Gender, Genocide and Consequence: Srebrenica Examined
Introduction The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group”. Genocide is exactly what happened in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina during July 1995. Between 6 and 11 July 1995 more than 25,000 Bosnian Muslims, most of them women, children and elderly people living in and around town of Srebrenica, were forced to leave the town (Cemic 2007). In addition, 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred by the Republika Srpska army in and around Srebrenica (Cemic 2007).
The Srebrenica genocide was one of the biggest massacres that Europe has seen since World War II (Simic 2008). The women and children who survived it became witnesses and survivors whose testimonies and courage to find out, face and disseminate the truth gave them hero status in Bosnia and around the world (Simic 2008). Every year on July 11, politicians and key players from the international as well local community come to Potocari to pay tribute to all of the victims identified so far and those still missing (Simic 2008).
Each anniversary of the genocide attracts more and more people from around the world who want to come and share their compassion and maybe even ‘guilt’ for not doing more to prevent this horrible event (Simic 2008). Following Bosnia’s declaration of independence from the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) in March 1992, a civil war broke out in progressive stages between the three ethnic communities that had existed in Bosnia for several centuries (Turns 2007).
Although initially internal in nature, this conflict was ‘internationalised’ at various points by the intervention of armed forces from both Serbia and Croatia on the sides of their respective co-ethnic forces (Turns 2007). With the internationally recognised government of the new republic in Muslim hands, nationalistic elements in the Serbian component of the population started fighting against the Bosnian Government’s forces (Turns 2007).
Although initially the Croats and Muslims combined forces against the Serbs, subsequent fighting also broke out between Croatian and Government forces (largely over the division of the town of Mostar); the Serbs and Croats also fought against each other (Turns 2007). Both of the non-Muslim nationalist leadership groups had similar aims, namely either outright independence for those parts of Bosnia where their ethnic populations primarily resided or, preferably, union with their o-ethnic neighbouring states: the Republics of Serbia and Croatia (Turns 2007). As this would inevitably entail the dismemberment of the Bosnian State, the Muslim Government fought against both groups (Turns 2007). Srebrenica is a small town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina that lies about 10 miles from the border with Serbia. While essentially ignoring three years of slaughter, the United Nations Security Council did designate Srebrenica a “safe area” in which encircled Muslims (now called Bosniaks) could find sanctuary (Lischer 2012).
But a few hundred outgunned UN peacekeepers from the Netherlands provided only a veneer of protection which cracked under pressure from the Bosnian Serbs. (Lischer 2012). The result was the largest mass killing in Europe since the Holocaust (Lischer 2012). In summary, this literature review will investigate what happened during the genocide, short term and long term impacts, the geopolitical transformation and the controversies surrounding the infamous July 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Discussion The fall of Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia (which consisted of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia) was a peaceful nation when formed after the Second World War, and then suddenly everything began to change. In 1991, following the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the former Yugoslavia began to disintegrate (Totten 2006). The country degenerated into conflict between the three major groups–Serbs, Muslims, and Croatians–that had lived in peace under Dictator Josip Broz Tito (Totten 2006).
The Socialistic Republic of BiH was born after WW II with the creation of the Socialistic Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (Simic 2009). The same year this newly independent state was plunged into almost four years of internal conflict (Simic 2009). Yugoslavia maintained peace during the 40 years Tito ruled, but when he died in 1980 following the Cold War, nationalist and separatist ideologies began to arise and disrupt tranquility within the country (Long 2012).
Slobodan Milosevic, formerly Serbia’s Communist Party leader, strategically adhered to nationalism and became the ruler of Serbia and the most authoritative dignitary in Yugoslavia by 1989 (Long 2012). However, his forceful attempts to take over the federal government of Yugoslavia and unjust decisions he made out of self-interest drove Croatia and Slovenia to seek independence in 1991, and Bosnia-Herzegovina followed in 1992 (Long 2012). Even though European community and the United States recognized Bosnia as an independent country, the Muslim, Serb, and Croat groups within Bosnia all began to fight for territory (Long 2012).
Although many of the Muslims in Bosnia originally thought the Yugoslav National Army (YNA) would protect them, the fourth largest army in Europe was under the command of Milosevic, whose ultimate at the cost of many non-Serbs’ lives, to create a Greater Serbia (Long 2012). The YNA launched many vicious attacks against non-Serb citizens in Bosnia with the help of the Republicka Srpska’s (the leading Serb par in Bosnia) Drina Corps (Long 2012).
An ugly war ensued, especially between the Serbs and the Bosnians (Long 2012). In 1993, Serb attacks on Bosnian Muslims increased in eastern Bosnia, and the latter fled their homes and villages to seek protection in the nearby town of Srebrenica (and a 30-square-mile area surrounding it), which had been designated a United Nations-sponsored “safe area” (Totten 2006). The safe area had been developed as a result of Security Council Resolution 819 on April 16, 1993 (Totten 2006).
