DID YOU KNOW?  -- Three years before the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide, Serbs torched Bosniak villages and killed at least 3,166 Bosniaks around Srebrenica. In 1993, the UN described the besieged situation in Srebrenica as a "slow-motion process of genocide." In July 1995, Serbs forcibly expelled 25,000 Bosniaks, brutally raped many women and girls, and systematically killed 8,000+ men and boys (DNA confirmed).

18 August, 2006



Photo: Ferida Osmanovic, hanged herself near the camp at Tuzla airport after being forcibly separated from her family and deported from Srebrenica during genocide. Photographed by Darko Bandic. According to the U.S. Dept of State, another 14-year-old Bosniak child hung herself with her scarf in Potocari after she and her 12-year old cousin were raped by Serb soldiers. (Thanks Owen B. for heads up).

In Potocari (Srebrenica) on July 12, 1995 a 14-year-old Bosnian girl hung herself  after Serb soldiers raped her and her 12-year-old cousin.  Photo: AP
Excerpts from:
Bosnia and Herzegovina Human Rights Practices, 1995

Author: U.S. Department of State

The Bosnian Serb occupation of the U.N. "safe area" of Srebrenica in July resulted in one of the worst single reported incidents of genocidal mass killing of members of an ethnic or religious group in Europe since World War II. This massacre, combined with the Bosnian Serb intensive shelling of civilian Sarajevo and continuing ethnic cleansing, galvanized NATO into making a decisive military intervention. Massive NATO bombing of Bosnian Serb military targets and unrelated Bosnian government and Croatian ground assaults allowed the Federation to reclaim nearly 20 percent of Bosnia's territory. The changed battlefield circumstances, plus an intensive diplomatic effort led by the United States and its Contact Group partners (Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and France) led to the negotiation of a comprehensive peace agreement in November 1995 near Dayton, Ohio; the agreement was formally signed in December in Paris.

The Bosnian Army (ABiH) is the military arm of the Republic. It is a multiethnic fighting force, comprised predominantly of Bosnian Muslims, but also Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians of mixed ethnicity. In the course of the war it developed from a citizen militia into an army. The ABiH generally respected citizens' human rights, although it did commit some violations.

The Bosnian Serb army (BSA) is the military arm of the Republika Srpska. Amalgamated in 1992 from Serbian paramilitary bands, local rural militias, and elements of the JNA, it continued its pattern of using terror tactics against Sarajevo and other civilian areas within sniper or artillery range. It also attacked, kidnaped, and harassed the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), cut utilities to Sarajevo in violation of U.N. Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 900, and blockaded deliveries of humanitarian assistance. Mercenaries from Russia, Greece, and Ukraine fought alongside BSA forces.

Although all sides committed human rights violations during 1995, the Serbs--through continued ethnic cleansing, mass murders, and attacks on civilian areas--were responsible for the overwhelming majority of abuses. The Federation Government's policy and more open society allowed the collection of detailed information about human rights problems at all levels of society, while the more closed and repressive Republika Srpska restricted the efforts of human rights observers.

The Bosnian government forces did not as a matter of policy commit political or other extrajudicial killings.

Republika Srpska was responsible for by far the most massive, egregious, and well-organized killings targeted on members of an ethnic group, including one of the worst single reported incidents of genocidal mass killing in Europe since World War II. Serb military and paramilitary forces continued to terrorize Bosnian civilians through shelling, sniping, attacks on hospitals, and other military action (see Section 1.g.). The Serb seizure of Srebrenica, began at 3:15 a.m. on July 6 with an intensive bombardment of civilian targets in the enclave, causing chaos among the populace which had nowhere to retreat. In the next few days the shelling continued and Serb forces closed in, taking control of U.N. observation posts one by one and taking 55 U.N. troops hostage. The desperate civilians fled, many on foot, to the U.N. base in the neighboring village of Potocari.

On July 10 most of the military-age civilian males, and a number of ABiH soldiers, correctly concluded that they would be slaughtered if they were captured. They decided that their best chance of survival would be to try to walk 50 kilometers through Serb territory to the nearest government lines. Groups of varying sizes totalling from 10,000 to 15,000, including some women and children, departed over July 10 to 12. The various columns broke up into smaller groups as Serb forces attacked them. Survivors who reached safety in the Tuzla area reported mass executions of ABiH soldiers and civilian males. According to one report, the Serbs ambushed a group of about 2,000 in a confined area near Kamenica, killing most. According to some reports, Serbs dressed in U.N. uniforms they had stolen from UNPROFOR troops joined the column and knifed or strangled individuals. Many of the men surrendered to the Serbs; some were killed after they surrendered. Others reportedly committed suicide rather than surrender and face the possibility of torture. There are numerous, credible reports that many of those who surrendered were taken to places of mass execution north of Srebrenica. The systematic way in which prisoners were moved to execution sites, and the presence of trailers and bulldozers (to transport corpses and to dig mass graves) indicate that the mass killings were planned well in advance. More than 7,000 remain unaccounted for and presumed dead.

By July 12, 3,000 to 4,000 civilians were packed into the U.N. base and another 24,000 were grouped around the base. By this time, according to reports gathered by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, Serb soldiers had killed at least 99 people, including 20 to 30 women and children, and Bosnian Serb troops were freely walking inside the camp among the civilians, with the U.N. troops reduced to bystanders. Some Serbs donned U.N. uniforms, drove white U.N. jeeps, and thus disguised lured the refugees out of hiding to their deaths, according to U.N. and press reports.

The deportation of civilians began on July 13. Those men who did not leave on July 10 were separated from the women and children, including boys younger than 16 and men in their 70s. Bosnian Serb commanding General Ratko Mladic arrived that afternoon with the Serb press. With the cameras rolling and Serb soldiers handing out bread and water, Mladic told the refugees that they would be cared for.

