PAX supports the survivors of the Srebrenica massacre and the next of kin of those who perished. It supports their campaigns for truth and justice, and organizes commemorations and stimulates dialogue between Dutch battalion members and Srebrenica widows, to increase feelings of recognition, foster mutual understanding and to help to deal with traumas on all sides. The Potocari Memorial Center is an important partner in all this work.
The Srebrenica genocide unfolded during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995), in former Yugoslavia. According the official sources, in total 8,372 Muslim boys and men, and also a number of girls and women were murdered in the genocide. They were under the formal protection of a UN battalion made up of Dutch soldiers, called Dutchbatters.
Activities & Results
Truth and Justice Campaign
We support the campaign for truth and justice initiated by the Srebrenica survivors. This campaign supports the lobby in Bosnia and Herzegovina that works for the arrest and trial of war criminals, the search for and identification of murder victims, the return of refugees to Srebrenica.
Cooperation with the municipality of Srebrenica
Twenty years ago, PAX started its support for the municipality of Srebrenica in conjunction with several Dutch municipalities. The municipality of Heumen was our most important partner in a whole series of visits and exchanges. Various topics were addressed: citizens participation, youth policy, support for return of displaced persons and refugees to Srebrenica, cooperation with local civil society.
Dialogue between Dutchbat veterans and Srebrenica widows
In 2007, Kamp Westerbork and PAX organized a trip for Dutchbatters to revisit Srebrenica. This included a meeting with the women of Srebrenica. This meeting led to a series of subsequent meetings and activities. One such was our work with several Dutchbatters to pinpoint the precise location of a mass grave within the fences of the Dutchbat compound in Potocari. Thanks to the cooperation of Dutchbat veterans and PAX and the professional work of the Bosnian Missing Persons Institute, the grave (with two men, two women and a still-born baby) was discovered and exhumed in 2012. Their mortal remains were buried at the annual ceremony of 11 July 2013.
It were mostly male Dutchbat veterans that participated in these meetings and activities. In 2017, three female Dutchbat veterans approached PAX, and a new project was launched. Together with two male Dutchbat veterans, all from Dutchbat’s supply platoon, they joined in a special visit to Srebrenica, organized by PAX. It broadened the perspective of experiences of 1995, including stories of this group of female Dutchbat veterans that decided it was time to share their experiences and tell their side of the story, bringing new information and new perspectives to the fore. One of the follow-up activities was the donation of a military vehicle (so-called viertonner) to the Potocari Memorial Center.
Dutch contribution to the Second phase of the Potocari Memorial Centre (PMC)
PAX also supported development of the Memorial Centre Potocari (PMC) from the very beginning, a.o. strong lobby for the Cemetery and the Memorial Room. Parallel to that process this programme was developed upon request of the associations of Srebrenica survivors and the PMC. Their wishes and ideas formed the basis and starting point. In the preparatory process, also meetings with Dutchbat veterans, members of Dutch parliament and the Dutch Minister for Development Co-operation were held. The Netherlands Embassy in Sarajevo provided the finances for the programme.
The main aim of the programme was to give a co-ordinated Dutch contribution to the development of the Potocari Memorial Centre, as a centre that will tell the story of Srebrenica during the war, making use of multiple narratives, and that will send a strong message to the world: Srebrenica should never happen again!
There were four projects within the framework of this programme:
- Restoration of the former Dutchbat headquarters at the Potocari compound ;
- Reconstruction of the watch tower on the compound;
- Capacity-building of the board of the PMC, of its staff and the associations of Srebrenica survivors and
- Content for the restoration of the former Dutchbat headquarters: a fully-fledged professional exhibition on the international presence and events in Srebrenica.
The biggest of the programme activity was the exhibition for the renovated Dutchbat headquarters. It was decided that the name of the building would be “Headquarters Dutch Battalion UNPROFOR 1994-1995”, and the title of the exhibition “Srebrenica genocide – the failure of the international community”.
The development of the exhibition was guided by a number of principles, defined by the three partners (PMC, Memorial Center Kamp Westerbork, PAX) in consultation with the Netherlands Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina:
- Professional standards (of international quality)
- Preservation of the authenticity of the building
- Inclusive approach, involving both the survivors of the genocide and the main users of the building in 1994/1995, the Dutchbat personnel
- Make use of multiple narratives, where the formulation of a common narrative is not yet possible
- Not only the product is important, also the process (making the exhibition in partnership with all stakeholders) is of relevance
- The PMC is primarily the place of the survivors. Where and how multiple narratives can be incorporated will be largely determined by them.
It was a huge task to make an exhibition that would honour the principles mentioned above. Throughout the process, PAX and Kamp Westerbork paid regular visits to Sarajevo and Srebrenica, for consultation with the PMC board and staff and representatives of the associations of Srebrenica survivors. The exhibition was officially opened on 9 February 2017, in the presence of 200 guests. The first reactions were positive to very positive, from the part of the Srebrenica survivors, the Dutchbat veterans present, diplomats and Bosnian, Dutch and other international media.
“This is the most difficult project that I have ever worked on because it shows how difficult it is to face the truth” Mr. Hasan Nuhanovic, former UN interpreter in Srebrenica and currently PMC employee.
