Twelve years today, the town of Srebrenica morphed from a silver-mining town into the site of one of the world’s most devastating genocides. As the international community and United Nations peacekeepers looked on, Serb forces systematically separated civilian men and women, before massacring thousands of men en masse. Those who attempted to escape into the forests surrounding the town were swiftly caught and sentenced to the same fate. By the culmination of the massacre, an estimate 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men had been murdered.
The start of the war in 1992 brought forth a heinous plethora of massacres amidst shameful international dithering. Yet as new conflicts emerge – and exisiting ones recommence and continue – we often forget the victims of the conflicts that have succeded in ending. For the people residing in the former war zones, the spectre of their past continues to return with the discovery of new mass graves as recently as last month, when forty-four incomplete skeletons were uncovered in the Zeleni Jadar area, fifteen kilometres south of Srebrenica.
Similarly, issues of displacement, poverty – unemployment currently stands at 50% in Bosnia – occupation, crime, security and punity against the agressors have carried over into the new century. The physical remnants of war are equally tangible with buried cluster munitions left by both NATO and Serb forces continuing to claim victims: between 2004-2003, fifty civilians were injured in the Kosovo region. Naturally, this factor carries over into the issue of return; for a vast number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the prospect of returning to rebuild former homes amidst a literal minefiled is less than appealing.
Yet tentative progress is being made, with the European Union foreign ministers granting the go-ahead for Bosnia to participate in the Stabilisation and Association Agreement talks in November 2005, and its admission to the NATO Partnership for Peace pre-membership programme. The verdict of the International Court of Justice in February this year that the Srebrenica massacre did indeed constitute genocide arrived as a mixed tiding however: while the acknowldgement of the atrocity was a step forward, the vindication of Serb involvement through the clause ‘direct responsibility’ persists to shroud the event in ambiguity. The conflict may be over, but the battle for justice and return continues, albeit quietly.