The Srebrenica genocide saw the systematic murder of 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces. Survivor Emir Suljagić described Srebrenica as ‘everything that happened over three years in Bosnia culminated into one place and one time’.
Srebrenica is located in the Republika Srpska, a semi-autonomous region of Bosnia-Herzegovina controlled by Bosnian Serbs as part of the Dayton peace agreement. The Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial Centre and Cemetery was established in October 2000 – just over five years after the genocide took place.
With perpetrators still at large and genocide denial widespread amongst Bosnian Serbs, had it not been for the involvement of the international community, the memorial may never have come into being at all. The then UN High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch recognised the importance of a memorial and designated the site. Much of the funding came from foreign embassies.
Located in the village of Potočari, the site was chosen by survivors and bereaved relatives because it was where many of them last saw their loved ones alive.
Beginning as a cemetery, the site was officially opened by former US president Bill Clinton on 20 September 2003. There were 600 sets of remains interred in 2003.
Every year since, as more mass graves have been exhumed and remains identified, further burials have followed and 6,200 people have now been interred. Bodies are still being recovered from mass grave sites and every year, families gather at the cemetery on 11 July to bury what remains of their loved ones.
Alongside the white gravestones, a wall of names of the dead sweeps across the cemetery with a marker stone bearing the figure of 8,372 – the number of those killed and missing.
Paddy Ashdown succeeded Petritsch as UN High Representative and – thanks to his backing and support from Imperial War Museum (IWM), London – a memorial room was opened in July 2007.
This visitor centre is located at the ‘Battery Factory’, a site from the pre-war era buildings used by the Dutch battalion (DUTCHBAT) as its headquarters from 1994 to 1995. Visitors to the centre are given guided tours, often by curators who are themselves survivors of the genocide. It offers visitors the chance to view imagery and interpretation boards. There is also the opportunity to view a powerful and moving film about the genocide.
The memorial centre serves a symbolic purpose that has encouraged Bosnian Muslim refugees to return to Srebrenica – to some extent reversing the process of ethnic cleansing to which it bears witness.
For more information, visit www.potocarimc.ba