Social Cohesion and Social Contract
Srebrenica is not only the place of the genocide, it should also have a future for the people living there. To promote a viable future for Srebrenica, PAX has developed and supported numerous projects in the field of social cohesion and the social contract. There was a number of initiatives developed by youngsters and civil society organisations in Srebrenica:
- Community Centre “Pivnica”, in partnership with PortAgora (Tilburg, the Netherlands), especially aiming at cultural and recreational activities for youngsters and all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic background.
- International youth exchanges, linking Srebrenica to other ‘hot issue’ cities in communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo, in cooperation with NGO Sara-Srebrenica.
- In September 2018 PAX also established the Peace Embassy in Srebrenica, also together with the local partner NGO Sara-Srebrenica. A number of activities was organized in the Peace Week of 2018 and 2019 (a.o. Walk of Peace with more than 200 participants from all three generations).
Report on Srebrenica in Dutch history education
PAX has also been giving guest lectures at secondary schools for years and visited Srebrenica together with pupils and students a few times. Yet it often turns out that pupils and students barely know anything about Srebrenica. Consequently, it was of major importance to PAX to order a proper research to analyze how the Srebrenica genocide is addressed in Dutch educational system. The research was done by Dr. Marc van Berkel. The key conclusion is that information given about the historical context of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina is very limited, and the genocide of Srebrenica is often only presented through the perspective of Dutchbat soldiers. The Bosniak perspective is largely ignored.
In the report some recommendations have been presented as well. For instance, more attention needs to be paid to the genocide and the victims’ stories in the educational material, while also giving more clarity to the role of the Dutch government and military personnel in the violence of war.
PAX is willing to help the Dutch schools and teachers to prepare and deliver lectures on Srebrenica. Hopefully in 2021, this report will also be presented and discussed in Bosnia. According to the peace organization, also in Bosnia a lot can be improved regarding the inclusive representation of different perspectives and experiences.
Download an extensive English summary of the report Safe Area? Srebrenica in Dutch educational materials
Download an extensive Bosnian summary of the report Sigurna zona? Srebrenica u holandskim nastavnim materijalima
Publication Srebrenica & PAX 1995 - 2020 A history of 25 years of solidarity
This book is based on IKV/PAX archive, on books, documentaries and articles, but especially on the 28 interviews, 17 Bosniaks and 11 Dutchmen which author Chris Keuelemans held with people who at one point or another played an important role in this history. It is about a reconstruction of 25 years of solidarity, of the bond that has grown between IKV/PAX and the survivors of the genocide. It started with the fall of Srebrenica, and even before that, but it is mainly the story of the years that followed: the collaborations, the main characters, the return to and reconstruction of Srebrenica, the political and legal campaigns in the Netherlands, the development of the Memorial Center in Potocari/Srebrenica.
The book is structured in 17 chapters, each dealing with its own subject, such as the first contacts between IKV and the survivors of Srebrenica; the annual commemoration; the Municipal cooperation between Srebrenica, Heumen and Winschoten; the cooperation with the Dutchbat soldiers; the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Center; and the lawsuits of survivors against the Dutch state.
In the concluding chapter, Keulemans tries to give an analysis of the character of the work. All five parts of Transitional Justice are discussed in the work: truth-finding; justice; reparation and remedy; commemoration and remembrance; and structural reforms of democratic and state institutions. Keulemans concludes that PAX has been working on all five dimensions.
Theatre production 'Dangerous Names'
The genocide of Srebrenica and the Bosnian war are strongly underexposed in Dutch history education. Despite the fact that Srebrenica is a part of the canon of our history. This may be due to the complexity of the events of that time, but that does not justify the lack of attention. A large part of the Dutch youth has never heard of Srebrenica. Boy Jonkergouw Productions works together with PAX on the theatre performance “Dangerous Names’ in which the story of Alma Mustafic, daughter of a murdered Dutchbat electrician Rizo Mustafic will take center stage.
Alma herself will play a significant role in this performance and Dutchbatter Ray Braat as well (for the first time a Srebrenica survivor and Dutchbatter on stage together). This performance also makes the Srebrenica drama tangible for young people.
In addition, PAX is producing an educational package, for the visiting school classes, in which the historical context is explained and among others issues of genocide and victimhood are presented, by means of a variety of short assignments and tasks for the pupils and students.
‘Dangerous Names’ will have its premiere on 12 January 2021, after that it will be shown In more than twenty Dutch theaters. More information 25jaarsrebrenica.nl
PAX has supported work and development of the Potocari Memorial Center (PMC) from its founding. After a successful common lobby for establishment of the Cemetery, Memorial Room and the Permanent Exhibition in Potocari, both organizations, together with Blinken Open Society Archives (Central European University) from Budapest, are implementing now another project which facilitates the setting up and the official start of the Archive of the PMC, fully in line with international standards for such an important institute – dealing with sensitive issues as well as vulnerable documents, photos, videos, and various objects many of them coming from (mass) graves.
Professional PMC staff will be trained by qualified and experienced archive specialists and trainers. They will be assisted in developing their own international network with other institutions and academic centers dealing with genocide studies and memorialization. Within the framework of the project, storage materials and specialized archiving equipment will be purchased, and the PMC staff will be trained in working with these materials and that equipment. For proper functioning of the PMC Archive, publicity will be very important. So, the project will also encompass regular communication with the families of survivors and next of kin, as well as with the media. Two key events will be organized in the course of the project: an official opening ceremony and an high-quality international expert meeting.
This project is financially supported by the EU Delegation and Dutch Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well.