Life | Srebrenica: Looking for Justice

This film examines the massacre at Srebrenica. This July is the tenth anniversary of what proved to be the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War. The programme examines the long and painful process of identifying the many thousands of men and boys who were slaughtered, the attempts to bring those responsible to justice and looks to the future and the possibility of Balkan states joining the European Union.

July 2005 marks the tenth anniversary of what proved to be the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War, in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica. In July 1995 Serbian forces entered the mainly Muslim town of Srebrenica in North-east Bosnia. Twenty thousand refugees, mainly women and children fled to the UN base at Potocari, while others, mainly men, headed for the hills around the town. At the base, inadequately armed Dutch peacekeepers, whose fellow soldiers had been taken hostage, had no option but to hand over thousands of refugees. The Serbian troops separated men and boys from women and small children. Most of the women were then bussed out. Others were raped, tortured and murdered. The men were taken away to be slaughtered and their bodies dumped in mass graves.

Bosnian town of SrebrenicaFormer Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his military subordinate General Ratko Mladic top the list of those indicted for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. Both have evaded capture for ten years. But there is now a bigger political process at work, as all sides try to move towards a better and more secure a better future for the Balkans.

Lord Paddy Ashdown, High Representative, Bosnia and Herzogovina, explains: “What Karadzic has said for many years, is derzhaete, derzhaete, derzhaete. Hang on, hang on, hang on, they will go away, they will get tired, they will get bored. We’ve managed to get the stone moving at last because they’ve been convinced that we are not going to get bored. There is one thing that unites this country. There is one thing, one glue that holds together the whole region. There’s one single aim that every single person, every single political party and every single ethnicity is bound to and that’s what we can have only one secure future and that’s in Europe and NATO.”

Forensic scientistsForensic scientists are still uncovering the truth about what really happened at Srebrenica. Doune Porter, Senior Forensic Anthropologist with the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), says: “The perpetrators of the massacre went to enormous lengths to hide the evidence. When it became apparent that satellite imagery could pinpoint the locations of the large mass graves, they went in again using heavy machinery and dug up the bodies and then reburied them in smaller mass graves that they hid better.”

The United Nations recently resorted to other ways of pressurising Serbs to hand-over suspected war criminals. Previously unseen footage of Bosnian Muslims being executed by a notorious Serbian paramilitary unit known as the Scorpions, was released and broadcast around the world. These shocking images were also shown in The Hague at the International Tribunal for War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia where it was submitted as possible evidence against former Serbian President, Slobodan Milosovic.

For one Bosnian family watching the footage, it came as a complete shock: one scene showed the killing of Nura Alispahic’s son: “The last two that remained were my son and another boy. His hands were tied behind his back. First they killed the guy in front of him and then they shot him once and a second time and then I started screaming. My son, they are killing you! But there was nobody there.”

Serbs in Srebrenica, who say they were victims of earlier atrocities by Muslims, also saw the Scorpion footage. Mirko Sekulic, who has lived in the town most of his life, was watching television the night it was broadcast. ‘I understand if two armies are shooting each other on the front line and on either side you have army killing, this is something different. But civilians, women and children – I cannot accept.’

Lord Ashdown suggests that the Serb authorities have been dragging their feet in the hunt for Mladic and Karadzizh, but President Dragan Cavic, President of the Serb Republic, denies this: “As we speak we are already working to resolve this problem and capture the war criminals. In December last year there were 18 war criminals still at large. But now at the end of June beginning of July there are a total of six missing. So in the past six months two-thirds of the suspects in the Republica Srpska have been transferred to the Hague.”

One reason for this new determination is the prospect of the Balkan States joining the EU. As President Cavic explains: “This country and the others in this region, particularly in the Western Balkans, must join the European Union at some point, for the benefit of the country itself and the European Union and it would be equally mutually beneficial if the countries joined NATO.”

Lord Ashdown puts it more bluntly: “Europe is the one glue that holds that region together take that glue away – and we have to look at the recent referendums and wonder – take that glue away and this region and this nation reverts to its natural state and we know what its natural state is.”



The website of the Office of the High Representative and EU Special Representative contains much useful information, and also Lord Paddy Ashdown’s biodata.

The website of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), for whom Doune Porter and Cheryl Katzmarzk work lists news of identifications and information on methods used, including DNA matching. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is also active in helping in the tracing of missing relatives. The Serbian Ministry for Human and Minority Rights is also involved in tracing missing persons. For further information on the refugees, visit UNHCR’s Bosnia website.

The website of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has extensive pages on Srebrenica.

For information on the Serb Republic of Bosnia, visit Srpska Online, and the Republic of Srpska Government. President Dragan Cavic has his own website.

For a Croatian perspective on the Bosnian situation, visit the Croatian Information Centre.

The UN Development Programme has pages on the Srebrenica Regional Recovery Programme, with Stories from the Field. To read UNDP’s Rights-based Municipal Assessment Project (RMAP) and Report, click here. For a summary of the UN Millennium Development Goals, go here.

The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internally Displaced Persons website maintains a database of information on Bosnia & Herzegovina.

General information in English on Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found on the websites of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OCSE)’s Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia Herzogovina, the CIA World Factbook, Tourism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Lonely Planet World Guide.

The website of the EU Stabilisation Force (EUFOR), which has taken over from the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR), includes a history of the country and pages on the General Framework Agreement

For an overview of the EU’s policy in Bosnia and the Balkans, click here.

Response International is an aid agency working for victims of conflict in Bosnia.

For details of an earlier Life programme about refugees returning to Srebrenica, broadcast in 2004, ‘Return to Srebrenica’, gohere.


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