This past week the Muslim Commission for Missing Persons in Bosnia has exhumed 83 bodies from several mass graves in eastern Bosnia. Women who were held in the Serb rape camps testified before the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where three Serbs accused of war crimes pleaded 'not guilty.' Such reports occasionally refresh our memory of Srebrenica, the Bosnian city where an estimated 7000 unarmed Muslims promised protection by the U.N. were massacred by Serb monsters. But this is not how we should remember Srebrenica.
Srebrenica is not just a testament to the ultimate monstrosity and villainy that many Serbs were capable of doing. Srebrenica is not just a memorial of the worst of human tragedies in Europe since the World War II. Srebrenica is a monument to the ultimate ignominy, hypocrisy, and betrayal of the leaders of the international community.
For about years of Serb attacks, pogrom, plunder, and rape during 1991-95, the U.N. and the "free world" had imposed an arms embargo on the Muslims, denying them the universal, eternal human right to self-defense. In 1993, they declared the towns of Srebrenica and Zepa "safe havens," disarmed the Muslims completely, and placed them under the protection of the U.N. peacekeepers.
In July 1995, when the Serbs overran these safe havens, the leaders of U.N. and the free world did little to protect the besieged civilians they promised protection. More than 7000 people from Srebrenica and Zepa have been missing since. Over 1,000 bodies have since been recovered from different mass graves, but only a handful of them have been identified.
Meanwhile, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the Serb monsters who led the massacre and who are indicted by the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, are roaming the streets freely. The NATO forces who have been in charge of maintaining order since the end of the war have stayed away from capturing them, fearing such attempts might inflict injuries to themselves or others.
The women and children of Srebrenica are refugees in their own country, living in conditions of extreme hardship and isolation. The Dayton Accord guarantees their right to their homes. But the continued threat of violence prevents their return, while they cannot trust a U.N. or NATO that had betrayed them so stoically in the face of extermination.
In order for these refugees to return home, the least we can do is investigate, tell, and memorialize the truth. The truth of the complicity of the U.N. and free world leaders in the massacre must be investigated and preserved in eloquent, tangible, and lasting formats.
The token war crimes trials of the Serb war criminals are not enough to memorialize Srebrenica. They serve primarily a whitewashing function for the U.N. and free world leaders to get scot-free of their complicity in the crime. The best way to remember Srebrenica is to put the leaders of the U.N. and the "free world" on trial for the war crimes.
But who will try the U.N. and free world leaders and how? After all, they are the ones who dictate the world. Can we expect these dictators to submit themselves for trial in an international court of justice? The answer is obviously no.
Yet, there is a way to try the UN and free world leaders. And that is to take them to the court of public sphere, the court of public discourse through publication of Internet sites, books, and other artifacts. Individual and private groups can set up such a court by creating museums and other memorials of Srebrenica and by making replicas of those memorials in communities throughout the world. Artists, poets, reporters, and ethnographers can take the lead.
Consider how the Holocaust memorials have taken the world leaders of the World War II era to the court of public discourse. Srebrenica deserves no less, even better not only because of the scale of its tragedy but because of the ignominy and betrayal of the free world.