Thousands of Bosnian Muslims gathered in Srebrenica on Wednesday to mark the 23rd anniversary of Europe’s worst massacre since World War II and attend the funeral for 35 recently identified victims.
The remains of the men and boys slaughtered at the enclave in July 1995 were laid to rest in the town whose name has become synonymous with the brutality of the 1992-95 Bosnian war. The coffins covered in green cloth were lined up at a memorial center and new burial pits were dug at the massive graveyard that already holds 6,575 victims found previously.
Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected, Muslim-populated town in eastern Bosnia besieged by Serb forces throughout the war. Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic overran the enclave, separated men from women and small children and executed about 8,000 men and boys within a few days. Some 30,000 people were violently displaced.
Dutch U.N. peacekeepers were undermanned and outgunned and failed to intervene.
“Srebrenica has become a global symbol for genocide, a warning that no more genocides should happen anywhere in the world,” said Nermin Alivukovic, the president of the commemoration’s organizing committee.
Experts are still excavating more victims’ bodies from hidden mass graves throughout Bosnia. Many of the remains were torn apart and experts have had to use DNA analysis to put a body together from bones found in locations miles from each other, as the perpetrators tried to hide the war crime.
Although an international court has labeled the Srebrenica killings as genocide, Serbs have never admitted their troops committed the ultimate crime. There were no official delegations of Bosnian Serbs or from Serbia present at Wednesday’s event.
“Across the region today there should be commemoration and remembrance of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide. Unfortunately, this is not the case,” said Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who attended the commemoration.
“As anytime I come here, words do not come out easily,” she said. “These steles, those names engraved in the cold marble, this beautiful landscape that so starkly contrasts with the evil that happened here, stand as testimony of the cruelty that human beings are capable of when they are imbued with propaganda and prejudices, fear and hate.”
Former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic has been sentenced by a U.N. war crimes tribunal to life in prison for masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the war that left 100,000 dead. He is currently appealing the verdict at the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.