a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Srebrenica, ten years later

Posted by Thomas Nephew on July 12th, 2005

Ten years ago, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II took place in and around the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica. The civilized world dithered, did nothing, and let it happen. Almost worse yet, that civilized world often seemed to believe that dithering, inaction, and forlorn, toothless “peacekeeping” missions were in and of themselves civilized behavior to be proud of.

On July 11, 1995, the Bosnian Muslim enclave of Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces under Ratko Mladic, despite its nominal defense by 600 Dutch peacekeepers. Men and boys — in uniform or civilian — were separated from the female inhabitants. A Wikipedia account describes what happened when this group attempted to head towards the Bosnian town of Tuzla:

They were estimated to number about 12,500 in total. In their attempt to escape, they were surrounded by Serb forces who opened fire on them, using anti aircraft cannons and heavy machine guns. Hundreds were killed in the ambush, with many more wounded being systematically executed later on. Those who chose to surrender or were captured were later taken away by Serb forces and executed as well. Serb forces continued to pursue what remained of the group, killing hundreds more until they had escaped to Bosnian government held territory. Of the 12,500 men who attempted the escape, about 5,000 made it to safety.

The two leaders most directly responsible for the massacres, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, are said to have carefully planned the aftermath of the fall of Srebrenica, right down to the number of buses needed to transport Muslim men to their deaths, according to a review of a Dutch book on the atrocities.

As brutal as this story is, a recent broadcast — on Serbian TV — of portions of a ‘training’ video shot during the events made Srebrenica inescapably horrifying to many Serbs. In the video, members of a paramilitary Serbian police unit, the so-called “Scorpions,” abuse and eventually execute six Bosnian Muslim men. According to one translation, one of the Serbs shouts at a victim, “What are you trembling for?” The broadcast had an effect on at least one Serbian, judging by this Newsweek account comparing the reactions of victims and perpetrators:

While Nura watched her son killed by the man identified as Medic, the accused killer sat in Serbia watching his past unfold before him, with his own daughters sitting at his side. “The police will come,” he told his family. “I might not be back.” He fled but was arrested a few days later. His teenage daughter, shocked into silence, has been unable to speak since.

Sadly, many of those responsible for the massacres — most notably Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic — have not been captured and brought to trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. May they be apprehended, convicted, rot in jail, and then in hell.

I remember how enraged I was as it became clear that thousands had died after the fall of Srebrenica, right under the *@# noses of their supposed protectors: Janvier, Akashi, Chirac, Clinton, Major, Annan, Voorhoeve, Karremans. I can only imagine how those affected must have felt and still feel.

The United Nations all but died for me then — an unworthy, worthless tissue of pettifoggery, unable to back up words with deeds or even deeds with words, not merely useless but literally harmful to those who counted on it, its administrators and personnel more wedded to process and protocol than human rights or the simple concept of honor.

That may have been an overreaction, or at least an insufficient one. The bitter truth is that the U.N. may well be the best available political alternative for many of the jobs it tries to do, but it was either poorly designed or has become poorly staffed for the one job so many once hoped was its raison d’etre: world peace.

Even ideals as grandiose as a United Nations or as simple and right as the human rights of a besieged minority will ultimately go undefended and unrespected, if people aren’t allowed to actually fight for them when necessary. If it can’t answer the “you and what army?” question, a United Nations that purports to be the authority for legitimate military force should probably drop that pretense, stick to issues it can resolve, and concede that it will take men and women with blood in their veins to settle the greater ones.

Srebrenica: A Cry From the Grave (PBS)
Timeline: Siege of Srebrenica (BBC)
Srebrenica massacre (Wikipedia)
Srebrenica: A ‘safe’ area (Netherlands Institute for War Documentation)
Women of Srebrenica (Bosnian NGO; many eyewitness accounts).
Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica: Europe’s Worst Massacre since World War II (David Rohde; Pulitzer prize, 1996).

EDIT, 7/12: wording rearrangements for clarity in final paragraphs, link to ‘trembling’ post added.

3 Responses to “Srebrenica, ten years later”

  1. » Blog Archive » Where’s Ratko? Says:

    […] you seen this man? He’s Ratko Mladic, the butcher of Srebrenica. The collective legal apparatus of Serbia, Europe, and the world need your help in finding him, […]

  2. » Blog Archive » Department of followups: Serbian war crimes edition Says:

    […] Srebrenica, ten years later, 7/12/05 — In late September, Serbian foreign minister Vuk Draskovic acknowledged that his country’s failure to capture Srebrenica war criminal Ratko Mladic was “jeopardising Serbia’s bid for closer ties with the European Union and Nato and its position in forthcoming talks on Kosovo’s status.” (BBC). […]

  3. » Blog Archive » Srebrenica: 12 years on Says:

    […] MORE at this site: 06/04/2005: Video from Srebrenica massacre surfaces 07/12/2005: Srebrenica, 10 years later 02/26/2007: ICJ: Srebrenica was genocide. Serbian police were involved… …yet Serbia […]

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