The Srebrenica Massacre (July 11-16, 1995)

7 July, 2010
Sudetic Chuck

In mid-July 1995, soon after the war in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina had begun its military and diplomatic dénouement, Bosnian Serb soldiers and members of at least one paramilitary police unit belonging to the government of the Republic of Serbia (The Scorpions – see appendix) executed thousands of captive Slavic Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica, a United Nations-designated «safe area» located near Bosnia’s eastern border with Serbia (BBC News, Matt Prodger, 2005; ICTY, 2009, IT-03-69, p. 1522). These executions – which were accompanied by the suicides and combat deaths of other Slavic Muslim men, the rapes, killings, and suicides of Muslim women, the killings of Muslim children, and the expulsion from Srebrenica of about 40,000 Muslim people – amounted to Europe’s largest massacre since Yugoslav Communist Partisans executed thousands of prisoners after World War II. Both the United Nations Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the United Nation’s principal judicial organ, the International Court of Justice, ruled that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and expulsions constituted an act of genocide (ICTY, 2001, IT-98-33; ICTY, 2004, IT-98-33-A; ICJ, 2007; H.E. Judge Rosalyn. Higgins, 2007). The International Court of Justice ruled that the Republic of Serbia was responsible for failing to prevent the act of genocide at Srebrenica and also for failing to punish the persons who had perpetrated this act (ICJ, 2007; H.E. Judge Rosalyn Higgins, 2007).

A. Context

Yugoslavia – with its mélange of Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, Slavic Muslims, Albanians, Montenegrins, members of smaller ethnic groups, and persons born of mixed marriages – emerged after World War I as an independent kingdom under a Serb king and a predominantly nationalist Serb political elite that resorted to strong-arm tactics to subdue political foes and separatists from other ethnic groups. During World War II, Nazi Germany and its allies dismembered Yugoslavia and gave control of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croat nationalist extremists who, during a campaign to create an ethnically pure Croat state, ignited Croat-Serb and Serb-Muslim animosities and inter-communal violence. Massacres of civilians in Srebrenica and other areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina left deep wounds on the survivors’ psyches. Yugoslavia’s postwar Communist regime tried using police repression, economic incentives, and agitprop to dampen ethnic animosities; it considered Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ethnically mixed and largely peasant population to be especially volatile. According to the 1991 census, the ethnic structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s population was: Slavic Muslims, 44 percent; Serbs, 32 percent; Croats, 17 percent; and persons who considered themselves ethnic Yugoslavs, 5 percent. The Srebrenica district, a mining area, was home to 36,666 people in 1991; 75 percent were Slavic Muslims, 22.6 percent were Serbs, and the remainder were Croats, Yugoslavs, and others (Census, 1991, Bilten no. 234).

Yugoslavia’s descent into ethnic violence in the 1990s resulted from a dysfunctional socialist economic system, resurgent nationalism, and the policies of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia and Franjo Tudjman in Croatia, who exploited popular fears and memories of past violence to secure themselves power in successor states they were working to expand. Milošević’s and Tudjman’s territorial ambitions overlapped in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The aim of the nationalist Serb party in Bosnia and Herzegovina was to seize as much territory as possible and join it with Serbia. Supported by the Republic of Serbia and the Yugoslav National Army, Bosnian Serb forces began a land grab a few weeks before the European Community and the United States recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state in April 1992. By late summer, Serb forces had driven hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Croats from their homes. About seven weeks after a failed peace conference in London in August, nationalist Croat forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, backed by the Republic of Croatia’s Army, launched its first ethnic-cleansing operation against Muslims, at Prozor, a town on territory Tudjman wanted to absorb into Croatia (SENCE - Tribunal, 2006; ICTY, 2008, IT-04-74-T). The United Nations deployed a «peacekeeping» force in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the autumn of 1992 but limited its mission to protecting delivery of food, medicines, and other aid. Local Muslim forces recaptured Srebrenica from the Serbs in May 1992 but, by that autumn, the Muslims in Srebrenica – including thousands of people violently uprooted from Zvornik, Bratunac, Višegrad, and other nearby towns and villages – were encircled, running low on food and medical supplies, and receiving no food or other aid. Lightly armed Muslim soldiers and civilians attacked poorly defended Serb villages around Srebrenica, stealing food and killing Serb soldiers and civilians. These attacks enraged the Serbs and expanded the area controlled by Muslim forces in Srebrenica under the command of Naser Orić.

