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What Has (Or Hasn't) Changed 20 Years After The Srebrenica Massacre

A worker at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial in Bosnia and Herzegovina - July 3, 2015
Val 202
A worker at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial in Bosnia and Herzegovina - July 3, 2015

On July 11, 1995, Serbian forces killed roughly 8,000 Bosniak Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica. The massacre in Srebrenica – the only act of genocide on European soil to be officially recognized by an International Criminal Tribunal since World War II – occurred in a designated United Nations “safe area” under the protection of Dutch peacekeeping forces, highlighting the consequences of inaction by the international community during humanitarian crises.

So how did the tragedy in Srebrenica change how the international community responds to major humanitarian crises?

A decade after the event, multiple UN members at the 2005 World Summit committed to the “Responsibility to Protect." Although it's not legally binding, the international standard asserts the responsibility of the global community to prevent states from committing acts of genocide and other crimes against humanity.

But commitment to the Responsibility to Protect hasn't really created practical change in how the global community responds, or failed to stop what the UN has called “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era” during the ongoing conflict in Syria.

“It’s important for us to recognize Srebrenica, to recognize that this happened, but also recognize that it continues to happen and there continue to be issues with how we deal with this as a global society,” said World Views contributor and University of Oklahoma College of International Studies assistant dean Rebecca Cruise.

But there have been steps to improve the reconciliation process and hold parties responsible for these types of acts. Multiple Serbian military and political leaders have been charged with war crimes by tribunals in The Hague.

"The jury is still out on the success of these sorts of activities [to provide justice]," said World Views host and OU College of International Studies dean Suzette Grillot.

With the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide coming up Saturday, official recognition of the atrocities committed during the Yugoslav Wars is still problematic. Russia, Serbia, and Bosnian Serbs have all rejected a U.N. resolution establishing the killings in Srebrenica as an act of genocide, and Russia vetoed adopting the resolution, illustrating the difficulties of reconciliation.

“These men that were killed, women that were raped, ethnic cleansing that occurred," Cruise said. "How to come to terms with [these tragedies] has been very, very difficult. It is going to take generations for this reconciliation to actually occur.”

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