2015 again provides a key moment in the history of genocide as it marks the 20th anniversary of genocide in Bosnia, with July being a time for remembrance and commemoration of atrocities committed at Srebrenica.

The town of Srebrenica is situated in the West of what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has at times been a traumatic regional journey to this point. After the Second World War, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia formed from a union of Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia. This new union contained multiple ethnic groups including Serbs (Orthodox Christians), Croats (Catholics), Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims). 

Pre-existing tensions between these groups created friction, and following the death of Yugoslav President Josip Tito in 1980, talk of independence fuelled division. Nationalism and ethnic tension within some republics spiralled with the rise of Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic re-structured the military to be predominantly Serbian and extended his control over the media, finances, and security forces. The ultimate aim was to support Serbian separatists in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia, often by deliberately increasing ethnic tension. 

Republics began declaring independence from Yugoslavia in 1990, causing conflict including the Croatian War of Independence. In April 1992, during this chaotic dissolution, the government of Bosnia declared independence. This decision created an independent state containing a population with a Bosniak majority, and Bosnian Croat, and Bosnian Serb minorities. However, many Bosnian Serbs envisaged their future as part of a ‘Greater Serbia’ and resisted, with backing from the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army. The Bosnian government tried to defend its territory and the subsequent civil war lasted 3 years.

Amidst the ongoing conflict for political power, Bosnian Serb forces isolated other ethnic groups. They targeted Bosniak civilians in a campaign to rid Bosnia of its Muslim population, in a process known as ‘ethnic cleansing’.   

In July 1995, 20 years ago this month, Bosnian Serb forces and paramilitaries under the command of Ratko Mladić arrived at the town of Srebrenica. Mladić had issued orders to ‘block, crush, and destroy lagging Muslim forces’. Despite it having been declared a ‘safe zone’ by the United Nations, the Bosnian Serbs attacked and captured Srebrenica. Over four days women and children under 13 years old were deported from the town on trucks and buses, while men were kept behind. Around 8,000 Bosniak men and boys from the town were murdered, in what was the biggest massacre in Europe since the Holocaust.

The conflict ended with the signing of the Dayton Accords in 1995, following decisive NATO intervention after another UN safe zone was overran, and a Sarajevo market crowded with civilians was bombed. By this time over 20,000 people were missing, around two million people had become refugees and over 100,000 civilians had been killed. Of these around 80% were Bosniaks, murdered because of who they were, in a genocide and ethnic cleansing campaign which took place against the backdrop of civil war.

After the genocide, Bosnian Serb officials attempted to hide their crimes by digging up mass graves and reburying bodies across a wide area. Attempts have been made to recover missing people, and identify the bodies. However many survivors have struggled to find out what happened to friends and family.

Denial is the final stage of genocide; it is essential that we work against denial and revisionism. Remembrance and commemoration are a part of this, alongside education and raising awareness.  

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was established by the UN Security Council on May 25, 1993, to prosecute perpetrators. Over 60 people have been convicted and the trials, including that of Ratko Mladić, continue.

The twentieth anniversary of Srebrenica is a poignant time to remember and reflect on the past. We must learn from these events, and consider our actions today. At a time when the world is facing conflict, and extremism, renewing our commitment to stand against prejudice and hate is arguably more important than ever.




HMDT ‘1992-1995 Bosnia’, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust [Online]. Available at: http://hmd.org.uk/genocides/bosnia (Accessed 2 July 2015).

ICTY ‘Page 35078’, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia [Online]. Available at: http://www.icty.org/x/cases/mladic/trans/en/150505IT.htm (Accessed 2 July 2015).

http://hmd.org.uk/genocides/bosnia (Accessed 2 July 2015).

ICTY (2001) ‘Judgement in the Case The Prosecutor against Miroslav Kvocka, Milojica Kos, Mlado Radic, Zoran Zigic and Dragoljub Prcac: (Omarska/Keraterm/Trnopolje)’ (2/11/2001), International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia [Online]. Available at: http://www.icty.org/sid/7941 (Accessed 2 July 2015).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ‘Bosnia-Herzegovina’, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [Online] Available at: http://www.ushmm.org/confront-genocide/cases/bosnia-herzegovina (Accessed 2 July 2015).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ‘Bosnia-Herzegovina; Background’, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [Online] Available at: http://www.ushmm.org/confront-genocide/cases/bosnia-herzegovina/bosnia-background (Accessed 2 July 2015).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ‘Bosnia-Herzegovina; violence’, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [Online] Available at: http://www.ushmm.org/confront-genocide/cases/bosnia-herzegovina/bosnia-violence (Accessed 2 July 2015).