In January 1993, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s mostly Muslim Army was fighting a two-front war against nationalist Serbs and Croats. Serb forces controlled two-thirds of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territory, but the Serbs still coveted Srebrenica and two other Muslim enclaves along the Bosnia-Serbia border, Žepa and Goražde, because their existence would stymie the Serb campaign to merge Serb-held territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the Republic of Serbia itself. From a strategic point of view, taking control of Srebrenica was in fact indispensable and meant the «reunification of Serb territory», creating a monolithic Serbian political entity that was coherent and viable. The Muslims in Srebrenica attacked northwestward in late 1992 and mid-January 1993 and advanced to within several kilometers of Bosnian government-controlled territory. This advance prompted the Bosnian Serb Army to launch a counteroffensive. During February, March, and April, it collapsed the Srebrenica enclave and forced thousands of Muslims from outlying villages into the overcrowded town of Srebrenica, where they suffered hunger, exposure, and Serb shelling attacks. The United Nations Security Council declared Srebrenica to be a safe area on April 16. The United Nations deployed several hundred peacekeeping troops to deter attacks by their mere presence, not by strength in numbers or firepower (HRW, 1995; Sudetic, 1998). A United Nations evacuation operation and overland treks through Serb territory reduced Srebrenica’s population to about 40,000. The town came to resemble a concentration camp occupied by disaffected Muslims, patrolled by United Nation peacekeepers, and surrounded by Serbs, many of whom were seeking vengeance (H.E. Judge Rosalyn Higgins, 2007).

In March 1995, the Bosnian Serb President and Commander in Chief of the Bosnian Serb Army, Radovan Karadžić, issued an order (Directive No. 7) to the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Staff, commanded by Ratko Mladić, to, «by planned and well-thought-out combat operations, create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica» (ICTY, 2000, IT-98-33; ICTY, 2001, IT-98-33, p. 6384). The Serbs attacked on July 6. The United Nations peacekeepers, from The Netherlands, proved to be no deterrent. The enclave’s Muslim forces were feckless. The Serb forces shelled Srebrenica for days, overran several United Nations observation posts around the safe area’s edge, taking peacekeepers hostage. United Nations officials protested. The Serbs pressed ahead. On July 10, peacekeepers fought beside the Muslims against the Serbs for several hours before the Muslims began abandoning their positions. Late that evening, the United Nations commander in Srebrenica assured local Muslim leaders that NATO air strikes the next morning would halt the Serb onslaught. The offensive resumed after dawn. A pinprick NATO airstrike had no effect. Srebrenica’s Muslims began fleeing in two main groups. About 25,000 Muslims, the vast majority of them women, children, and aged persons, trudged northward for five kilometers and sought protection at the United Nations base at Potočari; there, after dark, Serb soldiers began terrorizing and killing Muslims in the crowd. About 15,000 Muslim men, some 5,000 of them armed, attempted to march in a column through 30 kilometers of hostile territory to reach friendly lines; on the morning of July 12, Serbs split the column; thousands of Muslim men and boys subsequently surrendered.

