More than 20,000 gathered on Saturday in Srebrenica to bury newly identified victims of the massacre there. Fourteen years after some 8,000 Muslim men and boys died, experts are still working to identify all the remains.
Bosnian Muslim women weep beside the coffins of Srebrenica victims during the funeral ceremony
A mass funeral ceremony was held just outside the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica on Saturday in a ritual that has been repeated on this date for the past six years.
More than 20,000 gathered for the burial of 534 newly identified victims on the 14th anniversary of the wartime massacre in the Bosnian town.
The victims' caskets were carried by mourners from hand to hand to their graves following a prayer at a cemetery just outside the eastern town.
Those buried Saturday were just some of victims of the estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys who were victims of the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. They were killed by members of the Bosnian Serb army under the command of Ratko Mladic, an indicted war criminal, as well as irregular Serbian units.
Memorial at the Srebrenica-Potocari massacre site
The remains of those buried on Saturday were identified by investigators over the past year. It is a painstaking process, involving broken bodies and multiple mass graves, DNA matching and loved ones who are seeking any kind of solace they can get, even 14 years after the world learned of the shocking events of that summer.
"The genocide was so horrific, it is difficult for me to find words to do it justice," said Zumra Sehomerovic, a member of one of the groups formed after the war to make sure those killed in 1995 get a proper burial.
"This worst genocide since the second world war was committed in full view, for the entire world to see," she added. "Everyone could observe what happened here."
Memories of loved ones
On Saturday, tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims paid tribute to victims of the massacre. National radio reported that thousands of people boarded buses and cars to head to the eastern town for the commemoration ceremony.
Munevera Begic, whose father Hajrudin is among the newly buried victims, is still haunted by the memory of the last time she saw him. "I was 14 then. He was holding my hand and then they separated us. I still see that picture of him being taken away," she said through tears. "He did not live to see any of his grandchildren."
Hatidza Mehmedovic, who is in her late 60s, is still searching for her son's remains.
"Beside the whole tragedy we have gone through we should be happy when we find the bones of our child. I was not that lucky," Mehmedovic said.
Former base, now memorial
The site of the massacre is now the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery. Part of the site is an old warehouse, which in 1995 was part of a base for around 400 Dutch peacekeepers. They were stationed there after the international body declared Srebrenica a "safe area" in 1993.
Now it houses a display of portraits of some of the victims, with short biographies in both Bosnian and English. Visitors can also watch a short film documenting the massacre.
Bosnian Muslim women sit at the Potocari cemetery
Amra Begic does not need a film to remember the massacre; she lives with it every day, having lost both her father and her grandfather in the slaughter.
Witnesses have described how after shooting the victims, the perpetrators checked the bodies to see if they were really dead. If not, they finished the job with a single shot to the head. That is how Begic's father met his end.
"When they finished identification of my father, they said that it was a bullet straight to the head," she said. "The most horrible thing is that I was thinking that I was sorry because he was alive five minutes longer, so he suffered a lot."
The International Commission of Missing Persons has six facilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina where work continues to identify the remains of the victims of the country's bloody 1992-95 war.
At the Lukavac Re-association Center mortuary outside of Tuzla, they are still trying to identify the remains of people who were moved from the original mass graves used in the massacre, to so-called secondary mass graves.
Gravestones at the Srebrenica-Potocari massacre site
Because heavy machinery was used to do this, the remains of many bodies were broken up. Sometimes different parts ended up in different graves.
Just a few kilometers down the road in Tuzla, investigators at another office enter DNA data from victims into computers which look for matches with DNA samples provided by family members. Often, only parts of a particular victim are identified with any certainty. The family is then given the option of burying those remains, or waiting in the hope that investigators will find more.
Many of the bodies that were buried at the cemetery outside of Srebrenica on Saturday are incomplete. But the families clearly hope that the funeral will help ease the pain, ever so slightly.
Still, one question nags at even those who have already buried their dead. Why wasn’t the UN-designated safe area actually safe? Why couldn't 400 Dutch peacekeepers with United Nations backing prevent a mass slaughter?
"They didn’t do anything," said Begic. "If someone knows why they didn’t do anything, please explain to us. It is very hard to live with everything. We are still somewhere in 1995."
Author: Chuck Penfold/rb
Editor: Kyle James