A quarter of a century after the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the remains of nine more victims were laid to rest at the Potocari memorial cemetery.
The 25th anniversary was marked on July 11 in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the main memorial ceremony to be scaled back.
In July 1995, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were rounded up and killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the eastern town of Srebrenica — the worst mass killing in Europe since World War II.
The massacre was labeled as genocide by international courts, but Serbian and Bosnian Serb officials refuse to accept that wording.
The episode came at the end of the 1992-95 Bosnian War pitting the Serbs against Bosniaks and Croats that claimed some 100,000 lives.
The remains of the nine recently identified victims were reburied at the Potocari memorial center, the final resting place for more than 6,640 people killed in the massacre. About 1,000 are still missing
Ahmo Ibisevic, whose son was buried on July 11, told RFE/RL: “My wife and I decided to bury the incomplete body, to know where to come.”
His son, Salko, was 23 when he was killed, and parts of his body were found in a mass grave in Liplje, near the town of Zvornik. His family has tried to find the rest of his body, without success. The family is also searching for the remains of Salko’s younger brother.
Normally, thousands attend the main ceremony in Potocari, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible this year.
Many who planned to attend as part of a big international presence, including Britain’s Prince Charles, canceled.
Srebrenica, a Muslim enclave on Serb territory, fell to Bosnian Serb forces on July 11, 1995.
Its Muslim population fled the town, which had been declared a UN “safe haven” for civilians. They rushed to the UN compound in hopes that the peacekeepers would protect them.
When forces led by Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic arrived at the UN compound, the Dutch peacekeepers handed over the base. The Bosnian Serb forces then separated out men and boys for execution and sent the women and girls elsewhere in territory under their control.
Thousands of men and boys were executed in less than two weeks, and those who tried to flee through the woods were hunted down and killed by Bosnian Serb forces. The bodies of the victims were tossed into mass graves.
The United Nations’ war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague established that the killings constituted genocide, and convicted Mladic and his political mentor Radovan Karadzic of genocide and other war crimes in Srebrenica.
But many Serbs deny the extent of the killings, adding to the suffering of the survivors. Last year, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik called the genocide “a fabricated myth.”
“The message to our politicians in the country and the region is: Build peace, respect, and trust…. Without truth and justice, there is no peace,” Munira Subasic, president of the Association of Mothers of the Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves, told the ceremony in Potocari.
The chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Sefik Dzaferovic, called on the Serb political, religious, and intellectual elite to “face the truth without reservation [and] distance themselves from the ideology” that led to the genocide in Srebrenica.
In a video message marking the 25th anniversary of the massacre, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “genuine reconciliation,” saying that peace in Bosnia “is still fragile.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States “pledges never to forget that tragedy,” while EU leaders called the anniversary “a painful reminder” that Europe failed in its promise to avoid such tragedy on the continent.
“We must confront the past with honesty and look to the future with determination to support the next generations,” said a joint statement by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, and the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that the killings took place “at the end of the 20th century in the middle of Europe, almost under the eyes of the global public,” adding: “We must oppose nationalist tendencies wherever we encounter them.”