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20 years after Srebrenica



In the five days following 11 July 1995, at the height of the civil war in Bosnia, over 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered by members of the ethnic Serb Army of Republika Srpska, under the command of Radko Mladic, aided by a Serbian paramilitary unit known as the 'Scorpions'. The Srebrenica Massacre, which forms part of the indictment against Mladic who was apprehended in Serbia in 2011 and brought to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), was described by the then General Secretary of the United Nations Kofi Annan as the worst crime committed on European soil since the Second World War. In the messy and confused back and forth that characterised the Bosnian War, the town of Srebrenica had become a Muslim enclave surrounded by territory under the control of ethnic Serb forces. The United Nations, which had despatched a peace keeping mission into the war zone under the title of United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), had declared the town a 'safe area', a controversial and ultimately futile attempt to intervene in the killing. When Serb forces finally broke through to Srebrenica in July 1995, the 400 strong Dutch peacekeeping contingent was effectively taken hostage by Mladic's forces and ultimately powerless to prevent the massacre.



Over the past two decades, the case of Srebrenica has led to a large number of investigations and official reports. The ICTY, established in May 1993, ruled that the massacre in Srebrenica constituted genocide, thus anchoring the killings in international law and laying the groundwork for some of the indictments against Mladic, Radovan Karadzic, the then 'President of Republika Srpska', and a number of other high ranking military and civilian officials.

A seven year long Dutch investigation came to the conclusion in 2002 that 'the Netherlands and the UN did not perform their duty' on those crucial days in Srebrenica. These finding led to the resignation of the Dutch prime minister Wim Kok.



In the years following the massacre, exhumations of mass graves and the emergence of countless other pieces of evidence, including a two and a half hour video which showed graphic executions perpetrated by members of the 'Scorpions', continued to piece together what happened on those dreadful days in July 1995. What continued to haunt the survivors, however, was the fact that few perpetrators had been brought to justice and, most significantly, both Karadzic and Mladic remained at large. The capture in 2008 of Karadzic in Belgrade, the Serb capital, and Mladic in rural northern Serbia in 2011, suggests a level of complicity in their going undetected at the highest levels of the Serbian Army.

Both Bosnian Serb leaders are now in custody in the Netherlands awaiting final verdicts in their cases. Karadzic has, at times dramatically and unrepentantly, chosen to defend himself. Mladic for his part called allegations against him 'obnoxious', 'monstrous' and 'satanic'. In 2010, the Serbian parliament passed a resolution condemning the massacre and apologising for the country not having done more to prevent the killings. In 2013, Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic went further and said: 'I kneel and ask for forgiveness for Serbia for the crime committed in Srebrenica. I apologise for the crimes committed by any individual in the name of our state and our people.'



Panos photographers Paul Lowe and Andrew Testa have both worked extensively in Bosnia and other parts of the Balkans. On the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, here is a collection of images plotting the aftermath of one of the worst tragedies of the Balkans Wars.

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