo and stop threatening other UN “safe areas.” Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic welcomed the air strikes as “the beginning of peace,” and said, “The world has finally done what it should have done a long, long time ago.” The Bosnian Serb leader Karadžić called them a “moral disaster for the Western world and for the UN.” As expected, Russian President Boris Yeltsin condemned the NATO bombing. 

Within days of the NATO bombing, the joint Bosniak-Croat forces were able to seize previously lost territories. The Serb leadership, realizing that more territories would be lost unless they negotiate soon, agreed to a cease-fire in October 1995.  

Finally, a peace plan was agreed in November 1995. President Clinton described it as a plan that contained “bitter pills” – neither just nor fair to the Bosniak victims – that was necessary to end the war.

On November 21, the presidents of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia agreed to a U.S.-brokered peace framework that was worked out in Dayton, Ohio over 20 days. The agreement, formally signed in Paris on December 14, 1995, also called for all parties to cooperate with the investigation and prosecution of war crimes. However, the Serb leaders have been dragging their feet on prosecution of war crimes ever since. They continue to elect Serbian supremacists as their leaders. 

At the end of the Balkan wars, a staggering 40,000 people were estimated to be missing. Since 1995, over 750 mass graves have been uncovered. So far, 91 mass gravesites have been uncovered in Srebrenica alone, yielding 6,877 positive identifications out of a possible 8,100 reported missing. Of the estimated 20,000 Serbian soldiers who committed war crimes, thus far only a mere 500 have been tried and convicted.

For the families of the victims, justice is a distant hope. All they ask now is to be reunited with a single piece of their loved one, so that they may finally have a grave at which to grieve.

In the majority-Serb area, war memorials commemorate the deaths of Bosnian Serbs — but the execution sites of Bosniaks remain unmarked. Convicted and indicted war criminals are celebrated as proud and patriotic Serbs in Serb territories. 

Many Serb leaders still downplay the Srebrenica massacre and other war crimes. One of these genocide deniers is Milorad Dodik, the current president of the Republika Srpska entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), who in 2021 said the Srebrenica massacre was not a genocide. It was a ‘myth’ and a ‘deception’.

Not surprisingly, Ratko Mladić, the commander who led the massacre, is portrayed as a hero by the Serbs. His posters have gone up near the cemetery in Srebrenica, which now remains ethnically cleansed of the Bosniaks who before the Bosnian War comprised more than 75% of the town’s population.

What a perversion of Serbian patriotism in display! 

Milorad Dodik is a fascist who remains a threat to the territorial integrity of the fragile country. He wants to dismantle the last remaining international checks and balances protecting BiH’s sovereignty, including the international judges at the constitutional court, whose votes can overrule anti-Dayton moves.

As the European Union (EU) and the United States are busy this week finding a compromise for Ukraine’s NATO membership, Dodik, Vladimir Putin’s key ally in Europe, is launching an attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of BiH. Dodik has carried out a coup against Bosnia’s constitutional court – the highest authority for interpreting and enforcing the Dayton Peace Agreement. He has signed into force legislation that makes decisions by the court not applicable in Republika Srpska, threatened a referendum on secession from Bosnia, and called for EU and NATO soldiers to be stationed on the inter-entity boundary to prevent the conflict.

The USA and the EU should not allow a dismemberment of BiH. It must threaten Dodik with more international scrutiny over illicit finance, corruption, and nepotism in Republika Srpska. The EU should reinforce EUFOR’s presence in Bosnia with additional troops to prevent any attempts at secession. NATO should signal its readiness to take over from EUFOR if Russia blocks the renewal of the EU-Althea mission at the UN Security Council in November.

As duly noted by Majda Ruge, a senior fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the US and the EU need to act now with a diplomatic strategy that will change Dodik’s cost-benefit calculations to avoid this political problem becoming a military problem down the road. Failing to protect tiny Bosnia from a Kremlin-backed coup would damage the credibility of NATO’s deterrent in Ukraine.


On December 7, 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt fell to his knees at the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto. He prayed, that Germans might be forgiven. “Faced with the abyss of German history and the burden of the millions who had been murdered, I did what we humans do when words fail us,” was how Brandt put it later in his memoirs.

The so-called “Warsaw Genuflection” of Willy Brandt opened the way to reconciliation. 

The Serbs need a Willy Brandt. What they have, instead, are fascists like Dodik who want to turn the clock back to 1992. 

Genocidal criminals should never be rewarded, and nor those who deny it.

Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Dr. Habib Siddiqui has a long history as a peaceful activist in an effort towards improving human rights and creating a just and equitable world. He has written extensively in the arena of humanity, global politics, social conscience and human rights since 1980, many of which have appeared in newspapers, magazines, journals and the Internet. He has tirelessly championed the cause of the disadvantaged, the poor and the forgotten here in Americas and abroad. Commenting on his articles, others have said, "His meticulously researched essays and articles combined with real human dimensions on the plight of the displaced peoples of Rohingya in Myanmar, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo and Palestine, and American Muslims in the post-9/11 era have made him a singular important intellectual offering a sane voice with counterpoints to the shrill threats of the oppressors and the powerful. He offers a fresh and insightful perspective on a whole generation of a misunderstood and displaced people with little or no voice of their own." He has authored 11 books, five of which are now available through His latest book - Devotional Stories is published by A.S. Noordeen, Malaysia.

2 thoughts on “Remembering Srebrenica – OpEd

  • July 12, 2023 at 1:02 pm

    Srebrenica has two genocides, one where Muslim troops led by Naser Oric first massacred 3,500 Serbian civilians and then one where Serbian troops retaliated in a revenge killing of these same Muslim troops. So why is only the revenge killing remembered and talked about? Why is the massacre of Serbian civilians always forgotten? The answer is so that Nato could justify the illegal bombing of Serbian lands, This oped has nothing to do with peace and everything to do with war.

  • July 13, 2023 at 4:33 pm

    Most Serbians are still in denial of Srebrenica Genocide and one way that they have been trying to hide their national culpability is to blame their victims by making mountains out of moles. In a war, of course, violence is perpetrated by all parties – attackers and defenders. But to compare the marauding and genocidal crimes of an attacking force that is well armed and equipped with the right of the poorly armed defender is preposterous. It is unfair.

    Naser Orić, a former bodyguard of Milosevic, was 25 years old police officer in 1992. He joined the resistance against the Serbian aggression in 1992. In 2006, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment by the Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Netherlands for failing to prevent the deaths of five Bosnian Serb detainees and the mistreatment of eleven other detainees from late 1992 to early 1993 on the basis of superior criminal responsibility.

    He was acquitted on other charges of wanton destruction and causing damage to civilian infrastructure beyond the realm of military necessity. On 3 July 2008, the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY reversed the Trial Chamber’s conviction and acquitted Orić of all charges brought against him. In November 2018, he was formally acquitted by a Bosnian appeals court.

    Comparing Naser’s failure against 5+11 (=16) Serbs against the willful and calculated genocide of more than 8,000 Bosniaks by the Serbs under the leadership of military general Ratko Maladic is simply ludicrous.

    My book on Bosnia – 64 Hours in Sarajevo: A journey through the historic landscape of the Balkans -deals with the problematic history of competitive narratives, myths and facts very objectively, and is recommended to anyone keen on understanding the Balkan crisis better.


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