On 11 July 1995 Bosnian Serb forces under the command of Ratko Mladić entered the town of Srebrenica and began planning the deportation of women and children from the area. The Bosniak men left behind were to be subjected to ‘interrogation for suspected war crimes’. Over the following days around 8,000 unarmed men were massacred by Bosnian Serb forces. The Genocide at Srebrenica remains the largest act of mass murder in Europe since World War Two.
By 1991 the multi-ethnic Balkan state of Yugoslavia was disintegrating. Bosnia & Herzegovina, a state which emerged from the split, was immediately beset by territorial conflict between Bosnian Croats, Bosniak Muslims and Bosnian Serbs. The conflict was particularly intense in the eastern area of the country and by 1992 Bosnian Serb forces had ethnically cleansed Bosniaks from much of eastern Bosnia. Srebrenica remained a Bosniak enclave within the region and large numbers of refugees fled there from surrounding areas, leading the UN to declare the town a safe zone on 16 April 1993.
Despite the UN presence in the town, the Serb forces refused to demilitarise in the surrounding areas and began strangling the town of supplies. By the summer of 1995, following an order from Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić to ‘create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica’, the situation had grown so desperate that residents were dying of starvation. On 6 July, troops led by Ratko Mladić launched an offensive on the town and quickly overcame UN and Bosniak resistance.
On 11 July Mladić entered the town and drank with the commander of UN forces in Srebrenica, Lieutenant-Colonel Karremans. Through negotiations with the UN, the deportation of women and children was arranged from the area. Despite their legal obligations to protect their civilians, the UN caved into threats from Mladić to harm French and Dutch prisoners and allowed Srebrenica’s population to fall into Bosnian Serb hands. General Mladić’s men were left free to carry out their campaign of extermination. By 16 July, around 8,000 Bosniak men had been systematically murdered in Srebrenica.
Image: © Richard Newell