Endless agony of Srebrenica victims

"Awake Saladin, we have returned! My presence here consecrates the victory of the Cross over the Crescent."

— General Henri Gouraud, Damascus in July 1920 ("Pausing at the tomb of Saladin in the Grand Mosque, the general kicked it and spoke, so he thought, for the ages…") [1]

There is no closure or healing for mothers of victims of the genocidal Serbian war against Bosnia-Hercegovina from March 1992 to December 1995. Each July reopens these wounds afresh as the month is commemorated annually to highlight the genocide of unarmed Bosnian men and children by the Serbs when they overran the UN-designated ‘safe haven’ of Srebrenica in 1995. More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, and according to other accounts perhaps as many as 20,000, were butchered by the Serbs in cold blood after they invaded and occupied the ‘safe haven’ that was supposedly protected by the Dutch contingent of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR).

This year was even worse because on July 11, the remains of nearly 600 Bosnian men and children were positively identified through DNA mapping with blood samples taken from mothers. Their bodies were finally laid to rest amid moving scenes of grief but it still left open the possibility that their graves may be reopened when additional bone fragments are discovered elsewhere. Body parts had been scattered in different graves after Madeleine Albright, US ambassador to the UN waved aerial photos at the UN in July 2005 of mass graves in Srebrenica where the Serbs had buried the victims. Immediately, the Serbs went with bulldozers, dug up the bodies and dumped them in other sites. It was such barbarous acts that resulted in body parts of Bosnian Muslims being scattered in a wide area.

With bones of massacre victims still being identified, many family members choose to reopen graves for each new fragment. The International Commission of Missing Persons, established in 1996 after the Serbian war against Bosnia-Hercegovina formally ended, is tasked with identifying the remains of bodies scattered around mass graves from the massacre. Families are forced to make the painful choice of either burying the first few bones or wait, potentially years, for a skeleton to come together. Even when families decide to bury whatever fragments have been found and positively identified, they are forced to reopen the grave when researchers identify another piece. This is a never-ending cycle and families say it is like an endless funeral of the same person again and again.

The identification process itself is a monumental task. The commission has collected 87,049 blood samples from relatives of the missing, has analyzed their DNA profiles and is now matching them with DNA profiles extracted from the 29,185 bone samples that have been exhumed. It grew into the world’s largest DNA-assisted identification program and so far investigators have helped identify 12,518 individuals in Bosnia. Out of those, 6,185 are Srebrenica victims.

The commission’s Podrinje Identification Project in Tuzla, located 70 kilometres from Srebrenica, was built to accommodate 876 trays in the aisles, one for each body. The task became so huge that today they hold a total of 3,500 bags. According to Emina Kurtagic, case manager at the commission, “About 12,000 bags have passed through this room in the past decade.” This is because a single body’s parts may be in several bags and they all have to be identified.

Newly identified remains of Srebrenica victims are usually buried at a memorial centre each year on the July 11 anniversary of the start of the 1995 massacre. The UN classified it as genocide but its perpetrators have yet to be tried and punished. Slobodan Milosevic, better known as the Butcher of Belgrade, died at The Hague on March 11, 2006 while his trial was underway. Radovan Karadzic, the psychopathic killer, was captured in Belgrade a year ago (July 21, 2008) where he had lived in full view, and perhaps knowledge, of the Serb authorities, disguised as a “priest”. His war crimes trial at The Hague has made little progress. And General Ratko Mladic, the man responsible for carrying out the orders of his political masters –” Milosevic and Karadzic –” to perpetrate the genocide is still at large. It is believed that the Serbian army is protecting him.

The idea of ‘safe havens’ was initially floated by the UN in April 1993 when the Serbs threatened to invade Muslim-populated towns in eastern Bosnia. They demanded the defenders surrender their weapons in return for guarantees of safety for the civilian population. Instead of confronting the Serbian aggressors and warning them that such threats violate the Geneva Conventions and would constitute war crimes, UN members led by the British and French enthusiastically endorsed the plan. Initially, US President Bill Clinton opposed the idea describing the ‘safe havens’ as shooting galleries but within a year, his Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, had been convinced by the British to accept it. Christopher himself had earlier likened the ‘safe havens’ to Muslim ghettoes that would reward ‘ethnic cleansing’. He also said that the ‘safe havens’ would be too dangerous for US troops when it was suggested that Western, perhaps American troops should provide protection to the civilian population.

