CBC In Depth
Srebrenica: Europe's shame
CBC News Online | Updated on May 26, 2011

It wasn't an easy transition to independence for Bosnia-Herzegovina. The former Yugoslav republic voted to go its own way on March 1, 1992, a month-and-a-half after the European Commission recognized Slovenia and Croatia as independent states.

By early April, Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, was under attack by Serb forces, marking the start of a three-year war between Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims. The Serbs had the support of what remained of Yugoslavia, under President Slobodan Milosevic, a hardline Serb nationalist.

In March 1993, the Bosnian Serb army – backed by troops and weapons from Yugoslavia – started driving back Muslim forces. Serbs threatened to overtake Srebrenica, where 60,000 refugees had congregated to escape the fighting.

French General Philippe Morillon, the UN commander in Bosnia, managed to get past the Serb front line and visited Srebrenica. He declared the refugees "under the protection of the UN."

A month later, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 819, which declared that Srebrenica and a 50-square-kilometre area around the town would be the first United Nations Safe Area. As a "safe area," the region would become a centre for Bosnian Muslim refugees seeking safety from Bosnian Serb aggression.

However, the details of how the area would be defended were never made clear.

By May 6, 1993, five more Bosnian towns were declared safe areas. Several hundred lightly-armed UN peacekeepers were charged with protecting the safe areas.

Two years later, beginning in April 1995, Bosnian Serb forces started cutting off the safe areas, stopping relief convoys from delivering food and aid. On July 5, the southern part of Srebrenica came under fire from artillery shells.

By July 9, the shelling was constant. Refugees fled from the advancing Serbs in the south. The Serbs advanced to within a kilometre of the town. They also took 30 Dutch peacekeepers hostage.

On July 11, two NATO warplanes dropped two bombs on Serb positions. The Serbs threatened to kill their Dutch hostages and to shell refugees. NATO backed down and called off further air strikes.

That afternoon, Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic entered Srebrenica and claimed it for Bosnian Serbs. Within four hours, Mladic delivered an ultimatum: the Muslims must hand over their weapons to guarantee their lives.

Overnight, about 15,000 Bosnian Muslim fighters tried to escape from Srebrenica and were shelled as they fled through the mountains.

On July 12, a steady stream of buses arrived to carry women and children to Muslim territory. Over the next 30 hours, 23,000 women and children were deported.

The remaining men between the ages of 12 and 77 were detained. The Serbs insisted that the men must be questioned to identify Muslim war criminals.

On July 13, a warehouse in the nearby village of Kravica became the scene of the first killings of unarmed Muslims.

Meanwhile, Dutch peacekeepers agreed to hand over about 5,000 Muslims who had sought shelter at the Dutch base at Potocari. In return, the Bosnian Serbs released 14 Dutch peacekeepers they had held hostage.

On July 16, the first reports of massacres emerged as some of the 15,000 Muslim defenders who tried to escape Srebrenica started arriving in Muslim territory.

The Dutch were allowed to leave Srebrenica after negotiations between the UN and the Bosnian Serbs. They left behind weapons, food and medical supplies.

And the killing went on. In the five days after the Serbs overran Srebrenica, as many as 8,000 Muslim men were killed and buried in mass graves. Ten years later, approximately 2,000 of the victims had been identified and properly buried.

On Dec. 14, 1995, a peace accord ended the war in Bosnia. More than 200,000 people had died in the fighting. Several million others were left homeless.

Less than two weeks after the massacre at Srebrenica, Mladic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic were charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague for allegedly organizing and carrying out Europe's worst war crime since the Second World War. Both eluded capture for more than a decade. Karadzic was finally arrested in July 2008 and extradited to The Hague, where he is now standing trial. Mladic was arrested by Serbian authorities in May 2011 and is expected to also go on trial in The Hague, possibly together with Karadzic.

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The Current presents John Chipman's documentary The Digging Season. (Runs 16:15)

John Chipmam's documentary from The Current "The Spirit of Sarajevo." (Runs 15:17)
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Serbia and Montenegro

Statistical Office of Kosovo


UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo

Centre for Peace in the Balkans

UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

Srebrenica report: Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to General Assembly resolution 53/35 (1998)

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