B. Decision-Makers, Organizers and Actors

At the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Miroslav Deronjić, the president of the «Serb» Bratunac district, testified that he met Karadžić on July 8 or 9 to discuss Srebrenica and that, referring to Srebrenica’s Muslim men, Karadžić said: «Miroslav, those people there must be killed… Whatever you can, you have to kill… All those who are down there, they should be killed. Kill all those you manage to kill» (ICTY, 2003, IT-02-60/1-S, pp.1565-7). During a victory stroll through the town of Srebrenica on July 11 with General Radislav Krstić, soon-to-be Commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Drina Corps, Mladić announced: «The time has come for us to take revenge upon the Turks of this region» (ICTY, 2005, IT-02-60-T, para. 133). After sunrise, July 12, Bosnian Serb military police units arrived in Potočari. Captain Momir Nikolić, Chief of Security and Intelligence for the Bosnian Serb Army’s Bratunac Brigade, testified before the Tribunal that he received orders on that morning from Colonel Radislav Janković, an intelligence analyst at Mladić’s Main Staff, to organize the separation of the Muslim men at Potočari and the evacuation of the women, children, and elderly. At a meeting that morning, Mladić said captured Muslim men between 16 and 65 years old would be screened for war criminals. Nikolić testified that, after this meeting, he learned from Lieutenant Colonel Vujadin Popović, the Drina Corps’ Assistant Commander for Security, that all detained Muslim men would be executed (ICTY, 2005, IT-02-60-T, para. 413).

On July 12 and 13, Serb military police and civilian police from Bratunac bused the Muslim women, children, and elderly from Potočari to Tišće, a frontline village, and forced them to hike down a road to friendly lines. Serb soldiers and police officers had already begun killing Muslim men seized at Potočari (at least 35 victims), at Tišće (at least 21 victims killed at Rašica Gaj near the town of Vlasenica), and at locations along the route of the column, including the banks of the Jadar river (at least 16 victims) and an embankment beside a dirt road in the Cerska Valley near the village of Konjević Polje (at least 150 victims from ages 14 to 50 years old). The bulk of the Muslim prisoners from Potočari were taken to the Vuk Karadžić School and other sites in Bratunac, where Serb soldiers shot and beat some to death; in one warehouse, soldiers clubbed and slashed the throats of 80 to 100 victims. Muslim men who surrendered from the column were herded into meadows, houses, schools, a soccer field in the village of Nova Kasaba, and the warehouse of the agricultural cooperative in the village of Kravica. From about 6 PM to 7:30 PM on July 13, a military police unit used automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and hand grenades to kill about 1,000 prisoners inside the Kravica warehouse. The Serbs buried the bodies in mass graves at Glogova, a nearby village.

Serb soldiers led or transported most of the remaining prisoners from the column to Bratunac, where, by the evening of July 13, makeshift detention facilities were filled to capacity. Some prisoners were confined in buses, where they complained and began rocking the vehicles. Fearing an uprising, local Serb leaders in Bratunac did not want further executions carried out in the town. Overnight, the Army began transporting the prisoners in bus convoys to the Zvornik district, north of Srebrenica and Bratunac, and jamming them into holding sites, including the Grbavci school (approximately 1,000 victims), the Petkovci school (1,000 victims), Petkovci dam (1,000 victims) the Pilica school (1,200 victims), Branjevo military farm (1,200 victims), and the Pilica culture center (500 victims) (ICTY, 2002, IT-02-60-PT). Mladić and other officers and soldiers assured the prisoners that they were going to be exchanged.

The persons who carried out the executions belonged to the Bosnian Serb Army’s Bratunac Brigade, commanded by Colonel Vidoje Blagojević; the Zvornik Brigade, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Vinko Pandurević and his deputy Major Dragan Obrenović; the Milići Brigade; the Independent Skelani Battalion; the 16th Krajina Brigade; the 10th Sabotage Detachment, commanded by Lieutenant Milorad Pelemiš, which was directly subordinate to the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Staff, headed by Mladić; and police units from Jahorina, Zvornik, and Šekovići. A paramilitary unit of the Republic of Serbia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, The Scorpions, also executed captives from Srebrenica at the town of Trnovo (BBC News, 2005; ICTY, 2009, IT-03-69, p.1522). The mass-execution operations in the Zvornik district between July 14 and 17 followed a similar pattern. Soldiers removed their captives from the holding sites several dozen at a time, gave them water, bound their wrists with wire, blindfolded them, crowded them aboard trucks or other vehicles, and transported them to isolated killing fields, including locations near the village of Orahovac, the Petkovci dam, the Branjevo military farm, and the village of Kozluk. In these locations, the captives were marched from the vehicles in small groups, lined up, shot in the back, and finished off with gunshots to the head and chest. The Serbs used back hoes, front-end loaders, and other excavating equipment to bury the victims, including some who were still alive. Soldiers used firearms and hand grenades to kill the Muslim prisoners held inside the Pilica cultural center after they tried to escape. Executions of a dozen captives took place near the village of Nezuk on July 19.

