Tens of thousands of people converged on Srebrenica Tuesday for a funeral for dozens of newly identified victims of the 1995 massacre in the Bosnian town.
Remains of 71 Muslim Bosniak victims, including seven juvenile boys and a woman, were buried at the memorial cemetery on the 22nd anniversary of the crime. They were laid to rest next to over 6,000 other Srebrenica victims found previously in mass graves. The youngest victim buried this year was 15, the oldest was 72.
Adela Efendic came to Srebrenica to bury the remains of her father, Senaid.
“I was 20-day-old baby when he was killed. I have no words to explain how it feels to bury the father you have never met,” Efendic said. “You imagine what kind of a person he might have been, but that is all you have.”
More than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys perished in 10 days of slaughter after Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces on July 11, 1995. It is the only episode of Bosnia’s fratricidal 1992-95 war to be defined as genocide by two U.N. courts.
Serbs hastily disposed of the victims’ bodies in several large pits, then dug them up again and scattered the remains over the nearly 100 smaller mass graves and hidden burial sites around the town.
Every year forensic experts identify newly found remains through DNA analysis before reburial.
Most coffins are lowered into their graves by strangers, because all male members of the victims’ families had often been killed.
“I was looking for him for 20 years … they found him in a garbage dump last December,” Emina Salkic said through tears, hugging the coffin of her brother Munib. He was 16 when he was killed.
Srebrenica was besieged by Serb forces for years before it fell. It was declared a U.N. “safe haven” for civilians in 1993, but a Security Council mission that visited shortly afterward described the town as “an open jail” where a “slow-motion process of genocide” was in effect.
When Serb forces led by Gen. Ratko Mladic broke through two years later, Srebrenica’s terrified Muslim Bosniak population rushed to the U.N. compound hoping that Dutch U.N. peacekeepers would protect them. But the outgunned peacekeepers watched helplessly as Mladic’s troops separated out men and boys for execution and sent the women and girls to Bosnian government-held territory.
An appeals court in The Hague ruled this month that the Dutch government was partially liable in the deaths of more than 300 people who were turned away from the compound.
Mladic is now on trial before a U.N. war crimes tribunal, but many Bosnian Serbs, including political leaders, continue to deny that the slaughter constituted genocide.
“We are again calling on Serbs and their political and intellectual elites to find courage to face the truth and stop denying genocide,” Bakir Izetbegovic, Bosniak member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, said in his address to the mourners.
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, the head of the EU delegation to Bosnia, said that remembering what happened in Srebrenica was “the common duty of us as Europeans,” especially as we live “in a world where facts and truth are being manipulated.”