Once the press departed the mass killings began in earnest. According to numerous and corroborated reports collected by the U.N., ICRC, and other international observers, eyewitnesses saw bodies of dead civilians along the road, many with their throats cut; others had been shot in the back of the head. On the morning of July 14 two women who left their camp to look for water told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that on their way back along the same path at around 8:00 a.m. they saw 10 dead males, some of whom they recognized, with their throats slashed. Witnesses reported seeing military-age men being taken off of buses and taken out of sight, and then hearing gunfire. Local Serb civilians confirmed to international journalists that the killings took place, and identified locations, such as the school in Karakaj, where the victims were held pending their execution. Members of the UNPROFOR battalion that was to protect Srebrenica reported seeing an estimated 1,000 ABiH soldiers confined in a soccer stadium north of Nova Kasaba on July 13 and hearing about 45 minutes of continuous shooting from the stadium beginning at about 2:30 a.m. on the morning of July 14.

According to an eyewitness who survived by pretending to be dead, some 2,000 civilian Muslims were packed into a warehouse in Kravica 2 days after Srebrenica was overrun: Serb soldiers then fired automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades into the building. Mass killings of civilian Muslims also took place at detention sites in Konjevic Polje, Potocari, and Karakaj. Dutch soldiers saw Serbs kill unarmed Muslims and masses of dead bodies. On July 15 Dutch troops saw 30 bodies on the road between Nova Kasaba and Bratunac and on July 17 saw approximately 100 bodies on two trailers coming from the direction of Srebrenica. A local man interviewed by journalists said he saw about 500 killed while he lay hiding in reeds along the main road to Nova Kasaba. Eyewitnesses reported that Serb army commander General Ratko Mladic was present at some of the mass executions of civilian Muslims, cradling an AK-47 rifle. Serb paramilitary groups, including the Drina Wolves, Seselj Militia, Specialna Policia, White Eagles, and Arkan Tigers reportedly were also present.

Similar atrocities may have occurred during the occupation of the Zepa safe-area, although a greater percentage of Zepa's population has been accounted for.

Mass killings of non-Serbs as part of ethnic cleansing also took place in Banja Luka, Prijedor, Bosanski Novi, and Bosanska Dubica in September and October, in part to make room for Serb refugees who fled from the Croatian reoccupation of Krajina. Croats reportedly were particular targets for revenge. U.N. and other international observers collected numerous accounts of killings and other atrocities.

In addition to mass killings, the Bosnian Serbs most often shot or slit the throats of their victims. Beatings to death were also frequently reported. Reports of grotesque cruelty were also common. For example, a Bosniak woman described to Human Rights Watch/Helsinki how at Potocari Serb soldiers slit her son's throat before her eyes and forced her to drink his blood. Victims of mass expulsions in the Banja Luka/Prijedor area in October reported that in some cases captives were forced to walk across mine fields or to cross rivers where the older and weak drowned. Many sick or wounded captives died because Bosnian Serb authorities denied them access to medical treatment. There are reports of suicides by non-Serbs who were traumatized by the brutality they experienced. In Potocari on July 12 a 14-year-old Bosniak girl hung herself with her scarf after she and her 12-year old cousin were raped by Serb soldiers.

One Bosniak woman reported that she was forced out of her Bosanska Dubica home at gunpoint by paramilitary forces wearing black stockings over their heads, was beaten by them, and dragged away by her hair. At the town square where she was held before her expulsion, she witnessed two women and three men beaten to death. In another case, all four members of a retarded family were killed because they failed to understand that they were supposed to leave their home and get onto a bus.

In May Bosnian Serbs shot down a helicopter carrying Bosnian Foreign Minister Irfan Lubjankic and Deputy Justice Minister Izet Muhamedagic from Bihac to Sarajevo. All seven persons aboard were killed. During the siege of Zepa, Serb commander Mladic lured Bosnian garrison commander Palic out of the enclave with an invitation to talk with him under UNPROFOR auspices. Mladic's forces killed the commander on his way back to the enclave, and Mladic publicly took credit for the killing.

Women continue to be subjected to rape and other forms of physical abuse. Rape was one of the most frequently used tools of ethnic cleansing by the Bosnian Serbs (see Sections 1.c. and 1.g.). In northern Bosnia a 76-year-old woman was raped in the process of expulsion from her home. In Srebrenica a 91-year-old woman was shot to death for not getting into a bus fast enough.
In the course of the war, nearly 17,000 children were killed, 35,000 wounded, and over 1,800 permanently disabled. In Sarajevo alone over 1,600 were killed, 15,000 wounded, and over 350 permanently disabled. Many of those killed in Sarajevo were killed by snipers, who could easily distinguish between children and adults. In fact, Serb snipers deliberately targeted children, and Serb artillery deliberately targeted schools and playgrounds for shelling. The elementary school in Alipasina Pale, a suburb of Sarajevo, was shelled twice in the spring; the first attack killed four pupils and a teacher and wounded 34, the second attack killed 7 and wounded 8. The small playground above the main Sarajevo marketplace was also attacked twice; two children were killed in the first attack and 4 killed and 4 wounded in the second. None of these places were located near military targets.
Ethnic differences--complicated by religious differences--are at the heart of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and have been manipulated by both the [Serb] SDS party and the [Croat] HDZ to sustain concepts of a "Greater Serbia" and a "Greater Croatia." The serious human rights violations committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina--ethnic cleansing, rape, forced labor, forced relocation, extrajudicial killing--were largely perpetrated with the goal of establishing the superiority and political domination of a particular ethnic group. No group was more victimized than Bosnia's Muslims.