Genocide: Bosnia

The genocide in Bosnia shocked Europe and perhaps especially the Netherlands, because of the involvement of the Dutch UN soldiers already there, Dutchbat. The genocide in Bosnia was the first in Europe since the Holocaust, so we clearly had not learned much from it. The name Srebrenica will always remain in the minds of Dutch people.

The beginning

Bosnia emerged in the 1990s from the remains of the former Yugoslavia. That country finally fell apart in 1991. Croats and Slovenes had declared their own states and they were almost immediately recognized by the rest of the world. That same year, Alija Izetbegovic, leader of multi-ethnic Bosnia, also declared his country’s independence and the US and EU also recognized this new nation in 1992. But Bosnia was a deeply divided country, with Serbs who were Orthodox Catholic ( 32%), Croats, who were Roman Catholic (17%) and Bosnian Sunni Muslims (44%). And the Serbs in particular were not happy with the situation, they wanted to be part of Milosevic’s Greater Serbia. The Yugoslav army, which was mainly Serbian and had just fought troubles with Croatia, because of the Serb population there, now focused on Bosnia. At the end of 1993, the Bosnian Serbs founded their own state: Srpska. The country was led by Radovan Karadzic and the army was led by General Mladic and controlled almost three quarters of Bosnia. They started shelling Sarajevo. The Croats had been expelled from many areas and the Muslims could only be found in the cities. The European Union tried to mediate but without success and the UN did nothing except send some humanitarian convoys. The UNProFor was subsequently established to protect six ‘safe havens’, including Sarajevo (the capital of Bosnia) and Srebrenica. This failed and each of those zones fell to the Serbs, with the exception of Sarajevo. The safe havens were ‘ethnically cleansed’ by the Serbs. The UN acted as if their noses were bleeding, because recognizing genocide meant that military action had to be taken. The Bosnian Serbs were exterminating ethnic groups.


Bosnia / Source: Public domain, Wikimedia Commons (PD)

By 1992, Srebrenica had become a Muslim enclave in an area controlled by Bosnian Serbs. French and Dutch UN troops had to protect the Muslim population. In July 1995, the enclave was captured by the Bosnian army and shelling of the city began. The Muslims outside the city had already been neutralized. People were rounded up and simply shot. Women were often raped to instill additional fear in families and make them pregnant by Serbian men. But now it was the turn of the civilian population in Srebrenica. Food and water soon became scarce and the troops drew closer.

Dutch Bat

The Dutch troops, who had their headquarters in a factory in the suburbs, could hardly do anything. They had too few weapons and some of their soldiers had been taken hostage by the Serbs . The Dutch asked their French colleagues to shoot the Serbs with planes, but the French did not respond. On July 11, thousands of Muslims fled the headquarters of the Dutch troops, and by evening 6,000 people had entered the headquarters. Many more people waited outside.


The next day, Mladic promised to allow the Muslims to leave the area, provided the men were first checked to see whether they were war criminals or not. At the same time the Dutch headquarters were surrounded. Buses and trucks arrived and the men were separated from the women and children. The women and children were loaded into buses and trucks and left. The men and boys over the age of twelve were taken. The entire deportation took four days and the UN troops helped. Serbs confiscated the blue UN helmets to confuse people later. Men and boys were taken to remote places, where they were then shot. The entire operation was carried out with military precision: male Muslims were killed on playgrounds, football fields and on farms. The thousands of bodies were buried in mass graves, some later sent to secret cemeteries. For example, the 8,000 Muslim men from Srebrenica were murdered, and many women and girls were systematically raped.


On August 30, 1995, NATO finally intervened with a heavy hand. Serb forces in Bosnia were shelled and this continued into October. Bosnian troops had now received weapons from the Islamic world and eventually the Croats and Muslims took control of half of Bosnia. A peace agreement was signed in Dayton, Ohio in December 1995. Bosnia was divided into a Bosnian Croat state and the state of Srpska. NATO stationed 60,000 troops to maintain peace, later replaced by S-For, Stabilization Force . Elections were held in 1996, electing a three-person presidency, representing each group. Serbs now inhabited Srebrenica, these were mainly people who had themselves been expelled from other parts of Bosnia by Muslims and Croats. The Serbian actions had caused an unprecedented population movement in the area, displacing a very large part of the population.


The UN had failed seriously in Bosnia and it was mainly Secretary General Boutros Ghali, the UN Special Envoy and French General Janvier who suffered. On July 11, 2000, the new UN Secretary General Kofi Annan apologized for the failed actions of the UN troops in Bosnia. Mladic and Karadzic were declared war criminals and arrest warrants were issued for both of them. Some 200,000 Muslims were murdered in Bosnia, 20,000 Bosniaks are still missing and two million Muslims were driven from their homes.