Ten years on, the killers are at large and many victims remain unidentified
Ten years on, the killers are at large and many victims remain unidentified
WHEN IT BECAME clear that the international community had broken its promise to protect Srebrenica and that the town, full of fearful refugees, would be overrun by the Bosnian Serb army, Muhamed Durakovic had to make a decision. The 20-year-old could join thousands of other Bosnian Muslims as they fled to a battery factory north of town, the base for a small and ineffectual United Nations peacekeeping force. Or he could attempt a dangerous journey on foot through the thickly wooded hills of eastern Bosnia, most of it Serb-held territory, toward the Muslim stronghold of Tuzla.
Now, 10 years later, Durakovic takes me to a bullet-riddled apartment building in Srebrenica’s town centre. “This is where I said goodbye to my mother,” he says. He points across the road to the forest’s edge. “And that’s where my father and I started to run.” The journey lasted 37 days. He saw friends and former neighbours die in minefields and ambushes, some killed by Serb soldiers disguised in stolen UN blue helmets. “For weeks we were scavenging for food in the forest, almost starving,” he says. “We were like deer trying to flee the wolves.”
The Srebrenica Massacre
But Durakovic and his father had made the right decision. Back in Srebrenica, Serb troops quickly seized the battery factory. Then, while UN peacekeepers watched, soldiers separated the men and teenage boys, loaded them into buses, and drove them to mass execution sites. Thousands more Muslim men were tracked down and killed as they fled through the hills. At least 7,800 people died in the Srebrenica area in the week following July 11,1995, the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War.
This week, dignitaries from around the world will gather in the town to mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. One person who won’t be at the service is Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. She has said she could not stand before family members of Srebrenica victims while the alleged masterminds of the slaughter—Gen. Ratko
Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb military and political leaders of the time—still walk free. But it finally looks as if Mladic, at least, may soon be brought to justice. Several Serbian government officials, including Defence Minister Prvoslav Davinic, are calling for his arrest (Mladic is
THE TOWN of
Srebrenica looks pretty enough, until you notice the boarded-up windows and bullet-pitted walls
believed to have lived in Belgrade until 2002, but his whereabouts are currently unknown). If that happens, there is hope that Karadzic would soon follow.
Sixteen other men, accused of playing leading roles in the Srebrenica massacre, have already been turned over to the criminal tribunal in The Hague. Three have been convicted, including Bosnian Serb Gen. Radislav Krstic, the first European ever found
guilty of genocide by a court of appeal.
Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian former president of Yugoslavia, is among those charged. After having some difficulty linking Milosevic to Srebrenica, the prosecution has now seen its case bolstered by the recent discovery of a video. It shows six captured Muslims, including a 16-year-old boy, being shot to death by a Serbian paramilitary unit called the Scorpions. Groups like the Scorpions were often organized within the Yugoslav Ministry of Defence, which was under Milosevic’s control, says Jan Willem Honig, a professor of war studies at King’s College in London and author of a book on Srebrenica. “So the video could help establish Milosevic’s command responsibility over the killings,” he says.
IN A CONVERT ED funeral home near the Bosnian city of Tuzla, Cheryl Katzmarzyk pursues the evidence in a different way. After the boys and men of Srebrenica were killed, their bodies were dumped, in large mass graves. Three months later, the perpetrators tried to hide the evidence, digging up the remains and trucking them to smaller, secondary mass graves throughout the region. Katzmarzyk, a Canadian forensic
anthropologist with the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), now has the grisly job of “re-associating” the bodies found in the mass graves.
In a damp, earthy-smelling room, she opens a body bag containing recently exhumed human remains. Inside, hundreds of bones are jumbled together, along with dirt, hair, and decaying scraps of clothing.
Technicians wash the bones and lay them out on an autopsy table according to their position in the human body. Katzmarzyk and her colleagues then try to piece together the skeletons of individual men and women.
To help put a name to the bones, the ICMP has collected DNA samples from more than 56,000 people whose relatives went missing during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The scientists have already identified 6,070 individuals among the remains—more than a third of them from the Srebrenica massacre—and there are at least 30 more mass graves to exhume. There has never been a similar project on this scale, Katzmarzyk says, but she feels the families of war victims have a right to give their loved ones a proper burial. “We need to show that these people are gone but not forgotten,” she says. “We need to let their families know that, and we need to let the perpetrators know that.”
MUHAMED Durakovic has certainly not forgotten. While for most of us Srebrenica
is a byword for genocide, for Durakovic it invokes memories that stretch back through terror and hardship to sepia-tinged recollections of childhood. “This is where the prettiest girl in town lived,” he says, chuckling, in front of a faded yellow home. Now 30, he has brush-cut blond hair and wears a blue poncho pushed up to reveal thick forearms. He works in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, as a political officer with the European Union’s police mission.
From a distance, Srebrenica seems a pretty town, its red-roofed houses meandering between steep, pine-covered hills. Only closeup do you notice that windows are boarded over and walls are pitted with bullet holes and shrapnel scars. The Serb and Muslim communities, which rarely interact, live on either side of an abandoned town centre.
Next to Durakovic’s childhood home we meet Abdulah Purkovic, one of about 3,000 Muslim “returnees” to Srebrenica where over 25,000 Muslims lived before the war. A round-bellied chef with short-cropped white hair, Purkovic is preparing to host the dignitaries arriving for the commemoration. An experienced and diplomatic caterer, he won’t lecture his guests. But what, I ask, would he like to tell them? “I would say to the world, ‘Shame on you.’ If President Clinton or any member of the United Nations had wanted to move a finger,” Purkovic says, lifting a plump pinkie into the air, “then Srebrenica would not be known as the place of a massacre.”
At the the Srebrenica Memorial and Cemetery, next to the battery factory, a crew readies the site for the anniversary observances. Here, before foreign guests and thousands of Srebrenica survivors, nearly 600 families will bury the recently identified remains of loved ones killed in the massacre. As we enter the grounds, Durakovic lifts his hands for a brief moment of prayer. Then he starts to wander among the graves, reading the names.
After the war, Durakovic tried to leave Srebrenica behind. He moved to Philadelphia, finished a university degree, and worked for a large information technologies company. He only returned to Bosnia this year. But the whole time, he says, he felt like he belonged with the men of Srebrenica, the ones who lived, and the ones who died. “When I die, I would like to be buried here,” he says, surveying the rows of green-painted signs marking the graves around him. “With them.” IF]
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