Srebrenica genocide: worst massacre in Europe since the Nazis
Ratko Mladic's Bosnian Serb forces added small hilltown by the river Drina to Europe's litany of 20th century infamy
Guernica, Oradour, Katyn, Auschwitz are but a beginning in Europe's litany of 20th-century infamy. The list lengthened towards the century's end to include Srebrenica, a small hilltown by the river Drina on Bosnia's eastern border with Serbia.
On 13 July 1995, in one of the last acts of the 42-month Bosnia war, General Ratko Mladic's Bosnian Serb force, which for two years had besieged the enclave of 40,000 Muslims, attacked.
It was an easy, bold and brutal conquest that shamed the international community. A few hundred Dutch peacekeepers were stationed in Srebrenica, which had gained the status of a UN-protected "safe area". Mladic bet correctly that the international community was too lily-livered to carry out its pledge to protect the enclave.
It is what happened next that earned Srebrenica its grim place in history. Fearful of a commander who had earned a reputation as a vengeful psychopath, the males of Srebrenica fled to the hills and the forests, trying to make it to the safety of Tuzla. Over 10 days, almost 8,000 of them were rounded up and shot in an operation that required extraordinary levels of planning and logistics. It was the worst single crime of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. It was the worst massacre in Europe since the Nazi era.
Years of forensic work and exhumations followed. Many of the victims are now buried at a special site at Potocari, the camp where the Dutch peacekeepers were based.
The UN's war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia and the international court of justice have both established as a juridical fact that the massacre was an act of genocide, the gravest crime there is – and the hardest to prove.
In a landmark 2004 ruling, Theodor Meron, the American judge who presided over the tribunal in The Hague, said: "By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica ...They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity."