July 2015 marks 20 years since massacres in Srebrenica left 8,000 Bosnian-Muslim men and boys dead. The slaughter in Srebrenica remains the worst massacre committed on European soil since World War II.
It was an exceptionally dark episode in a series of mass killings of local Muslims in eastern Bosnia during the war of 1992-1995, in which Bosnian Serb forces waged a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the country after Bosnia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia, which had been opposed by Bosnia’s large Serbian population. The territory carved out by the Bosnian Serbs is known today as Republika Srpska, a de facto autonomous entity comprising 49 per cent of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Ethnic divisions in the country are deep-rooted, exacerbated by the scars of slaughter and a general feeling of helplessness in the wake of a lacklustre international response to the killings. The United Nations ‘failed to protect the people who sought shelter and relief in Srebrenica’, said Jan Eliasson, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, during discussions last week to adopt a resolution that redefined the massacres as ‘genocide’. The measure failed to pass with ten votes in favour, four abstentions and Russia exercising its veto against.
In the past 20 years, significant progress has been made towards building peace in Bosnia, but much remains to be done. Vahidin Omanovic, a winner of our Tomorrow’s Peacebuilders award 2014, spoke with Peace Direct this week to reflect on the tragedy and on what his organisation Centar za Izgrandju (CIM) is doing to secure lasting peace in Bosnia.