Remembering Srebrenica: Europe’s Unforgettable Shame

One explanation for the empty graves is that the bodies may have been dug up and taken to an aluminum factory at Zvornik to be chemically dissolved.

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Last month marks 25 years since the end of the Kosovo War in 1999. Over five hundred mass graves would be discovered by international forensic specialists. The painting below by Robert McNeil shows the funeral of 79 men, women and children. We must never forget the horrific crimes committed. [Courtesy: Remembering Srebrenica]

What occurred on the 11th of July, 1995, is sure to be considered the worst genocidal atrocity in Europe since World War II. Serbian troops, led by indicted war criminal General Ratko Mladic, massacred over 10,000 innocent Muslim Bosniaks in the Eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica. Despite its designation as a “UN safe haven area,” approximately 10,000 men and boys were meticulously and methodically separated from their daughters, mothers, sisters, and wives, and then killed by Serb forces. They were buried in mass graves and later re-interred in secondary graves to cover up the crimes. Srebrenica fell to invading Serb forces on July 11, 1995, at a time when it was under the “protection” of the international community.

Hiding the genocide of defenseless Muslim Bosnian civilians, the global powers had to reframe this big tragedy since World War II through a less hostile lexicon by calling it “ethnic cleansing.” The Srebrenica Massacre is simply the continuation of a policy well documented and painstakingly analyzed by Justin McCarthy in his relevant book “Death & Exile,” published in 1995. Some excerpts need to be mentioned: “In each of the 19th-20th-century wars, Muslims were driven from their homes and millions of Muslims died and millions were exiled. The compression of Muslim lands and the expulsions were continuing historical events, presenting a continuing historical picture.”

For this unforgettable crime against humanity, it needs to be recalled that the combined plot between the “chetnik” forces and the global powers aimed at reducing the Muslim majority rule in Bosnia to minority status and therefore placing them under a three-sided mandate “ruling council” which could overrule the few “would-be” taken decisions the Muslim Bosnians would be able to make.

It needs to be recalled that in June 1995, Bosnian Serb forces, pushing for a resolution to the ethnic “anomaly” of the Muslim enclaves, closed their noose around Srebrenica and the other “safe areas.” In Srebrenica, mass panic took hold of the civilian population. Women and children gathered at the U.N. base of Potocari, together with about 1,700 men, while most of the “battle-age” males, mostly unarmed non-combatants, took to the hills in a desperate attempt to flee to Muslim-held territory to the west. At Potocari, Dutch troops allowed Serbs access to the camps and the refugees they held. The following day, July 11, some 1,700 men, disproportionately elderly and infirm, were separated from women and children, while the peacekeepers “stood inches away from the Serb soldiers, who were separating the Muslim men, one by one, from their families” (Sudetic, “Blood and Vengeance,” p.306). At Serb command, the Dutch drew up a registry of 242 Bosnian men remaining in the camp, again mostly elderly and infirm. They handed the men over to the Serbs, and not one of the 242 men is known to have survived.

A great many of the men who had sought to flee through the hills to Tuzla were doomed as well. The Bosnian Serb commander, Gen. Radivoj Krstic, in a radio transmission intercepted by Western eavesdroppers, told his forces: “You must kill everyone. We don’t need anyone alive” (Mark Danner, “Bosnia, the Great Betrayal,” New York Review of Books, March 26, 1998). Serb forces took special pleasure in isolating trees where men had sought to hide, riddling them with shrapnel from anti-aircraft guns. The so-called “United Nations” bears historic responsibility for this blunder and surely must shoulder a large share of this responsibility for allowing the massacre to take place under the noses of its troops.

At earlier stages in Bosnia’s war, when Muslim strongholds like Gorazde or Bihac had been on the verge of falling, America had worked (without the promise of ground troops) to galvanize its allies, insisting that battle plans be drawn up and threats of bombing issued to warn the Serbs. Yet in the final days and hours of the advance on Srebrenica, which American intelligence could monitor closely, Washington fell strangely silent. Srebrenica duly fell, with unspeakable consequences in human terms, but not inconvenient diplomatically.

