(Srebrenica) They lost a father, a son, a brother, a husband: they attended Monday alongside thousands of people at the burial in Srebrenica of 50 victims of the genocide, which 27 years later, is still not recognized by many Serbs in a Bosnia divided along ethnic lines.
After a prayer ceremony, the coffins containing the identified remains of 50 victims of the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War, were interred in graves which will later be marked by a white headstone. They join 6,671 victims already buried in the cemetery of the genocide memorial centre.
About 8,000 Muslim men and teenagers from this locality in the east of the country were killed in July 1995 by Bosnian Serb forces, a crime qualified as genocide by international justice.
Sebiba Avdic, 49, buried his twin brothers, Samir and Semir Hasanovic, killed at 19. Their graves are added to those of her third brother, who died at 28, of her father, 56, her husband, the latter’s three brothers and his stepfather.
“Everything I had is here,” she said in tears. “I can’t talk anymore. I have become a stone”, says this woman who now lives in Switzerland with her daughter, aged 11 months in 1995. “My pain is so intense that it is as if 27 days had passed and not 27 years”.
In recent years, discovering remains has become very rare as 1,200 victims are still being sought, according to the Bosnian Institute for Missing Persons.
A “skull and a bone”
The identification process is complicated because the victims had been dug up with bulldozers and moved to other mass graves in order to conceal the crimes.
Collective funerals are organized every July 11, the date of the capture of the enclave by the forces of Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, who has since been sentenced to life imprisonment by international justice.
The remains of one of the victims buried on Monday were found scattered in three mass graves, according to Amor Masovic, a forensic scientist who participated in the exhumations of dozens of mass graves in the region. The remains of the majority of the rest were found scattered in two graves.
Halil Nukic, 41, buried his father. “This story speaks for itself, what could we add? “, he asks. Only a skull and bone were found, and he waited years for more complete remains. “But nothing, and here we put in the ground what there is,” he said. He had survived by going to the UN base in Potocari. “My brother Mujo is already buried here and my uncle’s two sons are right next to him.”
EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi paid tribute to the victims as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought “a brutal war back to our continent”.
” Shame ”
“It is more than ever our duty to remember the Srebrenica genocide” and “the need to defend peace, human dignity and universal values”. “At Srebrenica, Europe failed and we are faced with our shame”.
Present for the ceremony, Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren of the Netherlands, whose battalion had been deployed to defend the enclave, presented her “deep apologies” to the victims on behalf of the international community of which her country was part. Only one side is “to blame”, she insisted, however, “the Bosnian Serb army”.
Today, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the former political leader of the Bosnian Serbs also sentenced to life imprisonment, are still regarded as “heroes” for many Serbs. Portraits of Mladic can be found on many walls in Republika Srpska, the country’s Serbian entity which also includes a Croat-Muslim federation.
The political leaders of the Serbs of Bosnia and neighboring Serbia, like a large part of the Serbian population, refuse to consider that there was a genocide in Srebrenica during the inter-communal war which caused around 100,000 deaths. Rather, they speak of a “great crime”.
“Denial hurts but one day [le génocide] will be recognised,” says Halil Nukic. “Maybe not by this generation but by the next.”
A few days before leaving office, the former International High Representative in Bosnia, Valentin Inzko, in July 2021 banned the denial of genocide and war crimes. The Penal Code now provides for imprisonment for this offence.
This decision was decried by Bosnian Serb political leaders, foremost among them Milorad Dodik, a member of the country’s collegiate presidency, who has since launched a series of secessionist initiatives to separate Republika Srpska from Bosnia, raising fears of threats against peace.