Subsequently, the UN forged an agreement in which the Muslim troops in the enclave of Srebrenica would disarm, the Serbs would halt their attacks on the enclave, and the UN would oversee and enforce the cease-fire (Totten 2006). While both Serbs and Muslims periodically violated the agreement, the Serb forces were the ones who, over the years, applied ever-increasing pressure on the Muslims in Srebrenica (and on the Dutch Battalion, commonly referred to as “Dutchbat,” charged with protecting the safe area) by periodically shelling them and preventing humanitarian assistance from entering the enclave (Totten 2006).
By July of 1995 thousands of civilians had taken refuge in the city of Srebrenica to escape from Serb attacks in northeastern Bosnia (Long 2012). On July 6, 1995, under the orders of Rodovan Karadzic, president of Republika Srpska the VRS began an offensive attack on Sebrenica by firing mortal shells into the city (Long 2012). As the attacks increased in number and ferocity, NATO authorities discussed the possibility of air strikes against Serb-held areas (Totten 2006).
When planes were finally able to perform air strikes, after dropping only two bombs on VRS forces outside of Srebrenica the VRS threatened to kill their Dutch hostages and attack the refugees in an enclave in Srebrenica with mortar shells (Long 2012). NATO responded by immediately ordering a stop to the air strikes (Long 2012). A column of 15,000 weak and underfed Muslim men fled toward Tuzla, a Bosnian government held territory nearly 40 miles away, leaving behind their wives, daughters, young sons, and elderly fathers. (Long 2012).
The Serbs were prepared for the Muslim men to flee to Tuzla, and were given orders by Radislav Krstic, commander of the VRS, to kill every single person in the column; “You must kill everyone. We don’t need anyone alive” said Krstic (Long 2012). Even knowing their escape was a futile attempt, the Muslim men felt they had no other choice but to flee (Long 2012). On 11 July 1995, after they occupied Srebrenica, Bosnian Serb forces executed between 7,000 and 8,000 men (Simic 2009). By the evening of July 11, 1995, Srebrenica was void of a single living Muslim (Long 2012).
The genocide in Srebrenica was the largest single act of genocide in Europe in 50 years, or since the Nazi-perpetrated Holocaust (Totten 2006). Court and Controversy On 26 February 2007, one of the longest running and most tortuous pieces of litigation in the history of the International Court of Justice came to a close when a decision on the merits was handed down in the case brought by Bosnia and Herzegovina (‘Bosnia’) against Serbia and Montenegro (‘Serbia’) in March 1993 (Turns 2007).
In 1993 the United Nations Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, had established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (‘ICTY’) in order to prosecute persons alleged to have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law–including genocide (15)–anywhere in the territory of the former Yugoslavia; this was largely a response to the atrocities that were being reported from Bosnia in particular (Turns 2007).
In its application to the Court, Bosnia requested declarations that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (‘FRY’) ‘has breached, and is continuing to breach, its legal obligations’ towards Bosnia under a number of international treaties, including the Genocide Convention, the Geneva Conventions of 1949, Additional Protocol I thereto of 1977, the Hague Regulations of 1907, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (Turns 2007). In April 2001, Serbia filed with the Court an Application for
Revision of the 1996 Judgment on Preliminary Objections (Turns 2007). This was followed the next month by another document, in which Serbia argued that: (i) it had not been a party to the Statute of the ICJ until its admission to the UN on 1 November 2000; (ii) that it never had been, and still was not, a party to the Genocide Convention; and (iii) that when it had acceded to the Genocide Convention on 8 March 2001, it had entered a reservation to art IX thereof (Turns 2007).
The ICJ affirmed it had jurisdiction and found, by thirteen votes to two, that Serbia had not conspired to commit genocide nor had it incited the commission of genocide in violation of its obligations under the Genocide Convention (Cernic 2007). The ICJ also found, by eleven votes to four, that Serbia had not been complicit in genocide (Cernic 2007).
However, the ICJ did find that Serbia had violated its obligation under the Genocide Convention to prevent genocide in Srebrenica, and that it had also violated its obligations under the Genocide Convention by having failed to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (‘ICTY’) (Cernic 2007). The ICJ held that the genocide in Srebrenica was committed by the Republika Srpska army under the command of its VRS Main Staff, which did possess the specific ‘genocidal intent’ (Cernic 2007). Can a state commit the crime of genocide?
The ICJ held that States can commit the crime of genocide (Cernic 2007). It held that the effect of article I of the Genocide Convention ‘is to prohibit states themselves from committing genocide’ which follows from the categorisation of genocide as a crime against international law (Cernic 2007). The ICJ acknowledged the crimes in Srebrenica ‘were committed, at least in part, with the resources which the perpetrators of those acts possessed as a result of the general policy of aid and assistance pursued towards them by the FRY'(Cernic 2007).