C. Victims

The surviving victims of the Serb campaign to eradicate Srebrenica’s Muslim population began arriving in the Tuzla district in northern Bosnia on the evening of July 12. Thousands of fatherless, and in some cases parentless, children; thousands of wives without husbands; and thousands of mothers without sons were deposited around a United Nations-occupied airbase. One mother hung herself from a tree branch; others suffered nervous breakdowns; some pleaded with United Nations peacekeepers for assistance. After clashes with Serb troops, most of the Muslim men who survived the march from Srebrenica reached friendly territory on July 16. Stragglers, including men who had survived firing-squad executions, crossed the front lines for months thereafter.

During September and October of 1995, soldiers from the Bratunac Brigade and Zvornik Brigade used construction equipment to exhume large mass graves, transport the dead to new gravesites, and rebury them. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia held that this was an attempt to conceal evidence of the mass executions. The Tribunal found that the bodies in the grave at Glogova were transported to new graves near the hamlet of Zeleni Jadar, the bodies from the graves near Orahovac were moved to smaller graves near a road to the village of Hodžići, the bodies from the Petkovci dam site were reburied at a location near Lipje; and the bodies in the graves at Branjevo military farm and Kozluk were taken to sites along a road to the village of Čančari. The Tribunal found that the reburials were ordered by the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Staff, commanded by Ratko Mladić, and that Colonel Ljubiša Beara, the Main Staff’s Chief of Security, and Lieutenant Colonel Vujadin Popović, the Drina Corps’ Assistant Commander for Security directed the operation. Trucks carrying the dead from Glogova passed through Bratunac. One witness testified before the Tribunal: «I was sitting at home. The window was open, my room window, and I felt this incredible stench. I know what the stench of decaying human bodies is. The following day I heard stories that children in the street saw some legs, parts of human bodies.»

According to a demographic study issued in 2005 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, some 97.1 percent of the 7,661 persons recorded as dead or missing as a result of the events at Srebrenica were males from 15 to 69 years of age; 68 were women, including two between the ages of five and nine, four between the ages of 15 and 19, and 11 between the ages of 20 and 24. More than 99 percent of the dead and missing were Muslim. As of July 11, 2008, the remains of 3,215 persons had been exhumed from mass graves, identified by DNA analysis, and reburied in a cemetery across the road from the former United Nations base in Potočari. The names of the missing and dead appear on a stone memorial. The bodies were returned to a district that has not recovered from the war. The area’s economy is moribund. The infrastructure is decrepit. Much of the housing stock is run down and vacant. Only a handful of Muslims have returned.

Survivors of the killing fields described their ordeals in open court before the Tribunal. Mevludin Orić testified in the Blagojević trial that he spent the night of July 13 in a bus outside the Vuk Karadžić School in Bratunac and heard the gunfire of executions. «All night they were taking groups out of the bus...» he testified. «All night, shooting could be heard from the school. People were screaming, moaning. Whoever was taken out in those groups was never returned to the bus.» On the next day, Orić testified, he was driven in a bus to a school north of Zvornik, held in a gymnasium crowded with captives, and taken, blindfolded and with bound hands, to a field. «We got off the lorry, and we were told to line up as quickly as possible. When we did so, I was together with my cousin Haris, and we held hands. And he said they would kill us. And I said they wouldn't. He didn't even finish speaking when the bursts of fire started… I fell on the ground. He fell on top of me. That's when screaming and groaning of injured men started… Afterwards, they continued to bring more shifts, more groups… They continued to execute those injured people who were screaming.» Orić testified that he lost consciousness and recovered his wits only after dark. «I took the blindfold off slowly, off my eyes, and I saw some lights, headlights, of vehicles… [T]here was a loader and an excavator. They were digging a grave. And there were headlights. They had brought another five groups after that.»

