Bosnia is marking the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the only declared genocide in Europe since the second world war, with a small number of survivors in attendance, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The execution in July 1995 of more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys is being commemorated in a series of events. There will also be a reburial of the recently identified remains of nine victims in a memorial cemetery outside the town in eastern Bosnia.
The Srebrenica massacre is the only episode of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war to be defined as genocide. After murdering thousands of Srebrenica’s Muslims, Serbs dumped their bodies in numerous mass graves scattered throughout eastern Bosnia, in an attempt to hide the crime.
Body parts are still being found in mass graves and are being put together and identified through DNA analysis. Almost 7,000 of those killed have been found and identified.
Newly identified victims are buried each year on 11 July, the anniversary of the day the killing began in 1995.
Thousands of visitors usually attend the commemoration service and funerals but this year only a small number of survivors will be allowed at the cemetery due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dozens of world leaders, including the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, the Spainish leader, Pedro Sánchez, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and Prince Charles, will address the commemoration ceremony in recorded video messages.
The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, paid tribute to the victims on Saturday. Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter: “I want to join with you once more in mourning the victims of those terrible events, and to stand with the families in their fight for justice.
“As in so many cases from this conflict which brought violence and destruction across the western Balkans, many families still do not know what happened to their loved ones. Many perpetrators have still not been held to account.
“And there are those who would prefer to forget or deny the enormity of what took place. We must not allow that to happen. We owe it to the victims and to future generations to remember Srebrenica and to ensure it never happens again.”
In recent years, denial of the genocide has begun moving from the far-right fringe into the mainstream.
Raab said in a statement: “On the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, we remember the victims and the anguish of their families.
“During my time in The Hague between 2003 and 2006, pursuing those responsible for this dark chapter in European history, I was reminded daily of the heinous cruelty perpetrated against the innocent.
“The UK is determined to end impunity and help rebuild those countries affected – as our commitment to the ICC and UK investment and support for Bosnia demonstrates.”
Johnson, however, is facing calls from 30 MPs to apologise for comments he made in the Spectator in 1997 regarding the genocide. In a letter to the PM, the cross-party group led by Labour’s Tony Lloyd wrote: “In 1997, when you were a political columnist for the Spectator, you wrote an article challenging Bianca Jagger’s support for more direct intervention against the Serbian Army in the Bosnian war.
“You wrote: ‘Alright, I say, the fate of Srebrenica was appalling. But they weren’t exactly angels, these Muslims.’ As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the atrocity, it is unthinkable that you would publicly attend national memorial events, without having apologised for such comments.”
A government spokeswoman said: “This quote is clearly taken out of context. The prime minister has, over the last 25 years, consistently condemned the Srebrenica genocide as one of the worst crimes in history.”