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Anniversary of Srebrenica Massacre Reminds World of Human Weaknesses


On July 11, 1995 nearly 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Serb forces in Srebrenica, Bosnia. Ten years later, the two men thought to be most responsible for the massacre -- Bosnian Serb Leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic -- are still at large -- though they have been indicted for genocide by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. Amy Katz takes a closer look at what happened in Srebrenica -- and where things stand now.

The massacre has been described as the worst atrocity in Europe since six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust in World War II. An estimated 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed by Serb forces in what was supposed to have been a "safe haven" -- an area protected by United Nations forces.

After the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, there was war in the region. During that time, Bosnian Serbs took control of most of Eastern Bosnia and conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Muslims.

Srebrenica was one of the few remaining Bosnian Muslim enclaves in the region. In 1993, Serb forces launched a major offensive. Serbs from outside the area joined in and the city's defenders could not protect it. Around 600 Dutch peacekeepers were sent in to safeguard the city. Despite that, Serb forces were able to carry out a massacre.

Elvir Mujic -- who was 17 at the time -- says he compares it to the Holocaust. "Obviously in Serbs' minds, those forces that have entered Srebrenica, I believe their intention was to ethnically clear the city. Nobody else can live in that city but Serbs. Which before, 75 percent in that city were Bosniaks {Bosnian Muslims} religion Muslims. And other percentage [the rest] were Serbs and others. So, they, in my mind, their only intention [was] to destroy that city and just drive us out and have ethnically clean town."

Jan Willem Honig -- a Senior Lecturer in the Department of War Studies at King's College in London -- says the memory of the World War II Holocaust should have prevented such a massacre from happening.

"It was known very quickly after the event as the biggest war crime that was committed in Europe since the Second World War. That says something quite important, that that kind of thing was still possible in Europe after the Holocaust. Moreover, what was important about Srebrenica is that it happened under the eyes of the international community."

Mr. Honig says, though the international community threatened to use force to stop the violence, it was not actually willing to act on that. If it had been, he says, that might have saved the people of Srebrenica.

In 2004, the United Nations International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia designated the atrocities against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica genocide.

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is currently on trial in The Hague for his role in Srebrenica and other war crimes in Bosnia as well as Kosovo. Other Serbs have already been turned over to the Tribunal, and several have been prosecuted.

In 2001, Former Bosnian Serb Senior Commander Radislav Krstic was found guilty of genocide, for his role in the Srebrenica massacre. Prosecutors at The Hague are now preparing for the joint trial of nine of the highest-ranking officers involved.

But, 10 years after the atrocities, the prime suspects -- former Bosnian Serb Leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic -- are still at large. They are both charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war.

On July 7th, NATO troops detained Mr. Karadzic's son Aleksandar in Pale, Bosnia. NATO says he is suspected of giving support to and may know whereabouts of an indicted war criminal -- presumably his father.

Nina Bang-Jensen is the Executive Director of the Coalition for International Justice, a non-profit organization that urges the prosecution of suspected war criminals. She says the court has a 2008 deadline to finish prosecutions related to the former Yugoslavia but can extend that.

"If Mladic and Karadzic and others are not in custody, it's absolutely clear, from statements from very high level Security Council people, that they will keep the tribunal open until these men have their day in court," says Ms. Bang-Jensen.

Critics accuse the Serbian government of not doing enough to capture those responsible and turn them over to the War Crimes Tribunal. Perhaps that is now changing.

In early June, a videotape came to light showing members of the Scorpions -- a Serb paramilitary unit -- killing six Bosnian Muslims during the Srebrenica massacre. Almost immediately, Serbian authorities arrested four men they say were responsible.

A month later, the government of Serbia condemned all war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia -- making specific reference to the Srebrenica massacre.

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