Academic journal article Social Education

The Tenth Commemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide

Academic journal article Social Education

The Tenth Commemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide

Article excerpt

In 1991, following the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the former Yugoslavia began to disintegrate. The country degenerated into conflict between the three major groups--Serbs, Muslims, and Croatians--that had lived in peace under dictator Josip Broz Tito. In 1993, Serb attacks on Bosnian Muslims increased in eastern Bosnia, and the latter fled their homes and villages to seek protection in the nearby town of Srebrenica (and a 30-square-mile area surrounding it), which had been designated a United Nations-sponsored "safe area." The safe area had been developed as a result of Security Council Resolution 819 on April 16, 1993. The wording of the resolution read, in part, as follows:

   ... the Government of the Federal
   Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia
   and Montenegro) should immediately,
   in pursuance of its undertaking
   in the Convention on the
   Prevention and Punishment of
   Genocide of 9 December 1948,
   take all measures within its power
   to prevent the commission of the
   crimes of Genocide. (1)

Subsequently, the UN forged an agreement in which the Muslim troops in the enclave of Srebrenica would disarm, the Serbs would halt their attacks on the enclave, and the UN would oversee and enforce the cease-fire.

While both Serbs and Muslims periodically violated the agreement, the Serb forces were the ones who, over the years, applied ever-increasing pressure on the Muslims in Srebrenica (and on the Dutch Battalion, commonly referred to as "Dutchbat," charged with protecting the safe area) by periodically shelling them and preventing humanitarian assistance from entering the enclave. (2)

As the attacks increased in number and ferocity, NATO authorities discussed the possibility of air strikes against Serb-held areas. However, many of the European nations that had contributed troops to the United Nations peacekeeping force (UNPROFOR) argued against air strikes, asserting that such attacks would endanger their troops--those on the ground as well as those that were being held hostage by the Serbs. As a result, air strikes were not carried out.

The continuous Serb attacks culminated in the all-out assault and subsequent takeover of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995. The attack was led by Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic, Serbian general Radislav Kristic, and others. Dutchbat was out-manned, under-resourced, and on a sorely limited Chapter VII mandate. Chapter VII means that a peace operation can and must use force when it perceives that its own safety, or the safety of the people it is charged with protecting, is in danger; however, Dutchbat's limited Chapter VII mandate constituted more of a Chapter VI, or peacekeeping, rather than peace enforcement, mandate. Dutchbat attempted to stave off the Serbs, but to no avail. Once the area fell, the Serbs did as they wished to the Muslims of Srebrenica, including expelling the girls and women, and rounding up the boys and men to execute them.

Following Serb orders, Dutchbat even expelled 5,000 people from the Dutchbat battalion headquarters in Potocari, where many Muslims had fled seeking protection. Ultimately, between 7,000 to 8,000 Muslim boys and men were forced from Potocari, taken out into the woods, lined up, and murdered. In reality, Srebrenica, some have asserted, became a besieged area not a safe area. The genocide in Srebrenica was the largest single act of genocide in Europe in 50 years, or since the Nazi-perpetrated Holocaust.

I was invited by the Bosnian foreign ministry to attend a 10-year commemoration of the genocide on July 11, 2005. It was followed by an international conference in Sarajevo, "The International Scientific Conference on the Genocide against the Bosniaks of UN Safe Area Srebrenica in July 1995--Lessons for Future Generations," on July 12-14 2005.

As I embarked on the long journey from my home in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to Sarajevo in Bosnia, I came across numerous articles about Srebrenica in various newspapers, including The New York Times, the London Financial Times, and The International Herald Tribune. …

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