11th July marks ‘Srebrenica Memorial Day’ and the beginning of a week’s long commemoration of the Srebrenica Genocide that took place in 1995 during the Bosnian War (1992 – 1995).
The Srebrenica genocide saw the expulsion of over 25,000 bosniak civilians and the systematic massacre of over 8000 exclusively Muslim men and boys as the war intensified. In 1993, Srebrenica had been declared a ‘safe zone’ by the United Nations but despite this declaration, Dutch protection forces were unable to prevent the Bosnia Serb Army of Republika Sprska from entering and taking the area under occupation. Following this occupation, the Serbian army, under the command of Ratko Mlatic, proceeded to engage in a campaign of ethnic cleansing that saw the unlawful confinement, murder, rape and torture of innocent Muslim bosniaks.
In the 22 years since the Srebrenica Genocide, which has since been formally recognized as such and its key instigators put on trial for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal, the full extent of the horrors is still being discovered as more mass graves are unearthed and the number of identified victims increases. What is becoming more prevalent in the last few years is the increased awareness around the events leading up to and during the genocide with recognition of the failings of the international community to prevent such a tragic event taking place. As Kofi Annan said during his tenure as Secretary General of the United Nations, “Srebrenica is a tragedy that will haunt the the history of the UN“.
The Srebenica genocide will forever remain a dark stain on European history and provides some very pertinent lessons for contemporary society having only taken place just over two decades ago. Despite calls of ‘never again’ heard in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the Srebrenica genocide is a stark reminder of the dangers of unchecked prejudice, Islamophobia and the dehumanisation of people. It also serves as a reminder of the consequences of apathy for those in power.
The exponential rise of Anti-Muslim sentiment we are seeing in the UK via frequent reports of targetted acid attacks and the detrimental way Muslims are portrayed in mainstream media outlets through the conflation of religion and extremism, as highlighted by the recently released ‘Missing Muslims‘ report which has called for a review into press standards, echoes the sentiments and draws parallels to the social circumstances and political language being used in the lead up to the Srebenica genocide.
The ‘otherisation’ of communities and the lack of a feeling of belonging can embolden those who perpetuate hatred and allow it to take root and manifest into something far more sinister. The lessons we need to take from atrocities such as Srebrenica is the constant need to bring communities together and celebrate the diversity of race, religion and culture that exists within society. Those that were massacred in Srebrenica shared a cultural and linguistic heritage with their oppressors, the defining difference was their religion. When people are made to feel inferior and less human because of their differences we see how it can become an ‘acceptable’ reason to inflict pain and agress upon them.
The events of Srebrenica are a constant reminder of the very real dangers that exist when hatred and prejudiced is allowed to go unchecked and only when we continue to raise awareness of what took place, share the stories of strength & courage from survivors and effectively deal with issues around identity and belonging will we be able to confidently say ‘never again’.
To learn more about the history of Srebrenica, information on getting involved in memorial events or if you want to visit Srebrenica, click on the following link. – ‘Remembering Srebrenica‘.