Remembering Srebrenica: Akil Awan takes part in international delegation

With Srebrenica survivor Hasan Hasanovic (right) at the Srebrenica-Potocari Genocide memorialThe NPCU's Dr Akil Awan has just returned from Srebrenica as an academic expert on Political Violence & Conflict accompanying the House of Lords UK delegation organised by Remembering Srebrenica, tasked with documenting and commemorating the genocide of 1995 that took place there, during the Bosnian war, following the break up of the former Yugoslavia.

In 1993, with Bosnian Serb forces poised to over-run the enclave of 60,000 Bosnian Muslims, the United Nations Security Council had declared Srebrenica to be an internationally protected “safe area”, and deployed UN peacekeepers to protect its inhabitants. The town was quickly demilitarised and residents were compelled to give up all of their arms, under the guarantee that they would be protected by the UN. In July 1995, however, the remaining 400 poorly-equipped Dutch UN peacekeepers effectively abandoned the unarmed inhabitants, and the enclave fell to Serb forces on the afternoon of 11th July. Over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were executed in the ensuing slaughter, before being buried in mass graves to hide the crimes. As international scrutiny fell on these locations, Serb forces often exhumed the mass graves and reburied the corpses in secondary and tertiary mass graves. In some cases, body parts from a single victims were later discovered from 15 different mass grave locations.

The delegation, consisting of five peers, including Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Baroness Susan Williams, and Baroness Hussein-Ece, met with survivors of the Srebrenica massacre, as well as the Mothers of Srebrenica, who all recounted harrowing stories of rape camps, mass killings and unspeakable acts of horror. The delegation also visited the International Committee for Missing Persons, which carries out the crucial and painstaking forensic identification efforts on victims of the massacre, witnessing first-hand the mortuary that houses rows upon rows of yet unidentified body parts of victims. 

The delegation also met the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, and President Izetbegović of Bosnia, and discussed remembrance and reconciliation efforts, and how to communicate the genocide to future generations, which is particularly important in the run up to next year's 20th anniversary commemorations of the massacre. The UK delegation ended their trip by visiting the site of the massacres, and the Potočari-Srebrenica memorial to the genocide opened by former US President Bill Clinton in 2003.