The Bosnian Serbs maintained that the graves were filled with Muslim soldiers killed during combat and denied the accusations that a massacre took place (Long 2012). However, on October 29, 1995, reporters from the Christian Science Monitor, during an unauthorized visit, discovered a heap of clothing, shoes, and eyeglasses next to what appeared to be a freshly dug grave in the city of Sahanici (Long 2012). However, there were no signs that a battle took place, and a few canes as well as a crutch were also discovered–evidence that countered the Bosnian Serbs’ that the graves contained Muslim combat casualties (Long 2012).
Four primary figures emerged as the main conspirators responsible for the Srebrenica massacre: Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president; Radovan Karadzic, the former political leader of the Bosnian Serbs; Ratko Mladic, Karadzic’s former chief military commander; and Radislav Krstic, former commander of the Drina Corps (Long 2012). The UN court ruled the Srebrenica massacre a genocide and eventually brought charges against these four individuals, but so far Krstic is the only one who has been convicted (Long 2012). Gender and Genocide While the international community and U. N. eacekeepers looked on, Serb forces separated civilian men from women and killed thousands of men en masse, or hunted them down in the forests (Jones 2002). Realizing the UN would not protect them, around 25,000 refugees, mainly consisting of women, children, and elderly men, attempted to escape to the town of Potocari in hopes of seeking protection in a UN compound within the city (Long 2012). A great many of the men who had sought to flee through the hills to Tuzla were doomed as well (Jones 2002). Around 23,000 women and children were deported over an estimated period of 30 hours to safe Muslim territories (Long 2012).
The remaining males (around 1,700) were held in trucks and warehouses to be supposedly interrogated for war crimes (Long 2012). In what was a well-planned succession of events, the victims were transported from building to building and held for long periods of time without food or water before they were finally executed (Long 2012). Some men were killed individually or in small groups, but the majority of the murders took place in mass numbers (Long 2012). In one of the mass murders, between 1,000 and 1,500 men were crammed into a pitch-black warehouse (Long 2012).
Soldiers began throwing grenades into the warehouse and shooting their machine guns into the building (Long 2012). Any men who tried to escape from the building were immediately gunned down by the soldiers (Long 2012). Many hundreds more were massacred at a football field near Nova Kasaba, the worst killing ground of the entire five-day slaughter (Jones 2002). While at some sites there was grave digging machinery, at the soccer field selected men were forced to dig graves and watch others be shot into those (Long 2012). Eventually, these men and were shot into their own graves (Long 2012).
When a bulldozer finally did arrive, around 400 men were thrown into a grave and buried alive (Long 2012). After all was said and done, between the days of July 11-16, 1995, over 8,000 Muslim men were killed in Bosnia (Long 2012). Srebrenica is a textbook case of gendercide (Simic 2009). While all males were executed, females were forcibly expelled leading to the creation of an ethnically cleansed area (Simic 2009). By killing all males who were capable of ‘holding a gun’, the Serbian forces eliminated the direct threat of young potential future fighters, thus reducing the strength of the rival community (Simic 2009).
Prior to the war, Srebrenica was a traditional town where males were the prime breadwinners and the head of households (Simic 2009). The gendercide in Srebrenica disrupted the gender cast of BiH society by leaving almost 40% of the internally displaced population with female headed-households (Simic 2009). Left without their husbands, women suddenly needed skills and education to be able to take part in a job market in BiH where almost 40% of people are still considered as unemployed (Simic 2009).
Thus, the elimination of the male population had tremendous social, economic and psychological consequences on the women, leaving them to be sole breadwinners while coping with traumatic experiences they had endured and searching for the bones of their sons and husbands (Simic 2009). However, despite the challenges they faced these women joined together and left their private sphere of mourning to go into the public domain demanding a series of actions to be taken by local and international governments (Simic 2009).
In doing so, they transformed their experience as victims into an activism that has attracted international attention and respect (Simic 2009). Aftermath Following the massacre, a handful of survivors from various massacre sites came forward and offered their testimonies, describing the brutal and horrific murders they witnessed (Long 2012). Finally, almost a year after the massacre, in July of 1996, forensic experts performed exhumations of some of the mass grave sites without the permission of Serb authorities (Long 2012).
As time drew on, more grave sites were discovered and examined, and more bodies were accounted for, Investigators found many bodies in smaller graves in areas farther from Srebrenica (Long 2012). The bodies were easily linked to Srebrenica, as several licenses and photographs of Muslims who had been in Srebrenica were found in the graves (Long 2012). Even in the large graves with fewer bodies, forensic investigations found significant evidence suggesting that most of the victims were not killed during combat (Long 2012).
