Bosnia and Herzegovina on Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide, the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.
Every year on July 11, newly identified victims of the genocide are laid to rest at a memorial cemetery in Potocari, eastern Bosnia. On Saturday, nine Bosnian men and boys were laid to rest, 25 years after they were killed.
July 11 is marked as the remembrance day for the victims of the genocide — the youngest one was a new-born baby while the oldest is believed to have been 94.
Thousands of visitors from various countries attend the service. At this year's ceremony, world leaders sent video messages on the anniversary of the genocide being marked under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his message said that although a quarter of a century has passed since the genocide, our pain is still fresh.
"Although I am not physically among you because of the coronavirus, my feelings and thoughts are always in Bosnia, always with you," he said adding: "We will never forget our martyrs nor the genocide in Srebrenica."
Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia, said that Srebrenica has become synonymous with the suffering of innocent people, and the crime committed was called by the only real name -- genocide.
"Today, we are here in the Potocari valley of sorrow and pain to see off together the remains of nine innocent victims, some of whom were young men, killed only because they were Bosniaks,” Dzaferovic said.
Slovenian President Borut Pahor in his video message said the key for the future of Bosnia “is truth and not denial.” "We cannot change the past, but we can change the future. For the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the key is truth and not denial, respect and not hatred, open dialogue and not quarrel," Pahor said.
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said the Srebrenica Genocide is a common shame for all those who did not prevent it. "It is a testimony to the terrible reality of a bloody war, an eternal warning and reminder to all our people that without the truth of the past there is no peaceful or secure future," said Djukanovic.
Bakir Izetbegovic, leader of the main Bosnian Muslim political party, the SDA, and son of Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosnian president at the time of the conflict, called on the world to push back against the massacre deniers. "The international community did not defend Srebrenica 25 years ago, but it has the opportunity to defend the truth that is being challenged," Izetbegovic said.
The Associated Press recalled the massacre. “In July 1995, the Bosnian Serb army under the command of notorious Gen. Ratko Mladic attacked Srebrenica. The shelling started first and soon enough the troops moved in, swiftly overtaking the town whose Dutch U.N. peacekeepers stood no chance.
“The Serbs then separated the men and boys from the women, with Mladic promising nothing would happen to anyone and handing out candies to the children. Within the next 10 days, however, Bosnian Serb troops killed the male prisoners and hunted down many of those who tried to escape through the surrounding hills.
“Soon, chilling reports of brutal executions started to emerge. In an attempt to hide the massacre, the Bosnian Serbs buried the bodies in mass graves, only to dig them out and move later. The victims were executed by firearms, their throats were slashed or they were locked in a warehouse, their hands often tied behind their backs, and explosives set off.”
In 2001, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia judged that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre was genocide. The Presiding Judge Theodor Meron in his ruling said:
By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the forty thousand Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general. They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.
The U.N. War Crimes Tribunal in March 2016 convicted and sentenced General Mladic and also the Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic of the Srebrenica genocide, along with other top Bosnian Serb officials, officers and policemen. Mladic and Karadzic are both now serving life in prison.
The International Commission on Missing Persons in 1996 helped set up a DNA-based system to find and identify the remains of the Srebrenica victims, and the other missing as well.
US Congress resolution on the massacre
In June 2005, US House of Representatives and Senate passed a resolution that in part said:
(1) The thousands of innocent people executed at Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina in July 1995, along with all individuals who were victimized during the conflict and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995, should be remembered and honoured;
(2) The Serbian policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing meet the terms defining genocide;
(3) The United Nations (U.N.) and its member states should accept their share of responsibility for allowing the Srebrenica massacre and genocide to occur, and seek to ensure that this does not happen in future crises;
(4) It is in the U.S. national interest that the responsible individuals should be held accountable for their actions;
(5) The United States should support the independence and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and peace and stability in south-eastern Europe.