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12 July 2005

International Community Honors Victims of Srebrenica Massacre

United States, Europe affirm need to bring perpetrators to justice

By Elizabeth Farabee
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- In a ceremony July 11 in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, thousands gathered to observe the 10th anniversary of the massacre that shocked the international community and to mourn the victims.

In July 1995, Bosnian Serb soldiers killed nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Srebrenica enclave.  To date, the remains of only 2,000 victims have been identified.

As part of the July 11 commemoration, the bodies of the 610 most recently identified victims were buried in the Srebrenica-Potocari cemetery.

A U.S. presidential delegation led by Pierre-Richard Prosper, U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, represented the United States at the ceremony. Other members of the delegation were Douglas L. McElhaney, U.S. ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Richard C. Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and chief negotiator of the Dayton Accords, the U.S.-inspired peace agreement that effectively ended the Bosnian war in December 1995.

In a July 11 statement released by the White House, President Bush offered America’s “deepest condolences and expression of sympathy” to the victims of this “horrific event,” and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to ensure “that those responsible for these crimes face justice, most notably Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.”

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his army chief, General Ratko Mladic, have been indicted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague on charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity for their involvement in the Srebrenica massacre.  They remain at large.

In anticipation of the 10th anniversary of the massacre, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate passed identical resolutions honoring the victims and expressing the sense of the House and Senate that the massacre was an act of genocide.  The perpetrators “should be held accountable for their actions,” the resolutions said.

State Department acting spokesman Tom Casey stated at a July 11 press briefing that the United States “applauds the strength of the families who've had the courage to return to Srebrenica and rebuild their lives and we certainly are standing with them today at the memorial ceremonies.”

“Bosnia’s future and the future of the Balkans lies with NATO and the European Union,” he continued. “But certainly to accomplish this, the Balkan countries need to put the past behind them and a modern democratic Balkan region is an essential element of a Europe whole, free and at peace.”

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a message to the ceremony delivered by his chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown, said Srebrenica was the worst massacre on European soil since World War II and that the international community “failed to respond adequately” at the time.

“We express our solidarity with the families and friends of those whose lives were brutally taken 10 years ago, and with the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Annan said.

He also called for the architects of the massacre, Karadzic and Mladic, to be tried in The Hague, and for the international community “to prevent such systematic slaughter from recurring anywhere in the present and future.”

“Finally, by our presence today, we commit ourselves to help the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in spite of all the difficulties, to rebuild a viable economy and secure a peaceful, prosperous future among the family of nations,” Annan said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) chairman-in-office, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, also paid tribute to the victims of the massacre.  “We must continue to honor the victims of Srebrenica and support their families who have struggled to re-build their lives and seek justice for these crimes,” Rupel said in an OSCE press release. “The OSCE reaffirms its commitment to them.”

OSCE is the world's largest regional security organization and has 55 participating member states.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said there is “a moral and political imperative to have all those responsible for the crimes of the Bosnia war tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.”

Solana went on to say in a commentary in the Financial Times that, “It is time to bring this shameful episode to an end. These men need to be in The Hague. That is what the families of the Srebrenica victims want and deserve. It is also what Bosnia and the wider region need. We in the EU will do everything in our power to make it happen.”

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the international community must never forget the massacre.   “It is something we must never allow to happen again,” he said in statement released by NATO, adding that the perpetrators will face justice. 

De Hoop Scheffer also said the best response to the massacre “is to continue building a country that is inclusive, tolerant, firmly at peace and integrating with Euro-Atlantic structures. NATO will continue to play its part to help Bosnia and Herzegovina to reach that goal.