Knowledge Session: Forgetting Srebrenica Makes The Future Easy Prey


When it comes to the war of Bos­nia the single most high­lighted event to be summoned is Srebren­ica. Though unlike the holo­caust or gen­o­cide of Armenia its applic­a­tion in annu­al life is scarcely men­tioned or debated as to wheth­er it mer­its remem­brance. But the Srebren­ica gen­o­cide was a crime to remem­ber, and remov­ing it from anniversary will be a mis­take few will make for the many.

A factory in Srebrenica where mass killings took place.

A fact­ory in Srebren­ica where mass killings took place.

Holo­caust, used mostly in terms of World War 2, has blinkered the ori­gin­al and exact defin­i­tion of the word. As unlikely as many think it serves pur­pose for many world events includ­ing Hiroshi­ma, Naga­saki, Rwanda and the much over­looked Srebren­ica mas­sacre. It goes without say­ing that 8,300 people slain deserves com­mem­or­a­tion in order to hon­our memory and edu­cate future gen­er­a­tions on mat­ters of polit­ics and etiquette for human life.Srebrenica_Grave

1992 was the year in which Serb forces took con­trol of Srebren­ica town close to the bor­der of Ser­bia, a place the United Nations declared a ‘safe zone’ with Dutch forces pro­tect­ing resid­ing cit­izens. Expli­citly advised that, sur­ren­der­ing their weapons would find them pro­tec­tion against Serb forces, they did so. But the real­ity of this ges­ture was yet to unfold as women were sep­ar­ated from men, some young girls remain­ing.

Serb sol­diers sys­tem­at­ic­ally began to execute, tor­ture and rape Bos­niaks (Bos­ni­an Muslims) to the count of 8,372 and rising. Infant’s throats were slit, women and chil­dren burned alive. Many were raped in front of their fam­il­ies with often inces­tu­ous requests by sol­diers to sib­lings. It is incon­ceiv­able that some per­pet­rat­ors were neigh­bours, friends of the vic­tims. What happened in Srebren­ica is rarely talked about and it appears to be dust under the car­pet for Europe.


Accord­ing to Gen­er­al Ratko Mlad­ic, there is no ques­tion that the acts of hom­icide were motiv­ated by eth­ni­city with attempts to exterm­in­ate Muslims with the ques­tion linger­ing as to why a United Nations safe zone fell so eas­ily without res­cue. Some answers can be found in the people who went through it them­selves includ­ing one lady by the name of Fatima.

Retired, sick and attempt­ing to pre­serve what life she now has in Sara­jevo, Fatima fled the hor­rors of Srebren­ica tak­ing with her an account that pushes the death toll to 12,000. Born and raised in the town she described it as a once botan­ic­al garden where people would com­pete with each oth­er as to who would grow the most beau­ti­ful flowers and hold the green­er gar­dens. She tells me…


“In that peri­od of time, Srebren­ica was a very mod­ern town. The apart­ments and houses were very mod­ern­ised. Going away for hol­i­days and the life­style was very much like that of the west. Srebren­ica was a city of flowers, people were com­pet­ing as to who would have the bet­ter gar­dens and flowers. The togeth­er­ness of the town kept every­one happy. You could leave your back door open and trust was high”

That was then. Now, she is left with only time to cher­ish and respons­ib­il­it­ies, one being a pro­ject to find people from the mas­sacre.

“I was the one who star­ted the pro­ject to find sur­viv­ors and miss­ing per­sons in Srebren­ica. The gov­ern­ment told me, it was too early to do this (In 1995).  When I star­ted the pro­ject it was loc­al, but then the UN and Red Cross got involved. I was going door to door to get sup­port. The organ­isa­tion star­ted in Tuzla after I fled the city, the only man who helped me was Amour Mashovich, head of the insti­tute for miss­ing per­sons. A couple of times I was locked in gov­ern­ment build­ings, threatened by offi­cials telling me that if I start trouble I was going to go to pris­on.”


An empty house await­ing res­tor­a­tion.

She was told by UNHCR offi­cials the total fig­ure of miss­ing per­sons was closer to 12,000, not 8,372: “People were say­ing the num­ber was 8,000, and that was the num­ber killed dur­ing the gen­o­cide. There were 3,000 more people killed before that though. I feel the num­ber is even big­ger as the road between Tuzla (A city asylum seekers fled to) and Srebren­ica was wit­ness to asylum seekers who dis­ap­peared. There are videos, pho­to­graphs that prove this.”

Retell­ing her account she explains how women and chil­dren were evac­u­ated from Srebren­ica towards Tuzla in buses, trucks and cars dis­tinct­ively turn­ing right only to dis­ap­pear. To this day, no one knows what happened or where the vehicles went. Fatima knows only that they turned into Ser­bi­an ter­rit­ory, men were told to walk on foot towards the woods. Bones can be found there today, but the men have not been seen since.

Believ­ing Srebren­ica was allowed to fall, as was Yugoslavia for polit­ic­al reas­ons her thoughts echo a time when the coun­try was gain­ing eco­nom­ic advant­age caus­ing many to become envi­ous. Ser­bia con­trolled the nation’s artil­lery, for­cing Croa­tia into a request for arms from the United States only for them to pub­licly state “we can­not be expec­ted to police the world”. In response to their answer, they approached Hun­gary.


A bul­let riddled house in the centre of town.

Today we are posed with many holo­causts and gen­o­cides though without tan­gible enemy some are left in a state of ambi­gu­ity. From the migrants of the Medi­ter­ranean, the Rohingya of Burma and the crisis in the middle east where the dis­place­ment of hun­dreds and thou­sands have taken place. Fur­ther­more, in Canada the gov­ern­ment voted unan­im­ously against recog­nising Srebren­ica in its list of 20th cen­tury gen­o­cides, a move the Bos­ni­an gov­ern­ment was quick to con­demn. The mere fact European forces worked with the source of oppres­sion in Bos­nia opened a pandora’s box for bad examples that has allowed mas­sacres in the middle east. This includes an indir­ect ‘stra­tegic tar­get­ing’ of mil­it­ary com­plexes where civil­ians are labelled col­lat­er­al, not vic­tims. Today, the use of drones has dis­tanced asso­ci­ation with human hands to pos­sibly encour­age more of the same and pushed armed forces towards jus­ti­fic­a­tion of oper­at­ing drone strikes in regions such as Yemen and Iraq. The break­down of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism has acted as a cata­lyst for apathy at gov­ern­ment level, in the pubic eye and most recently, example can be taken from the Tunisi­an shoot­ings. A ter­ror­ist act prompt­ing inter­na­tion­al dis­may ini­ti­at­ing a one minute silence in Bri­tain, though no minute silence for the vic­tims of ter­ror else­where, it seems we have for­got­ten our ideals of safety and human life when the focus is shif­ted towards Muslims from Europe and the Middle East.

Gen­o­cide occurred through­out Bos­nia. Sara­jevo was besieged, Mostar des­troyed though when we first met, Fatima was quick to tell me that we should remem­ber all vic­tims, not just Srebren­ica – “A life lost is a life lost, be it 1 or 1,000″



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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.

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