Hear from individuals who experienced or witnessed the violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its repercussions firsthand.
Christiane Amanpour, journalist
The stories that haunt me are, when we went finally to Srebrenica, and saw these people. I mean, these civilians, who were part of Europe, where there was once the Olympic Games, living like animals, trapped in their little village with the most primitive conditions, as the world looked on. And I remember once, because Srebrenica was besieged, we couldn't get in. So we waited outside, and they brought out truckloads of wounded. One of these trucks of people, covered with tarpaulin, arrived at one of the hospitals in a nearby town. And we weren't prepared for what we saw when they took the tarpaulin off, and they were children. All of them were children, desperately injured children with dirty bandages and blood all over themselves, and crying and afraid. And I'll never forget that. And the photographs of that day and that moment reverberated across the world. I do actually think that when journalists do their duty and tell the story, and report the truth, that it does eventually make a difference. [CNN Video Report: Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina, April 13, 1993] The refugees came through in eleven covered trucks. Those who managed to peek out the sides waved happily, but their smiles belied the horror of this exodus. One truck was full of wounded. It went straight to the hospital, the doctors stunned by what they found inside. “You’re free now, don’t be afraid anymore,” he says to this young boy so savagely injured. Here on these faces, these broken bodies, hard evidence of the previous day’s Serb onslaught on Srebrenica.
Christiane Amanpour has covered war zones around the world. Throughout the 1992-95 war in Bosnia, her broadcasts on CNN reported the suffering of Bosnian civilians to international audiences. On April 13, 1993, Amanpour reported on the evacuation of Bosniak civilians who had been wounded during a Bosnian Serb assault on the town of Srebrenica. She was shocked to discover that many of the wounded were children.
The Serb offensive ceased when the United Nations declared Srebrenica a “safe haven” on April 16, 1993. Two years later, however, Bosnian Serb forces launched a new offensive to capture Srebrenica. They killed an estimated 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys, massacres deemed genocide by an international court in 2001.
Eric Dachy, Aid Worker
We arrived in the night, in the snow, in Srebrenica, a completely dark place; there was no power at all. And then we saw in the light of the vehicles we were in, we saw thousands, maybe more, thousands of people completely silent, watching us as ghosts, wondering what—why we were coming, what our arrival meant for them. And obviously they were already, I don't know, shocked by what was their future.
Definitely the military situation was dramatical. The Serbs were going to take the city. They were on the edge of entering the city and basically doing what they were doing everywhere else, which meant killing all the men in age to fight, raping some women and sending everybody else, I mean, old men, women, and children to Bosnia territory. We understood that there was very little we could do as doctors.
People in Bosnia didn't need assistance. They needed security, they needed protection, they needed to be saved from killers.
Dr. Eric Dachy was working in the former Yugoslavia with an international aid organization in 1993 when he joined a United Nations peacekeeping convoy to the town of Srebrenica, then under siege by Bosnian Serb forces. Inside Srebrenica, the Bosniak population had been without electricity, running water, adequate food, and medical supplies for months. Dachy knew that his medical skills and the supplies he was bringing to Bosnian doctors would not matter if the Serbs took the town. When the United Nations declared Srebrenica a “safe haven” on April 16, 1993, largely as a result of the UN convoy's trip, the Serb offensive was halted. Dachy stayed in Srebrenica for three days and shortly thereafter helped establish a permanent international medical presence there.
Ron Haviv, Photojournalist
They had taken a middle-aged man and a woman out of one of the houses. And the woman was screaming. And the soldiers were screaming. And they were screaming at me not to take photographs. And some shots rang out and the man fell to the ground.
A few minutes later, they brought out another woman and then they shot her as well. And, and then things sort of calmed down for a bit, and then they brought out two more people, and they said “Look, look, he’s from Kosovo. He’s a fundamentalist.”
And he put his arms up and basically looked at me as if I was probably the only person that could save him, which, probably in his mind I was, but unfortunately there wasn’t really anything I could do.
They brought him to the headquarters and as I was standing there I heard a great crash, and I looked up and out of a second floor window, this man came flying out and landed at my feet. And amazingly, he survived the fall and they came over and they doused him with some water. They said something like, “This is to purify Muslim extremists,” as they doused him in the water. And they started kicking him and beating him and then dragged him back into the home.
I had to make sure there was a document, that there had to be evidence of this crime, of what was happening. And that, I think, gave me the courage to try—to take those photographs. I was shaking, for sure, when I was doing it because I realized how precarious everything was, but I really thought it was unbelievably important to be able to have the world see what happened.
In April 1992, photojournalist Ron Haviv was granted permission by the Serbian paramilitary leader known as Arkan to join his forces, the Tigers, as they entered the eastern Bosnian town of Bijeljina. Haviv became a witness to some of the first atrocities in the Bosnian war as the Tigers assaulted and killed Bosniak civilians. Despite being told not to take photographs, Haviv managed to document some of what he saw.
