Bosnia: Srebrencia’s Mass Graves

Mass Graves in Srebrenica: How 6,683 victims were identified and how justice for genocide has changed forever by Kelly Bedard

On July 11th 1995 at around 4:15pm the UN declared safe zone Srebrenica was sieged by Serb nationalist forces (Delpla 1, Stover 124). 10,000 to 15,000 Muslim Bosnians had already fled the town (Stover, 124). While 40,000 women and children who remained were forcibly transferred, around 8 thousand men were massacred (Delpla 1, Jennings 47). This was the last great massacre of the Bosnian genocide and it served as a marker for the failure of UN peacekeeping (Delpla, 1). International horror at this failure lead to the NATO bombing campaign against the Serbs, eventually ending the conflict (Delpla, 1). After the breakup of former Yugoslavia there were forty thousand people missing, 71% of whom had disappeared in Bosnia (Delpla, 144). There were 8,200 individuals reported missing after the fall of Srebrenica (Delpla, 140). Forensic anthropologists were able to identify 6,683 individuals and return them to their families (Delpla, 144-145). This project not only helped bring justice to the victims, it brought closure to their families. It also created a new system for identifying victims which has become a new tool for justice after genocide.

As justice was dealt at The Hague, the ICTY opened investigations into the Srebrenica massacre, sending teams of forensic anthropologists to locate and investigate the graves (Delpla, 9). It was only through this work that “the various phases of this vast operation of forcible transport, massacre, and moving of corpses were successfully reconstructed” (Delpla, 9). If this work hadn’t been done “the number who died in the massacre would remain a matter of speculation, rumor, and denial” (Delpla, 9). I decided to analyze photos that were used as forensic evidence that a genocide had been committed. Photos played a huge role in this case, for example, US satellite photos of the “Trail of Life and Death” (the path the 8,000 men were marched along) helped bring charges of genocide against the Serb leader Mladic (Stover, 140). I also set out to explore how the exhumation of mass graves in Srebrenica played a role in bringing justice to the victims, giving proof that a genocide had occurred, and aiding survivors.