By Al Jazeera
Bosnian Muslim men pray on July 11, 2023, ahead of the burials of 30 newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide [Armin Durgut/AP Photo]
The remains of 30 victims of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been laid to rest as thousands of people commemorated its anniversary against a backdrop of surging tensions.
Twenty-eight years after they were murdered, 27 men and three teenage boys only recently identified through DNA analysis were buried at a vast and ever-expanding cemetery just outside Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia on Tuesday.
Relatives of the victims can bury only partial remains of their loved ones because they are typically found scattered over several mass graves. Such was the case for Mirsada Merdzic, who buried her father on Tuesday.
“Only very few bones of his were retrieved because he had been found [in a mass grave] near the Drina River,” she said while huddling next to a casket shrouded in a green burial cloth. “Maybe the river washed him away.”
A Bosnian Muslim woman mourns next to the grave of a relative killed in the Srebrenica genocide in the Memorial Centre in Potocari, Bosnia [Armin Durgut/AP Photo]
History of bloodshed
The Srebrenica killings, Europe’s only acknowledged genocide since the Holocaust, were the bloody crescendo of Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, which came after the breakup of Yugoslavia unleashed nationalist, territorial ambitions that set Bosnian Serbs against the country’s two other main ethnic populations – Croats and Bosniaks.
On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serbs overran a UN-protected safe area in Srebrenica. They separated at least 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys from their wives, mothers and sisters and slaughtered them. Those who tried to escape were chased through the woods and over the mountains around the ill-fated town.
The perpetrators then ploughed their victims’ bodies into hastily made mass graves, which they later dug up with bulldozers to scatter the remains among other burial sites to hide the evidence of their war crimes.
The wartime political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, were both convicted of genocide in Srebrenica by a special UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
However, many Serbian and Bosnian Serb officials still celebrate Karadzic and Mladic as national heroes. They continue to downplay or deny the Srebrenica killings.
A day ahead of the ceremony, the top international envoy to Bosnia, Christian Schmidt, who is tasked with overseeing the civilian aspects of the peace agreement, pledged to “ensure that legal steps are taken against all those who deny the genocide”.
The comment appeared to be a thinly disguised swipe at his chief rival in the country, Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik, who has repeatedly refused to call the atrocity a genocide.
Dodik signed legislation last week that targets the authority of the envoy and the constitutional court in Bosnia’s Serb entity.
The laws have been widely condemned by Western governments with Washington accusing Dodik of flouting the peace agreement.
Dodik’s signing of the laws came just days after Schmidt tried to head off the move by passing an executive order that calls the legislation illegal and prevents its implementation.
The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, and enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi used the occasion of the massacre anniversary to pledge to “defend peace and protect life” in Bosnia.
“Europe remembers its responsibility and failure to protect. … We vow to do better,” they said in a statement issued ahead of the commemoration ceremony.