How Srebrenica Tragedy Became Excuse for Atrocities Around the World

Politicians and cameras will converge on Srebrenica this weekend and talk endlessly of “genocide.” Not only is that an inappropriate description of the tragic events in 1995, its misuse has resulted in many more “humanitarian” deaths worldwide.

To this day, however, neither the ad-hoc court established by the UN to prosecute war crimes in the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), nor anyone else, have established how many people were actually killed in and around Srebrenica In July 1995, or even under what circumstances. There are plenty of estimates, suggestions, and inferences, but facts remain scarce. That has not stopped the official story of “8,000 killed Muslim men and boys” from becoming elevated to the status of an incontestable myth, which Western media and politicians have used to justify “humanitarian wars” – killing several orders of magnitude more Muslim civilians than even the most inflated estimates of Srebrenica.

July 1995: What actually happened?

A town formerly known for its silver mines, Srebrenica came under the control of the Bosnian Muslims in 1992, as civil war broke out across Bosnia-Herzegovina following its hasty recognition by the West. The surrounding areas were controlled by the Bosnian Serbs, leaving Srebrenica cut off. Since 1993, the town was supposed to have been demilitarized and patrolled by a Dutch UN battalion. Over 5,000 armed men remained in Srebrenica, though, and continued raiding the nearby Serb villages.

In July 1995, the Bosnian Serbs launched an attack intended to stop the raids. On July 11, a small Serb unit entered the town and found it empty. The Muslim soldiers were breaking out towards the northwest, across minefields and surprised Serb positions. Most of the town’s civilians remained behind, at the UN base in Potocari. They were given food, water, and a choice to stay or be evacuated to Muslim-held territory. No UN soldier saw any signs of foul play.

Several thousand survivors of the breakout later told harrowing tales of running gun battles, artillery strikes, landmines, heat exhaustion, hunger and thirst. It wasn’t until months later, after a headline-hunting American journalist went into the area and claimed to have found mass graves, that Srebrenica was dubbed a “genocide.”

However the precise number of the executed victims is yet to be established as neither ICTY nor any other institution has precisely determined the figures. The execution of prisoners is a war crime, and not even the Bosnian Serbs deny it. However, they vehemently oppose the characterization of the events as genocide.

Judicial ‘facts’

The only person actually convicted of killing anyone is Drazen Erdemovic, a Croat serving in a mercenary outfit that fought for the Bosnian Serbs. Arrested by Serbia in 1996, he was handed over to the ICTY, which found him mentally impaired and unfit for trial in June that year. Erdemovic then accepted a plea bargain in exchange for getting a new life and identity in the West as a protected witness. He was given a 5-year sentence in 1998, for participating “in the deaths of hundreds of Bosnian Muslim male civilians, the exact number of which has not been ascertained.”

Another plea-bargain witness, Momir Nikolic, was a local official not in the military chain of command. Caught in perjury, he admitted to making things up to please the prosecutors – yet both his and Erdemovic’s claims have been allowed to stand, and used to convict dozens of Serb officials. For this purpose, the ICTY conjured something called the “joint criminal enterprise,” a catch-all charge requiring no intent, action, or even knowledge of wrongdoing.

Genocide is defined by a 1948 UN Convention as actions “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such.” Yet the ICTY never found proof of such intent. Instead, the intent was inferred based on the bodies recovered, whose final number itself was inferred back from the alleged genocidal intent. If this sounds like circular logic, that’s because it is.

ICTY’s president, US judge Theodor Meron, cited as relevant “evidence” a hearsay claim that Bosnian Serb leaders decided “in the early 1990s” they would kill a third of the Muslims, convert a third to Orthodoxy and the rest would leave on their own.

The only trouble with that claim is that it actually came from Mile Budak, an official in Nazi-allied Croatia during WWII. Budak laid out the plan in 1941, referring to the Serbs in territories than included present-day Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In 2007, the International Court of Justice rejected all the claims of genocide in the Bosnian Muslim lawsuit against Serbia:

…it is established by overwhelming evidence that massive killings throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina were perpetrated during the conflict. However, the Court is not convinced that those killings were accompanied by the specific intent on the part of the perpetrators to destroy, in whole or in part, the group of Bosnian Muslims.”

A drop in the ‘sea of lies’

The insistence on Srebrenica as genocide goes back to 1999, when NATO attacked Serbia in support of a Kosovo Albanian rebellion. The Serbian government was accused of genocide amid claims of 100,000 Albanian deaths, which later turned out to have been made up – just like the claims of 300,000 deaths in Bosnia, later revised down to 96,000.

The Kosovo War was then spun into the so-called “responsibility to protect” doctrine of supposedly humanitarian interventions, usually featuring NATO bombers and local proxy forces overthrowing governments and plunging countries into chaos.

In 2002, Samantha Power published ‘A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide’, arguing that genocides were happening all over the world and that the US had a duty to intervene to stop them. Her key argument was Srebrenica. Such “weaponization of human rights,” as one commentator called it, became de rigeur after Barack Obama assumed the US presidency, elevating Power to the National Security Council and later the US ambassadorship at the UN.

Those calling for a NATO intervention in Libya in 2011 claimed that the government of Colonel Gaddafi was preparing “another Srebrenica” in rebel-held Benghazi. The following year, Saudi Arabia tried to intervene in the Syrian civil war by comparing the rebel-held Homs to “Srebrenica.” Syrians rejected the claims as “shameful” and part of a “sea of lies” told about their country. And when Islamic State arose on the ruins of Iraq and Syria in 2014, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura bemoaned the plight of the besieged Kurds in Kobani with cries of “Do you remember Srebrenica?”

Politics of genocide

In 1993, an American PR executive boasted to a French journalist that his company “succeeded masterfully” in manipulating Jewish organizations to endorse the Croats and Bosnian Muslims. “When the Jewish organizations entered the game on the side of the [Muslim] Bosnians, we could promptly equate the Serbs with the Nazis in the public mind,” James Harff of Ruder Finn said.

Most propaganda about the Bosnian War relied on allegations of Serb aggression and genocide. All of them have, by now, been exposed as lies. Only Srebrenica remains, due to its elevation into a blanket excuse for Western “humanitarian” warfare worldwide.

As a result of “protecting” Libyans, Syrians, Yemenis, Iraqis and Afghans, the West has racked up a death toll that has long since eclipsed the worst exaggerations about the Bosnian War. Those very real dead, slaughtered in the name of preventing a “genocide” conjured by the fevered imagination of perception-managers and propagandists, remain uncounted and unmourned. After all, anyone killed by “democratic” missiles magically and instantly transforms into a terrorist, insurgent, or some other kind of “enemy combatant,” while the wars they died in are sanitized as “kinetic military actions.”

The Srebrenica spectacle on the 20th anniversary of the “genocide” has nothing to do with the Bosnian dead, justice, or reconciliation, and everything to do with continuing to provide an excuse for the “indispensable nation” to destroy lives in the name of saving them.

This originally appeared on Russia Today.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.