As the anniversary of the July 1995 massacres by Bosnian Serb forces was marked at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, international officials condemned denial of the genocide and the continued glorification of war criminals.
ABNA24: Mourners gathered at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre on Sunday for a commemoration of the 26th anniversary of the July 1995 genocide and the burial of 19 more victims of the mass killings of more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys.
The youngest victim to be buried this year was Azmir Osmanovic, who was 16 when he was killed in the massacres by Bosnian Serb forces. His skull was found in a mass grave in Poljanci, near Srebrenica, and was identified in May.
“What is perhaps the hardest thing for me is that my father, who struggled to find my brother’s bones, wasn’t able to bury him,” said his brother Azir Osmanovic, explaining that his father died three months before the remains of his son were found.
Unlike last year’s anniversary event, which was held under stricter measures because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year the funeral was attended by a large number of family members and other mourners, while some international officials sent video messages of condolence.
Some also called for an end to denials of the genocide. EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi pointed out that the killings and deportations of Bosniaks from Srebrenica were assessed as genocide by two international courts.
“Attempts to revise history are inadmissible,” Varhelyi said.
The president of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, Carmel Agius, said in a video message that “the denial of crimes shocks me to my core”.
“It is a repudiation of the lived experiences of the victims, as well as the facts repeatedly established by the international tribunals,” Agius said.
The US ambassador to Sarajevo, Eric Nelson, said in a message meanwhile that “the glorification of war crimes and war criminals is unacceptable.”
Aleksa Becic, the speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, which less than a month ago adopted a resolution recognising the Srebrenica massacres as genocide, sent a video message expressing sympathy with the victims’ families.
“Twenty-six years since this painful event, I want to send you expressions of sympathy in pain and suffering,” Becic said.
Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, called on the High Representative, the country’s top international officials, to impose a law banning genocide denial.
“The court of conscience and the court of history will have the least mercy for those people who could have stopped the evil but did not. There is no excuse for justifying it,” said Dzaferovic.
So far, 6,652 victims of the genocide have been buried at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, while another 237 victims of have been buried in other locations, according to the wishes of the victims’ families. About 1,000 more are still missing.
So far, the UN tribunal in The Hague and Balkan courts have sentenced a total of 48 people to more than 700 years in prison, plus five life sentences, for Srebrenica crimes. The most recent was former Bosnian Serb Army chief Ratko Mladic, who was jailed for life for genocide and other wartime crimes last month.
Serbian officials refuse to attend commemoration
No Serbian officials attended Sunday’s commemoration, and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said that officials will not go to the event at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre until the people who attacked President Aleksandar Vucic there in 2015 are prosecuted.
“Honestly, we in the government did not think [about who should go], we did not receive an invitation, and if someone told me now, ‘Well, there is no need for an invitation to go there’, I would not go, although I really express great regret and it is a terrible crime, what happened in Srebrenica, and I have no problem showing remorse or reverence for all the victims,” Brnabic told Prva TV on Sunday morning.
“Until everyone is brought to justice who attacked the president of the Republic of Serbia, who was the prime minister then, when he went to pay his respects to the victims and to all the families and to the Bosniak people, I don’t really see that we officials have a place there,” she added.
Rights groups in Belgrade have organised a series of events in order to pay respects to the Srebrenica genocide victims. Anti-war organisation Women in Black organised an action in Belgrade’s central Republic Square, holding a banner declaring that the massacres were genocide and placards with the number 8,372 to represent the number of casualties of the 1995 massacres.
They also held up placards saying that the genocide was committed with the support of Serbia and that buses that transported women and children who were expelled from Srebrenica came from Serbian-based transport companies.
Women in Black’s leader Stasa Zajovic said that they will continue to “fight to call the crime by its real name, which is genocide, because thousands of victims, at least 8,000 victims, paid the highest price”.
The activists were protected by a police cordon as dozens of people gathered to confront them and to defend Bosnian Serb Army chief Ratko Mladic.
The counter-protesters chanted “Srebrenica is not genocide” and insulted the participants. The Serbian authorities also continue to insist that the massacres did not constitute genocide despite the rulings of international courts.
On Sunday evening, activists also plan to light candles in front of the Serbian presidency building and a theatre play will be staged entitled ‘Srebrenica – When We Who Were Killed Rise Up’.