SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Phillip Ruch's monument to Srebrenica is a huge jumble of worn shoes, more than 16,000 of them, each pair representing a victim of Europe's worst massacre since World War II.
Seen from afar, it will spell out "U.N." in gigantic letters.
The "Pillar of Shame" is to be raised in the hills above Srebrenica. Also displayed will be names picked by Bosnian Muslims of U.N. and other international officials considered responsible for botching the task of protecting Srebrenica.
Ahead of the 15th anniversary today of the massacre, Ruch said he is looking forward to the debate the monument will generate when it goes up next year.
The German activist describes his project as a "warning for all future U.N. employees never again just to stand by when genocide unfolds."
On July 11, 1995, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and youths were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb troops in an enclave supposedly protected by U.N. peacekeepers.
The United Nations had declared Serb-besieged Srebrenica, some 60 miles northeast of Sarajevo, a protected area for civilians. But the few hundred Dutch peacekeepers on the ground were left short of credible weaponry or a clear mandate to protect the town.
Srebrenica fell to the Serbs after senior U.N. commanders dithered on Dutch requests for air strikes and its overwhelmingly Bosnian Muslim residents swarmed the U.N. military base, seeking refuge. But the peacekeepers allowed the Serbs to take away the townspeople when Gen. Ratko Mladic, their leader, said they would not be harmed.
The shootings began shortly after. While Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is now being tried by the U.N. tribunal at the Hague for allegedly masterminding Srebrenica, Mladic remains at large.
Bosnian Muslim Zlata Konakovic is so fired up by the project she donated seven pairs of shoes, including ones mailed from Washington from her son and grandson.
"I knew over 8,000 people were killed, but only when you see this mountain of shoes do you get the picture of how many that is," she said.
Today, as the Srebrenica commemorations start, the presidents of both Serbia and Croatia will for the first time pay respects to victims alongside Bosnian Muslims. The United Nations will not be represented.
The failure of U.N. peacekeepers to protect the Srebrenica victims is vividly etched in the collective Bosnian Muslim memory.
"They watched genocide — live," said survivor Munira Subasic, who lost 22 relatives.
A study by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation cleared the Dutch troops, noting they were outnumbered, lightly armed, undersupplied, and ordered to fire only in self-defense. The Dutch government has accepted "political responsibility," and has given tens of millions of dollars to Bosnia.
But for most Bosnian Muslims, that is not enough.
"We are taking the United Nations to the Court of Human Rights," said Subasic, who heads the victims' association Mothers of Srebrenica.
"We will never give up."