Throughout the Bosnian War the town of Srebrenica was a strategic target of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) which sought to exterminate the Bošniak Muslim contingent of the town's historically multi-ethnic population.
In 1992 and early 1993 Bošniak refugees from the surrounding municipalities began arriving in Srebrenica, fleeing to what was at that time the only free territory in the Podrinje region of Eastern Bosnia. Daily shelling, bombings, and sniper attacks by the VRS produced heavy casualties in the city, and siege conditions characterized by hunger, lack of proper medical equipment, electricity, and housing made life unbearable for the roughly 60,000 inhabitants.
On 16 April, 1993, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolutions 819 and 824 which declared Srebrenica a demilitarized ‘safe area.’ The implementation of these resolutions was entrusted first to a Canadian peacekeeping battalion (Canbat) and later to three successive Dutch peacekeeping battalions (Ductchbat). Despite living in this UN 'safe area,' suffering, hunger, and death continued to ravage the enclave's civilian population.
On 6 July, 1995, the VRS launched a sudden and violent offensive to capture Srebrenica. Over the next five days, more than 25,000 women , children, and elderly were forcibly deported. A separate column of approximately 16,000 Bosniak men and boys escaped into the forest hoping to reach the ‘free territory’ of Tuzla, held by the Bosnian Republic forces. In the coming days, however, more than half of these men would be captured and executed, together with all of the men who had taken shelter at the Dutch base in Potočari. Between 11 and 22 July, over 8,000 men were systematically executed in and around Srebrenica.
In an effort to conceal the crimes which they had committed, the VRS relocated the bodies from the sites of mass execution, burying them in a series of mass graves throughout the Podrinje. Despite Srebrenica’s protected status as a UN ‘safe the international community, including DutchBat, did nothing to protect the enclave’s civilian inhabitants. To date, a few hundred primary and secondary mass graves have been located and exhumed around Srebrenica, Bratunac, and Zvornik. These killings became the single largest massacre to take place on the European continent since WWII, and were formally declared a Genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).