A young woman who lost relatives in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre walks inside the memorial cemetery Potocari near Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia.

© 2008 Reuters

(Brussels) - The Bosnian Serb wartime general, Ratko Mladic, one of the main architects of the genocide at Srebrenica, remains at large even as victims' families gather to mark the 15th anniversary of the killings, Human Rights Watch said today.

"What happened in Srebrenica requires justice as well as memorialization," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Ratko Mladic's liberty is an affront to both."

On July 11, 1995, during the war in Bosnia, the United Nations and NATO allowed Bosnian Serb forces and Serb paramilitary unit known as "the Scorpions" to seize the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, even though the UN had declared it a "safe area." The Serb forces executed between 7,000 and 8,000 Bosnian men and boys in the week after the fall of the town, the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II.

There has been progress toward justice for the Srebrenica genocide in recent years. The Bosnian Serb wartime president, Radovan Karadzic, is on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, facing charges that include genocide at Srebrenica.

On June 10, 2010, the tribunal sentenced two high-ranking Bosnian Serb military officers, Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara, to life in prison for the Srebrenica genocide, the court's first convictions on the basis of personal responsibility for genocide. In 2001, the court convicted Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic of aiding and abetting the genocide.

The European Union's requirement that Serbia cooperate fully with the tribunal as a condition for closer ties and Serbia's desire for EU membership have been key factors leading to the recent progress in gaining Serbian cooperation, including      Karadzic's transfer to The Hague. But Mladic remains at liberty, despite repeated promises by the Serbian government to deliver him to justice. Both Mladic and the other remaining fugitive from the tribunal, Goran Hadzic, are believed to be in Serbia. Hadzic is a Croatian Serb leader charged with crimes against humanity - the murder and persecution of Croats and other non-Serb civilians in eastern Croatia between 1991 and 1993, during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Despite Serbia's failure to apprehend Mladic, the EU has begun to weaken its demands for justice on behalf of Srebrenica victims. On June 14, the EU agreed to start ratification of a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia, a step on the path toward EU membership, even in the absence of full cooperation with the tribunal. Negotiations with Serbia for the agreement had been suspended in 2006 because of      Serbia's failure to cooperate fully with the tribunal, and      the failure to arrest Mladic      had been singled out as an example of the      lack of cooperation.

"The EU's softening resolve on Mladic's arrest sends the wrong message to Serbia," Cartner said. "The EU has an obligation to use its leverage to help deliver justice for the victims of Srebrenica."

The EU should not engage in any further progress toward membership for Serbia, such as asking the European Commission to study Serbia's application, until Serbia fully cooperates with the tribunal, including on the arrest of the last two fugitives, Human Rights Watch said.

The tribunal and the International Court of Justice have both found that genocide occurred in Srebrenica, recognizing that the perpetrators of the crime had the specific intent to destroy, in whole or part, the Bosnian Muslim population.

In Bosnia, the three-day commemoration of the 15th anniversary of Srebrenica starts on July 9 and will culminate on July 11 with a ceremony during which the remains of 800 Srebrenica victims will be buried.

"Fifteen years after the genocide, at least 10,000 people are still missing in Bosnia, including at least 1,000 from the Srebrenica area," Cartner said. "For the sake of their relatives, and for the sake of justice, the Bosnian and Serbian authorities need to do more to establish what happened to them."