Srebrenica: Looking to the future to overcome the past
By Nedim Hasic
Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jul 9 (efe-epa).- Nurija Mehmedovic lives next to the Srebrenica–Potocari Memorial Center and from her window she can see the rows of white grave stones that mark out the resting places of thousands of victims of the massacre, including her father and one of her brothers.
They were both assassinated 25 years ago by the Bosnian Serb Army along with roughly 8,000 others in what the international justice system now regards as an act of genocide.
“My mother, my sister, three of my other brothers and I left Potocari in a convoy a day after the fall of Srebrenica. My father and my three brothers fled through the woods,” says Mehmedovic, who was 12 at the time.
“Two of my brothers were able to escape but my father and my other brother didn’t. They were killed. We found their remains in a mass grave,” she adds during an interview on her patio as she holds the youngest of her four children in her arms.
“For me this is a sacred place,” Mehmedovic continues. “Those of us who have returned to live here and with no plans to leave, we are the guardians of Potocari.”
An estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb troops who advanced into Srebrenica, which at the time was a designated United Nations safe zone, on 11 July 1995.
The massacre, carried out under the command of Ratko Mladic, occurred shortly before the end of the Bonsian War (1992-95), which pitted the region’s Muslims, Serbs and Croats against each other.
Saturday marks a quarter of a century since Srebrenica, a multi-ethnic city in the far east of Bosnia Herzegovina.
Nowadays only 13,000 people live in the city, a third of the population registered 25 years ago, when the Srebrenica was a base for the UN’s Blue Helmets, specifically a Dutch battalion.
The Dutch soldiers sent to secure the area will never forget the events at Srebrenica, the worst tragedy to take place on European soil since the end of World War II.
The Dutch Blue Helmets stationed there have accused their Ministry of Defense of abandoning them after the mission in Bosnia.
This complaint was upheld by the Central Court of Appeals — the highest judicial rung for military matters in the Netherlands — which said the government had violated its duty of care for the soldiers, many of whom still struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In January 1995, 600 Dutch soldiers were ordered by the UN to protect Muslim civilians from Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica but they were expected to do so without aerial support from the Netherlands or any other UN country.
The Dutch Blue Helmets believe this lack of protection facilitated the bloodbath that would unfold months later. Their firepower was dwarfed by that of Mladic’s troops.
The UN soldiers are not the only ones who blame the Dutch state for the massacre; so too do members of the rights group Mothers of Srebrenica, such as Kada Hotic, who lost around 50 male relatives in the massacre.
The group took the Dutch state to the Supreme Court last year. It later ruled — to the disappointment of the plaintiffs — that the government at the time was responsible for 10 percent of the deaths of 350 Muslim men killed in the genocide.
Hotic believes the Blue Helmets had “the responsibility to protect” the tens of thousands of people taking shelter in the so-called safe areas because civilians “did not have weapons to confront the enemy.”
She said the people of Srebrenica suffered a genocide “under the flags of the UN and the Netherlands.”