The population of Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Bosnian Serbs (Orthodox Christians who have close cultural ties with neighbouring Serbia), and Bosnian Croats (Roman Catholics who have close cultural ties with neighbouring Croatia).
In the turmoil following the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Bosnia declared independence (1992). This was resisted by the Bosnian Serb population who saw their future as part of ‘Greater Serbia’. Bosnia became the victim of the Bosnian Serbs’ determined wish for political domination which it was prepared to achieve by isolating ethnic groups and, if necessary, exterminating them.
With the back drop of the ongoing civil war, in July 1995 Bosnian Serb troops and paramilitaries led by Ratko Mladić descended on the town of Srebrenica and began shelling it. Despite being declared a safe zone by the United Nations, Bosnian Serb forces prevailed. Women and children were forced onto trucks and buses, men and boys remained. The deportation of Srebrenica’s population took four days.
Around 8,000 Muslim men, and boys over 13 years old, were killed in Srebrenica. Up to 3,000, many in the act of trying to escape, were shot or decapitated in the fields. Mladić sent out written orders to ‘block, crush and destroy the straggling parts of the Muslim group’ – it was carried out. 1,500 were locked in a warehouse and sprayed with machine gun fire and grenades. Others were murdered in their thousands on farms, football fields and school playgrounds. The whole action was carried out with military efficiency.