Belgrade, 11 July 2020 (dpa/MIA) – The 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide on Saturday is being marked under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, which not only forced changes to the ceremony but also once again delayed appeals hearings in the trial of the main culprit.
The event marks July 11, 1995, the day when Bosnian Serb forces marched into Srebrenica, a Muslim enclave on Serb territory in Bosnia that had been under UN protection.
Bosnia had been embroiled in an ethnic war pitting the Serbs against Muslim Bosniaks and Croats between 1992 and 1995.
Commanded by Ratko Mladic, who awaits an appeals trial against a life sentence for the Srebrenica genocide, the Serbs brushed Dutch UN peacekeepers aside, separated able-bodied men from the rest of the population and executed around 8,000 of them.
The soldiers put the rest of the population into buses and sent them to territory under Bosniak control.
Justice was already held up by Mladic’s long-running main trial. Now the pandemic forced the war crimes tribunal to postpone the start of the appeal and delay the verdict until next year.
The organizers of the memorial had planned a big international presence, including Britain’s Prince Charles, but all cancelled because of the pandemic.
The main ceremony at Potocari, near Srebrenica, begins at 9:30 am (0730 GMT) and the burial of nine recently identified victims is scheduled for 1:20.
The Serbs had dug out the remains from the big mass graves and reburied the remains, often torn into bits, on many smaller locations to hide the atrocity.
More than 6,640 victims were buried in the Potocari memorial cemetery, with around 1,000 still missing.
Some of the events have been scuppered due to Covid-19 cases. The remaining, such as marches to Srebrenica, will be held under epidemiological safety protocols, the organizers said.
EU leaders called the anniversary “a painful reminder” that Europe failed in its promise to avoid such tragedy on the continent.
“We must confront the past with honesty and look to the future with determination to support the next generations,” said the statement by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Council President Charles Michel and the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell.
Like no other place, Srebrenica stood for the atrocities and crimes against humanity in the countries of the former Yugoslavia that were committed in the 1990s, said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
The killings had taken place “at the end of the 20th century in the middle of Europe, almost under the eyes of the global public,” Maas emphasized. “We must oppose nationalist tendencies wherever we encounter them,” added Germany’s top diplomat on Saturday.