D. Witnesses

Survivors of the killing fields, a member of a firing squad, and numerous other witnesses to the Srebrenica massacre have given evidence to war crimes courts and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The most crucial witnesses, however, have been the Bosnian Serb officials and Army Officers who testified before the Tribunal.

Besides his testimony that, in a face-to-face discussion during the Srebrenica offensive, Karadžić advised killing all captured Srebrenica Muslim men, the late Miroslav Deronjić also testified that, in a phone conversation on July 13, he told Karadžić about a large number of Muslim prisoners being led to Bratunac and that Karadžić told him a person would come «with instructions about what to do with the prisoners.» That night, the chief of security of the Bosnian Serb Army's Main Staff, Colonel Ljubiša Beara, a direct subordinate to Ratko Mladić, came to Deronjić and told him that all prisoners were to be executed (ICTY, 2003, IT-02-60/1-S, p.1565-7).

Momir Nikolić told the Tribunal that Lieutenant Colonel Vujadin Popović, the Drina Corps’ Assistant Commander for Security, told him on July 12 that the men separated from the women and children at Potočari would be temporarily detained: «And when I asked what would happen to them next, he told me that all the balije [a pejorative for Muslims] needed to be killed.» In a statement to the Tribunal, Momir Nikolić said Beara ordered him to travel to the Zvornik Brigade and inform its security officer, Drago Nikolić, that thousands of Muslim prisoners held in Bratunac would be sent to Zvornik that evening. The statement says Beara also told Momir Nikolić that the Muslim prisoners should be detained in the Zvornik district and executed.

Jovan Nikolić, director of the agricultural cooperative at Kravica, said he witnessed killings that took place in its warehouse. Nikolić testified that Muslim men were lined up and told to lie down; four soldiers were ordered to «vaccinate» them, that is, to shoot them in the back of the head; then an order was issued to «check the vaccination» by shooting them below the left shoulder blade.

In a statement to the Tribunal, Dragan Obrenović, Chief of Staff and acting Commander of the Zvornik Brigade, said Drago Nikolić informed him about the orders for the prisoners to be brought to Zvornik and shot: «Drago Nikolic told me that the Command already knew, and that this order came from Mladić…. I, as acting Commander, took responsibility for the plan and supported the implementation of this plan.»

Obrenović also stated that, sometime in August 1995, he was with General Krstić in the Zvornik district next to a trench where a Serb soldier was listening to a radio broadcast from a station across the front line. A Muslim who had survived an execution was describing his brush with death. «We stood there for about two minutes listening to the survivor,» Obrenović said, «Krstić ordered that the radio be switched off and said we should not listen to enemy radio. He asked me if I had issued orders that enemy radio should not be listened to and I said that I had not. On the way back, I thought about the survivor’s story on the radio and this lead me to ask General Krstić why the killings took place. I had said that we knew the people killed were all simple people and asked for the reason why they had to be killed. I said that even if they were all chickens that were killed, there still had to be a reason… Krstić cut me short and said that we would speak no more about this» (ICTY, 2005, IT-02-60-T).

E. Memories

Srebrenica’s women have campaigned for years to preserve the memory of the massacre’s victims and press for the disclosure of all facts related to the killings, the prosecution of those persons responsible, especially Karadžić and Mladić, the exhumation and identification of all remains from known gravesites, and the return of Srebrenica’s people to their homes. Since 1996, representatives of Srebrenica’s women have launched class action lawsuits seeking justice and compensation, called numerous demonstrations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in The Netherlands, and played a prominent role in annual anniversary commemorations and mass burials, which are now held each July 11 at the memorial cemetery at Potočari.

