What Remains of Srebrenica? Motherhood, Transitional Justice and Yearning for the Truth

By Simic, Olivera | Journal of International Women's Studies, May 2009 | Go to article overview
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What Remains of Srebrenica? Motherhood, Transitional Justice and Yearning for the Truth

Simic, Olivera, Journal of International Women's Studies


This article explores the role of the local non-governmental association 'Mothers of Srebrenica' in the complex transitional justice processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The association gathers women who survived the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995 and creates an important public space for the crying out of their grievances and lobbing for their goals. The 'Mothers of Srebrenica' also create a space for widows and displaced women to share their concerns and support each other. While the 'Mothers of Srebrenica' use the rhetoric of victimhood and motherhood whenever they speak out, I argue that they, in fact, challenge the notion of passive victims by the actions they have tirelessly undertaken over the last 13 years. With their resilience and activities, the 'Mothers of Srebrenica' have become known worldwide. Their existence and actions have generated a mixture of feelings: respect, regret and shame among not only those accountable for the crimes in Srebrenica, but also the wider international community. Yet, although 'Mothers of Srebrenica' use a variety of approaches to address past atrocities, it appears that their emphasis is on punitive justice which, they believe, is the only means to bring the peace that they have long yearned to their souls.

Keywords: mothers, Srebrenica, transitional justice, reconciliation, truth


"Justice did not come in the way we expected. We, mothers from Srebrenica, are living witnesses of Srebrenica genocide. We do not want to forget." (1)

Munira, the public representative of 'Mothers of Srebrenica'


On 6 March 2008, a newly elected prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Mr Serge Brammertz in his first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) met representatives of the BiH government, the State Court officials, representatives of the international community and representatives of the local non-governmental association 'Mothers of Srebrenica' (UN Press Release, 2008). Although his visit was time consuming, since he was planning to stay for only two days in BiH, Mr Brammertz found time to meet with not only the highest representatives of the Bosnian government, but also with Munira and other women who were representing the association 'Mothers of Srebrenica' (the 'Mothers'). Munira Subasic, a woman in her sixties, poorly educated but articulate, lost 22 family members in the Srebrenica genocide and is still looking for the body of her 19-year-old son who disappeared in July 1995. She is a familiar face, a well known woman in BiH, and the one who usually gives a voice and a human face to the women in this association.

As a Bosnian woman now living in Australia, Mr Brammertz's visit triggered my curiosity. How come Mr Brammertz, the representative of the most important institution dealing with war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, prioritized a meeting with a group of elderly and semi-literate women on such a short visit? Who were these women whom he wanted to meet with on his first official trip to BiH? Why did they claim his attention? Whatever the reasons for this particular visit he paid to the 'Mothers', it is clear that these women, the 'Mothers of Srebrenica', have captured not only my attention and admiration for their tireless struggle to find the truth about their loved ones who disappeared in July 1995. They now also demand the notice of highly ranked world citizens. The 'Mothers' play a significant role in the complex processes of transitional justice in BiH, while lobbying at the same time for prosecutions, truth and reconciliation. Their struggles and gains are contextualized in this piece of writing with an aim to explain at least some of the reasons why it was necessary for Mr Brammertz to meet with the 'Mothers'.

In July 1995, Srebrenica, a small town in the east of BiH, became the site of a genocide that occurred in just four days, when thousands of Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by members of Serbian forces.

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What Remains of Srebrenica? Motherhood, Transitional Justice and Yearning for the Truth


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