The so-called safe havens that were considered too dangerous for heavily armed American troops were now declared ‘safe’ for unarmed Muslims. On May 22, 1994, Christopher joined by his counterparts from Britain, France, Russia and Spain met in Washington to formally endorse the plan. After the meeting, Christo-pher said, “Since the international community feels, as represented by my colleagues here seated with me, that [safe havens] can be a valuable concept, the US is willing to cooperate in that endeavor.” Since the outbreak of Serbian ag-gression, there was a strict arms embargo against the combatants but it essentially tied the hands of the Bosnian defenders since Serbia continued to get weapons from Russia, Romania and Greece. On a visit to Washington for the opening ceremony of the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC in April 1994, British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rif-kind, a well-known Zion-ist, was asked why the West would not agree to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia. He replied, “We would then lose control.” While Rifkind was attending a ceremony to open a monument to the victims of Nazi atrocities 50 years earlier, he was adamant that today’s victims of the Nazis’ fellow travelers –” the Serbs –” should not be stopped from carrying out their campaign of ethnic cleansing!

The proposal of UN-designated safe havens was put before the UN Security Council. Initially, UN commanders in Bosnia said they would need at least 70,000 to 100,000 troops to protect the ‘safe havens’. This figure was gradually reduced to 35,000 but ultimately only 2,000 troops were provided to protect civilians in six Bosnian cities and towns designated as safe havens: Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde, Tuzla, Sarajevo and Bihac. No troops from the Muslim world were to be permitted for fear that they might get involved in defending the Bosnians who are fellow Muslims. Only Western troops were deployed.

Srebrenica was to be protected by 369 Dutch troops but when the Serbs overran the enclave, the Dutch contingent just looked on. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that they actually cooperated with the Serbs in facilitating the genocide. Tom Karremans, the Dutch commander at Srebrenica was photographed socializing and drinking with General Mladic. The Dutch were said to have obtained the release of 14 kidnapped Western ‘peacekeepers’ in return for not obstructing the Serbian genocide of innocent Bosnian civilians. The racism inherent in their action was obvious: the lives of 14 Western troops, kidnapped by the Serbs, were more precious than 8,000 civilians that were also European but they happened to have the wrong religion: Islam.

The Dutch continued to maintain that they had done nothing wrong. In fact, on December 4, 2006, a plaque was unveiled at the barracks of the troops in Assen (the Netherlands) by the Dutch Defence Minister Henk Kamp. He also handed out 500 medals to troops that had served in Srebrenica and other places in Bosnia. “We are doing this to support our people,” said Kamp. “These people are in the military … It is difficult for them and we want to support them,” he added. The medals were to acknowledge that the Dutch troops had “for years wrongly been held responsible for what happened in the enclave,” Kamp insisted. There were protests in Sarajevo and other towns in Bosnia against the ceremony denouncing the military decorations as “scandalous”. There were also protests in the Netherlands but Bosnians wanting to join the protests were denied visas for travel.

Haris Silajdzic, a former prime minister and a member of the three-man Bosnian presidency, had also called in the Dutch ambassador in Sarajevo to demand an explanation for the military ceremony and award of medals. Families of the victims have been trying to sue the Dutch government in the courts in the Netherlands because of their co-responsibility for the massacre.

The Srebrenica massacre and the subsequent Western behavior toward Muslims in such places as Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine reflect its deep animosity. Muslims cannot allow themselves to be deluded into believing that the West would defend them. Muslims must take steps to defend themselves; all this talk about human rights and freedom is just that: talk. Let Srebrenica be a sobering lesson for all right-thinking Muslims everywhere.


[1]. Syriana, or The Godfather
by Karl E. Meyer, World Policy Journal, CODA: Volume XXIII, No 1, Winter 2006

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