Srebrenica survivors still haunted as UN votes on genocide remembrance

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SREBRENICA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Kada Hotic last saw her son, husband and brother on July 11, 1995, as Bosnian Serb forces swamped the United Nations "safe zone" of the town of Srebrenica, forcing thousands of panicked Muslims to flee.

Shells exploded around Hotic and her family as they ran towards a U.N. base for safety, passing dismembered bodies on the way. She was separated from her 29-year-old son, Samir, when U.N. peacekeepers directed thousands of younger men and boys to nearby woods.

There, in the coming days, they would become victims of the bloodiest massacre of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, with Serb forces killing about 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

"We didn't have a chance to say goodbye" to Samir, Hotic said. "I just yelled 'Samir, good luck!', and he waved back."

Hotic's memories resurfaced this week as the United Nations General Assembly was scheduled to vote on a resolution which calls for July 11 to be an international day of remembrance of the genocide in Srebrenica.

Located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a UN safe zone in 1993, Srebrenica was home to about 40,000 Bosnian Muslims who had fled a Serbian campaign of ethnic cleansing. Then Bosnian Serb forces barreled in, overwhelming peacekeepers.


The impending UN resolution, initiated by Germany, Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina and sponsored by the United States, condemns the denial of genocide and the glorification of war criminals. A vote is expected on Thursday.

A UN war crimes tribunal and the International Court of Justice have ruled that the Srebrenica atrocities constituted a genocide, and many former Bosnian Serb military leaders have been held accountable.

But the vote has faced fierce resistance in parts of the Balkans, amid lasting divisions following ethnically charged regional conflicts since Yugoslavia broke apart in 1991.

Serbia and Bosnia's Serb-dominated Serb Republic have repeatedly denied that genocide occurred in Srebrenica.

"I will go to New York because someone has to give an answer to those who would like to accuse Serbia of being a genocidal nation," Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said last week.

Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik has threatened that the Serb Republic, where Srebrenica is located, will secede from Bosnia if the resolution is passed.


The extent of the killings in Srebrenica came to light gradually as the thousands of men who had fled were initially considered lost, then missing, then dead.

In all, investigators found that about 8,000 men and boys were brutally killed in Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two.

For Hotic, 79, who lost 56 relatives in the war, that day is the hardest to forget: the screams of girls being raped; a soldier throwing away a decapitated baby; the piles of bodies.

The remains of her son, husband, two brothers and a brother-in-law were found years later, in mass graves in eastern Bosnia.

Samir was identified based on three bones found.

"I am still waiting to find more bones, my Samir was not made up of three bones," she said.

Hotic visits a cemetery built near the former UN site, where thousands of white tombstones lie in a sloping field surrounded by hills.

"For me, the resolution means the seal on the truth," Hotic said. "This place was not chosen by accident, this is where genocide was committed."

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Edward McAllister and Bernadette Baum)