This exhibit documents the ten-year commemoration of Srebrenica, which was attended by over 30,000 survivors and their supporters, and highlights our need to enforce all aspects of the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide – the prevention and suppression of genocide as well as its prosecution. The photographs connect us emotionally to the survivors, while the text panels relate the capture and betrayal of Srebrenica with quotes from journalists, UN officials, Bosnian Serb military and political officials, and ICTY judges. This is a visual narrative of loss and hope, finality and anticipation – finality represented in the burial scenes, and the anticipation of justice, as yet only partially realized, in the organization of this international commemoration. The meaning of this narrative is universal and historically specific. Universal in its evocation of unimaginable grief and historically specific in its assignment of responsibility, not only for the perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacre, but also for those who allowed it to happen.

With the exception of the mass grave photograph, the exhibit does not include any graphic scenes of the Srebrenica massacre. The horror of the executions of over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys is expressed by images evoking their absence – the wall of scrapbook photographs of the “missing” in the office of the Women of Srebrenica in Tuzla, the survivors reading the lists of the individuals whose remains were buried on July 11, 2005, and the countless rows of coffins before which the survivors mourned. In her anonymity, the woman touching one of the coffins awaiting burial represents all the women survivors and, in her solitude, she illuminates the magnitude of the death commemorated on this day. We see the men’s sorrow as they reach out with their hands to unload the coffins, 610 in all, from the trucks that arrived in Potocari from Sarajevo during the afternoon of July 9. For this ten-year commemoration was also about the male survivors – those who were not killed only because they were under the age of twelve at the time, and therefore not considered to be of military age, and those who were the intended victims, but succeeded in eluding capture and execution.

Until the discovery of the first Srebrenica-related mass grave in Cerska in 1996, the main circumstantial evidence of mass executions was the fact that thousands of men and boys were never seen again after July 1995. Since this time, the survivors (the two main associations are the Women of Srebrenica in Tuzla and the Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves in Sarajevo), Bosnia support groups in the U.S. and Europe, journalists, government officials, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), ICTY investigators, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), human rights lawyers and activists, and civil society associations in Serbia have all pursued the truth about the fate of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys who vanished from Srebrenica without a trace – or so it seemed at first.

The complete story of the coffins, how the remains they contain were first discovered and identified and then buried, is at the center of a continually unfolding story of denial and revelation – denial of the Srebrenica massacre by Bosnian Serb and Serbian political and military forces and revelations about how and by whom the Srebrenica massacre was carried out. These revelations have emerged from trial proceedings at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), exhumations of mass graves by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), applications alleging human rights violations by the Bosnian Serb Republic government that were filed by more than 2,000 Srebrenica survivors in the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia-Herzegovina, and various investigations by the UN and in the U.S., France, and the Netherlands concerning why the UN and the West failed to defend Srebrenica.

Persevering against the opposition of Bosnian Serb Republic authorities, and shortly before the fifth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in July 2000, the first significant commemoration, the survivors succeeded in obtaining permission to establish a memorial and cemetery in the field directly opposite the former headquarters of the Dutch peacekeepers. In March 2003, the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia-Herzegovina ruled that the Bosnian Serb Republic government had violated the human rights of the survivors by denying them information about the fate of their “missing” relatives and ordered the government to provide funding for the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery. As a result of the successful efforts of the ICMP in overcoming various challenges to the identification of remains, hundreds of new coffins are, and will continue to be, buried each year. Some day, the thousands and thousands of graves, new and old, will fill virtually all of what was once an empty field opposite the Dutch headquarters where 20,000 Bosnian Muslims sought, but were then refused protection from Bosnian Serb military forces. These graves of the victims and now silent witnesses of genocide will and must forever haunt us, as they are the most visible and enduring expression of the consequences of the capture and betrayal of Srebrenica.

The experiences of the survivors cannot be our own, we will never fully comprehend the depth of their loss and suffering, and we cannot bring their “missing” relatives back to life. With our exhibit, however, we answer the appeal of the survivors never to forget what happened in Srebrenica in July 1995. This is our contribution to the project of remembrance – the affirmation of the memory and experiences of the survivors, which is the starting point of all justice.

Lisa DiCaprio
April 2008