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Remembering Srebrenica and the Bosnian Genocide

On June 11th, 1995, in the aftermath of the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavian state, Bosnian Serb soldiers entered the town of Srebrenica and systematically murdered at least 8,372 Bosnian Muslim boys and men. The youngest victim shot to death was only a little over three months old, while the oldest victim was around 106 years old.

On June 11th, 1995, in the aftermath of the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavian state, Bosnian Serb soldiers entered the town of Srebrenica and systematically murdered at least 8,372 Bosnian Muslim boys and men. The youngest victim shot to death was only a little over three months old, while the oldest victim was around 106 years old.

This week marks 28 years since the horrifying genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. On June 11th, 1995, in the aftermath of the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavian state, Bosnian Serb soldiers entered the town of Srebrenica and systematically murdered at least 8,372 Bosnian Muslim boys and men.

The numbers and statistics around the mass killings only shed a small light on the horrors of this genocide: the youngest victim shot to death was only a little over three months old, while the oldest victim was around 106 years old. More than 30,000 Bosnian women and girls were forced to flee the city – and thousands were systematically raped as part of the ethnic cleansing. The bodies of those killed in Srebrenica were thrown into mass graves.

This blatant example of ethnic cleansing was clearly a genocide – orchestrated by those in power to eliminate a specific group of people because of ethnic and religious identities and to ensure a Serb-dominated nation-state. Now often labeled as the worst mass killing on European soil since WWII, the Srebrenica massacre was eventually ruled by the International Court of Justice as an act of genocide – but the silence of the international community and of the UN while the genocide was being systematically carried out still remains a painful part of this atrocious time in Bosnian history.

Powerful countries such as the US, backed by the ineptitude of the UN, remained silent while thousands of Bosnian Muslims suffered and died under the systematic genocide being conducted – and while many of the military leaders who participated and acted out the genocide were eventually tried in the ICC, many commanders and military leaders fled to Serbia, where they live in impunity and are even celebrated by far-right nationalists.

In a 1999 UN official report by the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan, he stated:

“Through error, misjudgment, and inability to recognize the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign on mass murder.”

While the UN only after the mass killings were willing to label this atrocity as a genocide, many governments around the world continue to hesitate when simply using the word genocide – the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide requires all signatories to prevent and punish acts of genocide in both war and peacetime, with genocide defined as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. These acts include killing members of the targeted group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to the targeted group, deliberately inflicting on the group serious harm to bring about its physical destruction, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Once a nation-state recognizes an act of genocide, they are required to act upon it – meaning that powerful countries around the world hesitate as they calculate their own gains and losses in getting involved in preventing and punishing another nation-state or government for an act of genocide.

Realpolitik, the system of international politics based on practical rather than moral considerations, is not just a philosophical approach of realism – it dominates our international community of nation-states. With countries calculating their own losses and gains when labeling something as genocide, we have already lost the fight against injustice before it even begins.

The failure of the international community when it came to the Bosnian genocide should have empowered communities around the world to reconsider how and who we vote for, and how we hold our governments to account on the issues that matter.

But did anything change in the 28 years since Srebrenica?

Palestine continues to be subject to brutal human rights abuses, war crimes, and colonization from the Israeli state and illegal settlements that continue to expel Palestinians from their rightful land.

Uyghur Muslims – most likely up to two million if not more – are still held in concentration camps across northwestern China in what is described as “the worst mass incarceration since World War II”.

Rohingya Muslims, often left out of mainstream news cycles, are still suffering in unstable refugee camps across the borders of Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Afghans continue to make up one the largest groups of refugees as they flee Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Sudanese civilians are still witnessing instability and conflict as a large portion of the Muslim world turns a blind eye.

Syrian refugees are still dying in the Mediterranean Sea trying to flee war.

Yemen is still recovering from an almost 10-year bombardment from a Saudi-led coalition.

Muslims in India are facing some of the worst Islamophobic and fascist state-led policies in our world today.

For how long must we continue to turn a blind eye? For how long will we let our governments, societies, and communities speak for us and decide who is worthy or not of attention and care?

Educate yourself. Raise awareness. Instill a sense of duty in your community and get community leaders on board. Write to your politicians and organize protests and campaigns. Vote for politicians who are not afraid to call out problematic states and leaders. Vote out politicians who are slaves to economic and strategic allures instead of being champions of real representation. Boycott companies and firms who work with problematic states.

Act and act with the duty that is required of us all – for if Srebrenica taught us anything, it is to not remain silent in the face of injustice.

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