Haviv continued to work in Bosnia throughout the war and later in Kosovo. His photographs provide some of the most stunning evidence of crimes from the Balkan wars (1991–1999). His work to expose human rights violations in the Balkans, Latin America, the Middle East, Russia, and Africa—notably in Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo—has earned him the reputation as one of today's finest photojournalists.
Nataša Kandić, Human Rights Activist
I was called by one member of the Scorpions. He told me about Srebrenica, that unit was involved in Srebrenica massacre. And he told me that execution is filmed. It's a videotape about execution of six Muslims from Srebrenica. It was so strong evidence, the videotape changed public opinion. Reaction was that the people were shocked. It was the first time that they could see faces of victims, faces of perpetrators. They saw humiliation, they saw young victims, and they saw soldiers with weapons. You know, it was the first time that Serbian society was touched on an emotional level.
In 2003, a former member of the Skorpions, a Serbian paramilitary group, contacted Kandić. He was willing to testify about atrocities the Skorpions had committed and to offer evidence. A year later, Kandić managed to secure a copy of a home video that the Skorpions made of their participation in executions of Bosniak men and boys after the fall of Srebrenica in 1995. After it was shown on television, the videotape made a significant impact on Serbian public opinion because it presented evidence created by the perpetrators themselves.
Hasan Nuhanović, Survivor
So the crowd of twenty, thirty thousand people came down to Potočari, where the Dutch base was located from Srebrenica on 11 July, afternoon. People came down because they thought that the Serbs were coming to kill them.
I realized that the only way to survive was to remain on the compound for as long as possible with the Dutch.
I was there with my family in the room when three Dutchbat soldiers came, looked at my family and at me, and they told me, “Hasan, tell your family that they have to leave the compound.”
And I knew I could stay because I had the contract with United Nations so the Dutch could not throw me out of the base.
I was trying to convince the UN, I mean the Dutch and the UNMOs to allow my brother to stay at least. But my brother told me, “Stop begging them for me. I don’t want you to beg them for me. I will go out and I will do as all other people did.”
At this point I realized that Franken was going to allow my father to remain on the base. And Franken said that’s because he was one of the three representatives of the refugees.
And then I translated these words to my father, and my father asked Franken like this, he pointed at my brother, and he said, “Okay, but what about my other son?” And then Franken said, “Well tell your father, if he doesn’t want to stay, it’s his choice. He can leave with his other son.” So my father shook hands with Franken, he smiled at him, and he left the base to catch up with my mother and my brother who, at that time, were probably already at the gate.
They’ve been missing for years.
In 1992, Hasan Nuhanović and his family fled the violence in their hometown of Vlasenica but got only as far as Srebrenica. United Nations peacekeepers arrived in Srebrenica in 1993, and Nuhanović found a job with them as a translator. When the Bosnian Serb army attacked Srebrenica in 1995, Nuhanović and his family sought shelter at the UN base with some 30,000 other civilians.
The Dutch UN peacekeepers handed the civilians over to the Bosnian Serbs, who separated men from women and children. Nuhanović was allowed to stay on the base because of his job. He desperately sought permission for his family to remain as well. Nuhanović's parents and brother were forced off the UN base. All three were among the 8,000 Bosniaks killed by the Serbs. Nuhanović has since learned some details about where and how his family was killed, but their remains have not been found.
Dragan Obrenović, Perpetrator
At the beginning of the war, it seemed as if the war and all it brought with it was impossible, that this wasn't really happening to us, and that everything would be resolved within a few days. We didn't even notice how we were drawn into the vortex of inter-ethnic hatred and how neighbors were no longer able to live beside each other, how death moved into the vicinity, and we didn't even notice that we had got used to it. In Bosnia, a neighbor means more than a relative. In Bosnia, having coffee with your neighbor is a ritual, and this is what we trampled on and forgot. And in this vortex of terrible misfortune and horror, the horror of Srebrenica happened.
I am here before Your Honors because I wish to express my remorse. I have thought for a long time, and I'm always followed by the same thought—guilt. I find it very hard to say this truth. I am to blame for everything I did at that time. I am trying to erase all this and to be what I was not at that time. I am also to blame for what I did not do, for not trying to protect those prisoners. Regardless of the temporary nature of my then-post, I ask myself again and again, “What could I have done that I didn't do?” Thousands of innocent victims perished. Graves remain behind, refugees, general destruction and misfortune and misery. I bear part of the responsibility for this.
Dragan Obrenović was chief of staff and deputy commander of the 1st Zvornik Infantry Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army from December 1992 through November 1996. After Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995, Obrenović helped implement the plan to kill Bosniak civilians and prisoners of war. Indicted for his role in the massacres, in 2003 Obrenović pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). He is serving a 17-year sentence in a Norwegian prison.
The ICTY has held several trials regarding Srebrenica, including that of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosević who died in custody before his case, which included charges of genocide, was concluded. Bosnian leader Radovan Karadzić, arrested July 21, 2008, is charged with genocide, as is Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić, who remains at large.