The Srebrenica genocide -- as the massacres-cum-ethnic cleansing of July 1995 has been described by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal -- did not happen just like that, out of the blue. It was an avoidable tragedy predicted well in advance. While the organized murder of 7,000 unarmed Muslim and boys took the world by surprise, there were numerous warning signals that Western governments failed to take seriously.
I have assembled a partial list of warnings/predictions that a mass atrocity was in the works in Bosnia, and specifically Srebrenica, which was declared a United Nations "safe area" in April 1993. The warnings came from representatives of institutions as diverse as the United Nations, the United States government, and the World Court. Most striking of all, the authors include the same Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who are now defending themselves against charges of genocide in the Hague. They, better than anyone else, understood the horror of ethnic cleansing.
Pay attention to the dates on these quotes -- 1992 and 1993, more than two years before the Srebrenica tragedy. Some quotes, such as the one from Clinton, relate to the general situation in Bosnia, but most are prompted specifically by events in Srebrenica. (I have omitted the numerous warnings of genocide from Bosniak leaders.)
The likely consequences of war in Bosnia were evident long before hostilities erupted in April 1992. "Bosnian Republic Resembles Tinderbox Waiting to Explode" was the headline on a front-page article I wrote for the Washington Post following a brief visit to Sarajevo in September 1991. One of the people I interviewed was Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic who said the following:
It would be a catastrophe if the war was extended here. There would be neither victors nor vanquished, only victims. Every second person in this republic has a weapon. All of Yugoslavia would be drawn into the conflict. Muslims in Serbia would rise up. Europe would not be able to keep out of such a war.
The politicians were correct in their grim forebodings, although that did not prevent them from leading their country to disaster. There was indeed "blood to the knees" after Karadzic ordered Bosnian Serb troops to capture Srebrenica.
So my question is simple: If so many people had predicted exactly such an outcome, why was it permitted to happen?
Ratko Mladic has been described as "one of those lethal combinations that history thrusts up occasionally-a charismatic murderer." What drove the Bosnian Serb military commander to order Europe's deadliest massacre since World War II? Could it have been prevented? Michael Dobbs, a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum fellow, investigates.