Also, prosthetic limbs, canes, and crutches found in the graves suggested that many of the victims were severely handicapped and would not have been able to fight in combat (Long 2012). Extensive forensic investigations of the Srebrenica massacre sites have so far turned up some 3,000 bodies but only a few have been successfully identified (Jones 2002). The forensics teams who worked on the Srebrenica site gathered vital experience in their exhumation of the graves, and were able to employ their skills anew in the Kosovo gendercide four years later (Jones 2002).
The memory of Srebrenica’s men has been kept alive by their womenfolk, even though the women survivors of the Srebrenica genocide still live scattered as displaced persons in BiH (Simic 2009). In Tuzla where the majority of them fled during the genocide, these women established the association of the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ (Simic 2009). The association has an important voice in BiH, demands a complete investigation of the massacre, the opening of mass graves and the identification and burial of their sons, husbands and fathers who vanished in July 1995 (Simic 2009).
Although the ‘Mothers’ only registered as association of citizens in 1999, their protests and persuasive efforts to bring about justice started back in 1996, when they stormed the Red Cross offices to protest a stalled investigation on the fate of their missing men (Simic 2009). The group’s list of primary demands reads as follows: •The full facts of Srebrenica should be revealed and publicised. •All graves should be exhumed and bodies identified without delay. •Any survivors of Srebrenica held prisoner in Republika Srpska [Bosnian Serb territories] or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia should be released immediately. The people of Srebrenica should be enabled to return to their homes. •There should be a full & open international investigation into the failure of the UN to protect the Safe Area of Srebrenica. •All indicted and suspected war criminals, including Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic, and all those complicit with genocide, should be arrested and brought to trial (Jones 2002). In spring 2000, General Radislav Krstic, “the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb commander before the UN War Crimes tribunal in The Hague,” stood trial for the genocidal atrocities at Srebrenica (Jones 2002).
In August 2001, Krstic was convicted and sentenced to 46 years in prison (Jones 2002). Conclusions In conclusion, the war between the Bosnian Muslims and the Bosnian Serbs was a turning point for the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not only did it impact the citizens of the country, but it also impacted the structure and the politics of it. This began with the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia which consisted of the countries now known as Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro. After Bosnia’s independence declaration the country was plunged into conflict between the three major groups; Serbs, Muslims and Croatians.
An ugly war ensued between the Muslims and Serbs that lasted nearly 4 years. By July of 1995, thousands of civilians had taken refuge in the town of Srebrenica which was deemed a safe zone. In my opinion, the UN troops that were supposed to be protecting the country did a very poor job. The Serbian army began a vicious attack on the city and began the execution of thousands of Muslim men. Over 8000 men had been killed from July 11-16, 1995. Mass killings were performed in warehouses, schools and even soccer fields. Men were shot, bombarded with grenades and buried alive in some cases.
Years later in 2007, the International Court of Justice came to a decision on the merits handed down in the case brought by Bosnia against Serbia where Bosnia accused Serbia of violating international humanitarian law, including genocide. The question of whether or not a country could commit the act of genocide was brought up; the ICJ decided that it was possible. I, however, do not agree with this statement. I believe that in order for a country to commit genocide, every single citizen would have to take part in it and that was not the case.
Of course the four men accused should be found guilty of genocide, but as for the country, I do not believe so. Serbia argued against the claims, stating that the bodies that were buried were Muslim soldiers and combat casualties and not victims of genocide. However, evidence of clothing, shoes, eyeglasses, canes and prosthetic limbs were found. Men who needed canes or prosthetic limbs would not be allowed to fight in combat and therefore the graves could not have been filled with soldiers. The massacre was ruled a genocide and charges have been made against the Serbs in charge of the attacks.
In the future, I will conduct more research on this case to find a more in depth examination of both parties and what they had argued. Following the massacre, survivors came forward and offered testimonies, describing the events that happened. An exhumation of the grave sites began which helped gives names to bodies found in the graves. The skills learned through this process were later used in other genocides. The memory of the victims of Srebrenica has been kept alive by its women. They have started organizations such as Mothers of Srebrenica and changed the gender cast of society.
With the men gone, women were forced into the role of head of household leaving social, psychological and economic consequences on the women. As devastating as the massacre was, I believe that the consequences have had an overall positive impact on Bosnian society. Women were now seen as members of society who could work the same jobs as men, and the Mothers have accomplished a lot for the citizens, for example ensuring that the facts of Srebrenica were available to the public. Further research could be conducted on the association to see more of what they had accomplished and how they did it.
In my opinion, the Mothers of Srebrenica are inspirational and prove that no matter how bad an event may be, something positive can always come out of it. What happened during the Bosnian war was heartbreaking and terrible; however, focus should be put on the good that came out of it, and the lessons that can be learned from the events that happened. References: Cemic, J. (2007). Case concerning the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro), judgment of 26 February 2007, General List No. 91. Australian International Law Journal.
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