Today, the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities (AIPG) marks the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide on July 11, 2021. 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.
On this day, July 11, in 1995, elements of the Vojska Republika Srpske (VRS) armed forces, commanded by General Ratko Mladić, entered the town of Srebrenica. The town had officially been declared as a “safe area” through UN Security Council Resolution 819 just two months prior, in response to an escalating humanitarian crisis caused by the war. Upon arrival, the VRS quickly overran the small and poorly equipped Dutch peacekeeping force that had been put in place to protect the residents of Srebrenica. In the subsequent chaos, thousands of Muslim men and boys were rounded up and systematically executed, with their bodies cruelly deposited into mass graves. For their part, tens of thousands of women, children, and elderly members of the Bosniak community in Srebrenica were forcibly displaced from their homes and communities. While over 8,300 Bosnian Muslims were known to have been killed in the violence, many others were also subjected to a host of abuses.
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 that occurred during the Bosnian War lacked evidence to prove the existence of the necessary element of intent, the VRS perpetrators of the July 1995 massacre possessed the specific intent required to qualify the event as genocide.
In November of 2017, General Ratko Mladić of the VRS was convicted by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) 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. Alphons Orie, the Judge presiding over the case, said:
Circumstances were brutal; those who tried to defend their homes were met with ruthless force. Mass executions occurred and some victims succumbed after being beaten. Many of the perpetrators who had captured Bosnian Muslims, showed little or no respect for human life or dignity.
On June 8, 2021, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals rejected Ratko Mladić’s appeal against the 2017 ICTY convictions. As a result, Mladić’s sentence of life imprisonment was upheld. 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.
Emphasizing the importance of the role of international criminal justice in processes for truth and memory, UN Secretary-General António Guterres remarked that the decision to reject Mladić’s appeal “…is another vital step towards coming to terms with the past to build a more resilient, secure, and hopeful future for all citizens and residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region.” Secretary-General Guterres also called on those in positions of power around the world to refrain from denying the seriousness of mass atrocity crimes and emphasized that accountability constitutes an essential step for reconciliation in the region. Echoing the UN Secretary-General, AIPG’s Dr. James Waller, Director of Academic Programs explains that:
While justice following atrocities takes many forms, retributive justice is a particularly important statement that serves as a reminder of the international community’s commitment to hold perpetrators of atrocity to accountability. Moreover, such justice – as we see in last month’s upholding of Ratko Mladic’s convictions and life sentence – works in concert with truth and memory to take a stand against divisive revisionist narratives that attempt to re-victimize those who already have suffered so much.
In 2021, the Auschwitz Institute commemorates the 26th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide amidst a climate of unprecedented global volatility. During these challenging times, full of division and historical revisionism, we remember the victims of Srebrenica and their families. In recognizing that prevention is 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.
AIPG’s Artivism exhibition, which is currently on display at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, features ŠTO TE NEMA [lit. “Why are you not here?”] by Bosnian-American artist Aida Šehović. ŠTO TE NEMA commemorates the 8,372 Bosnian Muslims who were killed in the July 1995 Srebrenica Genocide. The project features thousands of “fildžani” (traditional Bosnian coffee cups) that are assembled, filled with coffee, and left undrunk in memory of those who perished. For more information on Artivism, please visit the exhibition’s website here.