Tens of thousands of people, including European leaders, gathered near 775 green-covered coffins on the anniversary of the worst single atrocity on European soil since World War II.
“We recognise that there can be no lasting peace without justice,” US President Barack Obama said in a speech read out at the Potocari graveyard near the town of Srebrenica.
This means the “prosecution and punishment of those who carried out the genocide”, he said. “This includes Ratko Mladic who presided over the killings and remains at large.”
Mladic, Bosnian Serb army chief during the 1992-1995 war, who is in hiding is believed to be in Serbia. He has been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Bosnian Security Minister Sadik Ahmetovic urged the international community “to contribute so that Ratko Mladic is brought to justice...”
“It is the least Europe could do,” Ahmetovic, himself a survivor of Srebrenica massacre, told the crowd.
Also at the commemoration were Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and the presidents of all the nations of the former Yugoslavia.
The ceremony was followed by the burial of the 775 recently identified victims, the youngest two boys aged 14, alongside 3,749 bodies already in the Potocari graveyard.
The victims were shot and dumped in mass graves, then reburied haphazardly in more than 70 sites in a bid to cover up the evidence.
Bones exhumed by forensic experts over the past few years were reburied in Potocari after identification through DNA testing.
While the remains of nearly 6,500 people have been identified, some in more than one grave, many families are holding off burial in the hope more body parts, or those of another relative, will be found.
Ramiza Gurdic, 57, burried her son Mehrudin who had not yet turned 17 when he was killed. Her husband and another son are already in the immense graveyard.
“How can you forget, how can you forgive? I think about them every day. I wonder if they were hungry, thirsty,” she said. “I go to bed with the pain and I wake up with the sadness.”
On that fateful day in 1995, 30,000 Bosnian Muslims flocked to the UN military base in the suburb of Potocari for refuge. But when Serb forces came, they forced outnumbered Dutch peacekeepers to open the gates. They separated out the Muslim men and boys, putting them on trucks and carting them away, the vast majority never to be seen again. The Dutch peacekeepers lived.
Fifteen years later, no one represented the UN at the ceremony. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon plans to reaffirm the United Nations’ sorrow at a commemorative event today.
British Prime Minister David Cameron echoed in a statement that “it was a crime that shamed Europe”.
Serbian President Boris Tadic’s presence at the ceremony was a sore point for many survivors with the fugitive Mladic believed to be hiding in Serbia.