For years, Serbs in public life in Serbia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina have denied knowledge of the massacre at Srebrenica, understated its enormity, and argued that the conflict in eastern Bosnia victimized both sides more or less equally. Details of the killings spread quickly through Serb communities on both sides of the Drina, and at least one videotape of an execution was circulated. The government of the Republika Srpska, the Serb political entity created under the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995, issued an official report denying the massacre. In 2004, the international community's High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Paddy Ashdown of Great Britain, ordered the Republika Srpska’s government to name a commission to investigate the events at Srebrenica. This commission, whose members included Bosnian Serb judges and attorneys, a representative of the victims, and an international expert, released its findings in October 2004. The commission became the first official Serb entity to acknowledge that the Srebrenica massacre was planned and carried out by Bosnian Serb military and security forces. The committee developed a list of 7,793 Muslims who either died or went missing between July 10 and 19, 1995, as well as a list of the participants. The Republika Srpska’s president, Dragan Čavić, admitted in a subsequent televised address that Serb forces had killed several thousand civilians from Srebrenica in violation of international law. On November 10, 2004, the government of Republika Srpska officially apologized and announced that it supported criminal trials of those persons accused of responsibility for the killings.

Many Serbs, including Serb political leaders, continue to minimize the killings of the Muslims at Srebrenica, arguing that the vast majority of Muslim fatalities were combat deaths and that their numbers were comparable to the number of Serbs killed during the Muslim food raids of 1992 and 1993. Serb nationalists, including Serbia’s former President, Vojislav Koštunica, followed this line of argumentation for years. The Republika Srpska's war crimes commission and others, however, have calculated the number of Serbs killed during the entire war in the Srebrenica, Bratunac, and Skelani districts at approximately 1,000 to 1,500; a significant percentage of these victims were active members of the military who died during military operations. In Kravica each July 12 – the date Mladić handed over a «liberated» Srebrenica to the Serb people – Serbs gather beneath a memorial cross built to honor all Serb war dead from Birač, a region that includes Srebrenica, Bratunac, and other districts.

On June 2, 2005, during the trial of Slobodan Milošević before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the prosecution submitted irrefutable video evidence of the involvement of members of a paramilitary unit of the government of the Republic of Serbia in the Srebrenica massacre (BBC News, 2005; ICTY, 2009, IT-03-69, p. 1522). This footage showed uniformed members of the so-called Scorpions at a rural location near the Bosnian town of Trnovo on July 16 or 17, 1995. The video shows the uniformed men execute four prisoners with bound wrists. The men in uniform have two other captives remove the bodies of their fellow prisoners to a nearby building, then the men in uniform shoot the last two. Broadcast of the video stirred public outrage in Serbia. The authorities in Belgrade scrambled to arrest the members of the Scorpions who appeared in the video. Evidence adduced before the Tribunal shows that the Scorpions were sent into Bosnia and Herzegovina to serve at the pleasure of Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić (ICTY, 2009, IT-03-69, p. 1522). Slobodan Medić, who ordered the executions, and his cousin, Branislav Medić, who participated, were sentenced to 20 years. The remains of the six victims were exhumed from a common grave. Five of the victims were positively identified. Two of them, Safet Fejzić and Azmir Alispahić, were 17 years old.

On November 15, 1999, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, issued a report on the failure at Srebrenica of the United Nations, including the Security Council and the organization’s peacekeeping mission. Annan concluded: «The international community as a whole must accept its share of responsibility for allowing this tragic course of events by its prolonged refusal to use force in the early stages of the war… The cardinal lesson of Srebrenica is that a deliberate and systematic attempt to terrorize, expel or murder an entire people must be met decisively with all necessary means, and with the political will to carry the policy through to its logical conclusion.» The United Nations report also debunked claims that the Muslims of Srebrenica, by undertaking attacks from the safe area, provoked the July 1995 Serb events. The few «raids» the Muslims mounted out of Srebrenica – often organized in order to gather food, as the Serbs had refused access for humanitarian convoys into the enclave – were of little or no military significance. «The Serbs repeatedly exaggerated the extent of the raids out of Srebrenica as a pretext for the prosecution of a central war aim: to create a geographically contiguous and ethnically pure territory along the Drina, while freeing their troops to fight in other parts of the country.»

