Srebrenica: Twenty Years Later | The Center for Victims of Torture

Srebrenica: Twenty Years Later

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Curt Goering is executive director of CVT.

Twenty years ago this week, I was in Bosnia leading an investigation for Amnesty International. There were reports of torture – beatings to solicit “confessions” and rapes. But the early reports included large scale massacres of Bosnian Muslim men and boys as the Bosnian Serb Army overran Srebrenica. 

My colleagues and I talked with distraught survivors who had managed to escape by fleeing through the forest until they reached the airbase at Tuzla where tents were being erected to provide some shelter. I heard account after account of systematic mass executions. Some told of witnessing men being shot or having their throats slit as they tried to escape. Others spoke of how they survived after having been lined up to be executed, falling into mass graves after the shots. They laid among the corpses pretending to be dead, until darkness provided some cover for escape.

I had conducted many investigations into human rights atrocities during various conflicts, but these stories were almost unbelievable. However, it did not take long to begin to understand that monstrous crimes had been committed. Later, a UN tribunal would conclude it was genocide. I will never forget the horror on the faces of the survivors or the stories we heard.

More than 8,000 Bosnians were executed in the days after the Bosnian Serb Army overran the enclave – the worst European atrocity since World War II.

Today, CVT is partnering with Vive Žene, an organization in Bosnia and Herzegovina that is working to heal the long-standing emotional, psychological and social scars that remain after the war. For the past 21 years, the organization has provided psychosocial and psychological support to survivors of the Bosnian war – including specialized services for women and children – to help rebuild families and communities.

As the country looks to rebuild its civil society, the war crimes trials have been moved from The Hague to jurisdictions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Vive Žene is working with a consortium to build networks to support victim-witnesses who will testify in the trials. It is a process that will surely re-traumatize members of the community. To minimize the arousal of traumatic memories but still address accountability, Vive Žene will help train judges, prosecutors, police, health care and social service providers to appropriately relate to witnesses and manage their own stress and emotions throughout the trials.

While the news reports recently have reflected on the atrocities of that time, we hold the survivors and victims – including many clients at our St. Paul Healing Center – in our thoughts as we walk with them on their path to healing.

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