Mothers of Srebrenica: ‘Sadly, the killing continues in the world’
The pointe shoes were a testament to unfulfilled hopes. They belonged to a young ballet dancer from Bosnia and Herzegovina whose life was forever changed by the brutal conflict that broke out in the heart of Europe at the end of the 20th century and were on display at UN Headquarters in New York to educate visitors about the horrors of war and genocide.
Among the exhibit’s visitors were members of the Mothers of Srebrenica, an association that united thousands of people – mothers, sisters, and wives – who have lost loved ones in the massacre in their city.
Munira Subašić doesn’t need photographs to remember the tragedy that claimed her husband, son, and 20 other close relatives.
“I represent all the mothers who lost their children in the genocide, all those whose dreams were shattered by this tragedy,” she told UN News ahead of Srebrenica Memorial Day, commemorated on 11 July.
Darkest page of war
The war that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia claimed more than 100,000 lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995, mostly of Bosnian Muslims, and displaced more than two million others.
People were detained and put in concentration camps, and thousands of Bosnian women were systematically raped. The list of atrocities is endless, but Srebrenica became the darkest page of the war.
In July 1995, the Bosnian Serb army seized Srebrenica, previously declared by the UN as a “security zone”, and brutally murdered some 8,000 men and teenagers there and expelled 20,000 people from the city.
The International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) recognized the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica by the army of Republika Srpska as an act of genocide.
The UN could not prevent this genocide because the small and lightly armed contingent of Dutch peacekeepers was not able to resist the units of the Bosnian Serbs.
Founded in 2002, the Mothers of Srebrenica Association has been searching for missing persons and mass graves, supporting survivors, and seeking justice.
“We want the whole world to know that we have survived,” Ms. Subašić said. “We have forgotten nothing. We will strive to make sure that all criminals get what they deserve.”
In 2017, the ICTY sentenced Ratko Mladić, former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, to life in prison for crimes of genocide, violations of the laws and customs of war, and crimes against humanity, including the massacres at Srebrenica, committed from 1992 to 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“The crimes committed are among the most atrocious acts known to mankind,” Judge Alphons Orie of the Tribunal said when announcing the verdict. “They include genocide and extermination, which is a crime against humanity.”
The Mothers of Srebrenica won a lawsuit filed against the Dutch government and Ministry of Defence for failing to protect the residents, Ms. Subašić said.
“The Dutch Government acknowledged the Court’s decision, took responsibility, and took an active role in financially supporting the survivors of the genocide,” she said. “Our children’s lives are priceless. No one can give them back to us, but we worked to ensure that justice was done.”
Kada Hotić, a Mothers of Srebrenica member, has dedicated her life to finding those still missing and identifying their remains.
“It took years to find just two bones from my son’s remains,” Ms. Hotić, said, adding that the vast majority of those reported missing were later found dead in huge mass graves.
The last time she saw her husband was in July 1995, she said. They were trying to board a bus together during the deportation when a uniformed man led him out of the line with a gun to his throat.
“He had our belongings in his hands, everything we had managed to take with us, and I haven’t seen him since,” she said.
“They took us, women and children, by bus to Tuzla, but on the way, the bus was stopped, and soldiers burst in,” she explained. “They exposed their genitals and shouted at us that ‘these are their weapons against us’. We tried to protect the children somehow so they wouldn’t see this horror.”
Genocide is also about deep psychological trauma for the survivors. According to Ms. Subašić, the Srebrenica genocide left some 5,500 minors without one or both parents.
In front of many of these children, their families and loved ones were raped and murdered, she said.
“Members of our association were actively involved in raising these children, and many of them have become successful people in spite of their experiences,” says the head of the association. “We wanted them to grow up in love, to feel that love, and I hope we have succeeded.”
“The Mothers of Srebrenica are here, and their presence is a reminder of what should never happen again,” said UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Nderitu at the Stories of Survival and Remembrance exhibit at UN Headquarters.
“No genocide has ever happened without hate speech accompanying it before and even after,” she said, adding that genocide denial efforts continue today.
While touring the exhibit with the Special Adviser, Ms. Subašić expressed the association’s hope “that with our mission, we would ensure that no one else would have to go through the horrors of Srebrenica, through the genocide”.
“But, unfortunately, while I’m talking to you about this, a similar situation is developing in Ukraine, Somalia, and other places,” she said. “People are being killed there again.”