Ms. Bianca Jagger reported in the article “The Betrayal of Srebrenica” the details of the secret deal between General Janvier and General Mladic made in Zvornik on June 4, 1995, before the massacre; the June 9 conversation among Yasushi Akashi, Janvier, and General Rupert Smith; the intrigue and collaboration among Akashi, Mladic, and Milosevic as the massacre was occurring; the handing over by the Dutch Battalion of unarmed Muslims to Mladic as Dutch commanders drank champagne with General Mladic; General van der Wind’s debriefing of July 13 and the beginning of the attempted cover-up. The article places the details of the complicity within a larger moral vision and exposes the stakes for all of us when genocide is appeased and facilitated.

The Sunday Times in its edition of November 3, 1996, through an article by Jon Swain, wondered about how investigators recovered far fewer bodies than expected. Of the thousands of men and boys from the UN safe area who were executed by Bosnian Serbs in July 1995, only a few hundred (less than 10% of the 10,000 Muslims missing) have been dug up. The empty graves speak volumes about the conspiracy by Bosnian Serbs to cover up the massacre at Srebrenica. Their leadership claims that few bodies have been found because the stories of atrocities there were exaggerated.

The more plausible theory is that bodies have been made to “disappear.” As early as a year ago, American spy satellites first revealed evidence of tampering at several gravesites which, when later exhumed, yielded fewer corpses than expected. One such gravesite is at Pilica, where 1,200 Muslims were shot on July 16 last year, according to testimony by Drazen Erdemovic, a 25-year-old Serbian soldier and confessed executioner. However, UN grave-diggers found only 200 bodies there.

One explanation for the empty graves is that the bodies may have been dug up and taken to an aluminum factory at Zvornik to be chemically dissolved. American satellite images from between September 27 and October 2 last year show unusual activity both at the aluminum plant, which officially was shut down, and at the gravesite itself.

The aluminum factory could dissolve human flesh because it was using sodium hydroxide to convert bauxite ore into aluminum. Sodium hydroxide is highly toxic and, according to Abdullah Sacerbegovic, a Muslim and the plant’s former manager, it easily dissolves human flesh, leaving virtually no trace except sludge. Sacerbegovic believes the factory may have been involved in the disposal of bodies in 1992 when Zvornik was being “ethnically cleansed” of Muslims. The tampering with graves complicates efforts to bring prosecutions at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague against those responsible. It also means that relatives may never find their loved ones’ remains.

Manfred Novak, the UN expert on missing people in Bosnia, is calling for all 10 known mass grave sites around Srebrenica to be excavated next year without fail. “If this whole question of the disappearance is not solved to the satisfaction of the families and the politicians,” he said, “I think it will be a major obstacle to peace.”

What else can one give as irrefutable evidence of the savage and inhuman atrocities committed against Bosnian Muslims than the recent release of a video by the Hague war crimes tribunal on the 1st of June 2005, showing Serbian paramilitary unit “the Scorpions” executing six teenage Bosnian Muslims in cold blood!

It is a hypocritical stance and a meaningless theory to declare that the Srebrenica Massacre has been a “shame” on Europe while letting the two criminals Mladic & Karadzic await a doubtful trial at the Hague International Court of Justice after several years. The very high-sounding principles of justice have exposed the West’s true values and its hypocritical double-standard policy.

S. Mohammed Bokreta

S. Mohammed Bokreta is a Freelance Writer and Cultural Consultant based in Algiers, Algeria. Specializing in Islamic values, political issues, historical events, and tourism topics, his work has been featured in international newspapers and magazines for over 36 years. Fluent in Arabic, French, and English, Bokreta also translates significant Islamic manuscripts. With a background as a Bank and Shipping Manager, his extensive experience and communication skills aim to educate and inspire future generations.

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