In March 2010, The Parliament of the Republic of Serbia approved by a narrow majority a motion for a resolution condemning «the crime committed against the Bosnian Muslim population of Srebrenica in July 1995». It furthermore extendend «condolences and an apology to the families of the victims because not everything was done to prevent the tragedy». The resolution was approved after many hours of heated negotiations in the parliament, illustrating how Serbian society is, 15 years on, still divided about the Srebrenica events.

F. General and Legal Interpretation of the Facts

The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation released, in 2002, a government-commissioned report, which concluded that the government of The Netherlands and the United Nations must share in the responsibility for the Srebrenica genocide. «Humanitarian motivation and political ambitions» drove governments to undertake an ill-conceived and virtually impossible peace mission, the report says, adding that the failures of the peacekeeping mission were the fault of inadequate resources and United Nations policy. «The Secretary-General of the UN considered he needed 35,000 men for the six Safe Areas. The Security Council preferred a ‘light option’ of 7,600, and in the end the member states supplied no more than 4,000 troops, of which five hundred for the enclave of Srebrenica. It was established earlier that in Srebrenica alone a fully armed 5000-man strong brigade was required… It all looked very much like political bluff. When this was no longer effective, the peacekeepers had nothing to back them up» (J.C.H. Blom et al., 2002). The entire Dutch cabinet resigned in the aftermath of The Netherlands’ report on the Srebrenica massacre (BBC News, 2002). The report was criticized as a whitewash for the inconsistency of its findings.

Individual writers, most notably Sylvie Matton, have attempted to link the genocide to a «diplomatic deal» to hand Srebrenica to the Serbs (Matton, 2002).

The International Court of Justice, which adjudicates disputes between sovereign states, ruled in February 2007 that the events at Srebrenica in July 1995 constituted an act of genocide. This ruling came in a case the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina had filed seeking relief from the authorities in Serbia. The court ruled that, «in the light of the information available to it,» the acts of the persons who committed genocide at Srebrenica could not be attributed to Serbia under the rules of international law governing state responsibility, because the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina had not proved that the authorities in Serbia had issued instructions to commit the massacres or that any such instructions were given with the specific intent characterizing the crime of genocide. This conclusion was controversial, because, as one judge noted in a dissenting opinion, Serbia had refused to provide specific records that would likely have shed light on the degree to which the act of genocide was attributable to the authorities in Serbia; the dissenting opinion revealed that, despite requests by the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the International Court of Justice had not sought these records from the Serbian authorities. The International Court of Justice did rule that the government in Serbia failed to take «all measures within its power» to prevent the act of genocide at Srebrenica and failed to punish its perpetrators (H.E. Judge Rosalyn Higgins, 2009). The court noted the authorities in Serbia were in a position of influence over the Bosnian Serbs who devised and carried out the genocide at Srebrenica owing to the strength of the political, military, and financial links between Serbia and the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb Republic and its Army. The court awarded Bosnia and Herzegovina no significant compensation.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted a number of Bosnian Serb Army officers and soldiers on charges stemming from the Srebrenica genocide. General Radislav Krstić was convicted of aiding and abetting genocide and received a 35-year prison sentence. The Tribunal ruled in Krstić: «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 Bosnian Serb forces were aware, when they embarked on this genocidal venture, that the harm they caused would continue to plague the Bosnian Muslims.»

The Bratunac Brigade’s Commander, Colonel Vidoje Blagojević, received a fifteen-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity. The Chief of Engineering of the Zvornik Brigade, Major Dragan Jokić, received a nine-year sentence for aiding and abetting murder, aiding and abetting extermination, and persecution. Dragan Obrenović, Momir Nikolić, and a member of a firing squad, Dražen Erdemović, pleaded guilty to charges and gave testimony. Slobodan Milošević, the leader of the nationalist Serb effort to create a Greater Serbia from the territory of the former Yugoslavia, faced charges of genocide and complicity in genocide related to the events at Srebrenica; Milošević died just before the end of his trial, and the Tribunal handed down no verdict. In a trial that began in July 2006, seven senior Bosnian Serb military and police officers – Vujadin Popović, Ljubiša Beara, Drago Nikolić, Ljubomir Borovčanin, Vinko Pandurević, Radivoje Miletić, and Milan Gvero – faced genocide and other charges. In 2007, Serbian police arrested and transferred to the Tribunal Mladić’s Chief of Staff, General Zdravko Tolimir. In July 2008, after denying for years that he was in Serbia, the Serbian authorities arrested Radovan Karadžić. Ratko Mladić has remained at large due to a refusal of the Serbian authorities to hand him over.

