Ten years late, a mass funeral for Srebrenica victims

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was one of 610 funerals at the Memorial Garden opposite the former base of the United Nations Dutch peacekeepers which took place on the 10th anniversary of Europe's worst genocidal atrocity since the Nazis. Ten years ago Bosnian Serb soldiers under the command of General Ratko Mladic set about terminating the Muslim population of the town. By the time they had finished, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys had been killed.

Yesterday, tens of thousands of survivors with stories like that of Naza Hasanovic streamed into the Memorial Garden to bury 603 recently identified corpses and to remember all the rest, both those who have already been identified and those, like Naza's husband, of whom there is as yet no trace.

The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, the Bosnian High Representative, Lord Ashdown, and Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, were among dignitaries at the ceremony, which was held under a fragile wooden canopy topped by a small silver Islamic crescent.

In a message read out by a spokesman, the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, told the gathering: "Here we see man's inhumanity to man ... the United Nations should not evade its share of responsibility. It was a serious error of judgement based on principles of impartiality and non-violence that were not appropriate to the situation. The tragedy at Srebrenica will always haunt the United Nations.''

Naza Hasanovic, now 47, listened and kept her thoughts to herself. Until 1993 she lived with her family a few kilometres up the road from Srebrenica in the town of Bratunac. Then that town fell to the Bosnian Serb army and they were forced to flee south to the so-called "United Nations Safe Area'' of Srebrenica. After two years of siege, the Bosnian Serb forces came over the hill into the town and the Hasanovics were on the road again, fleeing for the protection of the Dutch United Nations camp in a disused battery factory. But when the Serbs told the Dutch to relinquish the refugees, Naza was put on a bus to safety while her husband, her 14-year-old son and two of her brothers were put in the lorry that would take them to their deaths.

Her son, Meho, had the wit and luck to escape, fleeing the crowd of doomed men and rejoining his mother. He survived: yesterday, with sunglasses clamped on his brow and wearing jeans rolled up against the mud, he filmed his uncle's funeral, tears reddening his cheeks. He is studying political science at Sarajevo University.

Naza's husband and brothers vanished without trace. It is supposed that both were executed soon after they were torn away from her.

Thanks to the work of the International Commission on Missing Persons, DNA testing identified first the remains of Mehmed, her elder brother, buried here three years ago, then those of Hamed. But of her husband there is still no trace.

In all, 48 members of her extended family died in the massacre.

The anniversary of the massacre has become the town's sombre annual reunion. It had a population of more than 37,000 before the war and was 70 per cent Muslim. The population of Srebrenica today is only about 10,000, the majority Serbs. Under the 1995 Dayton Agreement the town was awarded to the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska. The town's mayor is a Muslim, but he lives elsewhere, and his administration is painfully under-funded.

The ethnic cleansing of Srebrenica, in other words, was very substantially a success: those Muslim residents not killed were scattered across the earth.

Naza Hasanovic now lives in Tuzla, a Muslim-ruled Bosnian town two hours away; two of her other brothers have emigrated to the United States.

As many speakers pointed out, the architect of the massacre, the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and its executioner, General Ratko Mladic, are still free. Rumours were circulating yesterday that Mladic may surrender "within days". But Naza Hasanovic has heard it all before.