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10. July 2020

Srebrenica Genocide, 1995: Monika Hauser remembers

Bosnia-Herzegovina, July 1995: Thousands of husbands, sons and brothers are taken by Republika Srpska soldiers into the surrounding forests and murdered in cold blood. Countless wives, daughters and sisters are raped. Two years previously, Monika Hauser had helped to set up the women's refuge Medica Zenica and was often in Srebrenica. She describes her personal memories around this brutal war crime.

Monika Hauser: July 11, 1995 I will never forget how Serbian-Bosnian General Ratko Mladić grinned as he blew smoke from his cigarette into the face of the Dutch UN Commander Karremans. Karremans had been given the task of protecting more than 60,000 civilians in the Srebrenica UN Safe Area, but he also had to fear for the lives of his 400 Blue Berets. On July 9 the "peacekeeper" had already requested air support from NATO, but the international community had just waved the request aside.

Srebrenica: Massacre and mass rapes in full view of the international community

July 11, 1995 I will never forget the images of exhausted and despairing women and children being transported to Tuzla on the "other side". They boarded the buses as their husbands, sons and brothers were being cruelly murdered by Republika Srpska soldiers. 8,372 corpses thrown into mass graves. More than 30 of these graves have been discovered in the meantime, but many bodies have yet to be found. At the Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the Genocide, some 4,500 dead have now been buried in an almost endless sea of graves. However, it has not been possible to identify all of the exhumed bodies. In order to cover the tracks, bodies were dug up and tipped into new mass graves – sometimes several times.

I will never forget the look in the eyes of the deported women I met later in Zenica. Many had been raped during the transport to Tuzla. The inaptitude of the international community had of course been on display already, but before Srebrenica I could not have imagined just how powerless it can be.

Bosnia: Life after genocide and wartime rape

Our aim at Medica Zenica was to support traumatised women and girls with solidarity and expertise. This work led us to the conclusion there has to be a process of coming to terms with the terrors that have been experienced. Without some form of remembrance work, neither the individuals nor the society will be able to recover from the trauma they suffered. Especially in cases of sexualised wartime violence, it is fundamentally important to acknowledge the suffering. However, the actual experience of victims of rape in male dominated societies is generally ostracism and stigmatisation. It is among other things thanks to the many years of political commitment of medica mondiale, Medica Zenica, and Medica Gjakova, that victims of sexualised wartime violence in Bosnia and Kosovo have been granted the legal status of war victims for several years now. This can be seen as a very significant step for the survival of society as a whole, since active processing helps to mitigate the long-term impacts of this wartime violence on following generations.

It is precisely because of past failures that the international community now needs to provide significant, effective support for these efforts of coming to terms with the past. A clear position also needs to be taken against any tendencies to deny these crimes. This will also help it to regain at least a trace of credibility!


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