In June 2007, the Tribunal transferred the Zvornik Brigade’s former Chief of Security, Milorad Trbić, to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s war crimes court to face charges of genocide. On July 29 and October 22, 2008, the court found eight members of the 2nd Šekovići Police Detachment and 3rd Skelani Platoon guilty of genocide and other charges related to the execution of 1,000 Muslim prisoners crowded inside the Kravica agricultural warehouse on July 13, 1995; several received 42-year prison sentences. In November 2008, the court handed down a guilty verdict and a seven-year sentence to Mladen Blagojević, one of four Bosnian Serb military policemen indicted for killing and inhuman treatment of Muslim prisoners confined in the Vuk Karadžić school in Bratunac; the court found that Blagojević beat, tortured, and participated in the killing of at least five Muslims during the night of July 13-14, 1995; the court acquitted three other indicted men for lack of proof.

The Srebrenica genocide underpinned civil suits that tested whether The Netherlands and the United Nations could be held liable for damages. Eleven plaintiffs, including an organization of Srebrenica mothers, filed a lawsuit in a district court in The Hague seeking a judgment that the United Nations and The Netherlands had breached their duty, under the Genocide Convention of 1948, to prevent genocide, and to hold them liable. In July 2008, the court ruled that it had no jurisdiction against the United Nations. The case against The Netherlands continued, as did a second case in a Dutch court against The Netherlands in which the plaintiffs from Sarajevo claimed that the Dutch battalion in Srebrenica had a duty to protect their family members and failed to do so.

Surviving victims of the Srebrenica genocide have complained for years about the failure of international and local judicial institutions to deliver justice. These victims and others criticized the insufficient international pressure upon Serbia and the postwar Bosnian Serb authorities to hand over indicted individuals and evidence; the failure of prosecution teams to secure convictions; insensitive treatment of witnesses who testified; and, given the gravity of the crimes charged, the leniency of some sentences handed down to convicted persons. Similarly, Serbs criticized the acquittal of Naser Orić, the Commander of Srebrenica’s Muslim military force, on charges related to the killing and mistreatment of Serb prisoners held in wartime Srebrenica. Many Muslims were outraged, and many Serbs elated, by what they viewed as the International Court of Justice’s exoneration of Serbia for the role its leaders allegedly played in the Srebrenica genocide.


The Scorpions

The Scorpions were a paramilitary police unit from Serbia under the direct command of the Special Units of the Serbian State Security. The Scorpions were part of a tactical group led by a commander who went by the nom de guerre of «Legija». Serbia’s State Security provided the Scorpions with significant equipment and paid the salaries of its members in cash. Approximately 30 percent of its members had been trained in Serbian State Security training camps. Records of the Serbian Ministry of the Interior include records of their arrival and their planned deployment to the Trnovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in June 1995. The Scorpions were one of the units of the Serbian State Security accused of being criminally responsible for killing the three men and three boys from Srebrenica in Trnovo. These members of the units of the Serbian State Security, under the command of a senior officer, Vaso Mijović, were made available to Karadžić, Mladić, and other core members of the Bosnian Serb government and military.

BBC NEWS, 2005, Proger, Matt, «Serb video ‘executioners’ charged,», 7 October 2005.

ICTY, 2009, Prosecutor v. Stanišić and Simatović, Case No. IT-03-69, Prosecution Opening Statement, 10 June 2009, pp. 1522 et seq.

G. Bibliography

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Cite this item

Sudetic Chuck, The Srebrenica Massacre (July 11-16, 1995), Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 7 July, 2010, accessed 17/05/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
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