The graves of Srebrenica

The land of Srebrenica in Bosnia is still churning out the bodies of its inhabitants, allegedly massacred in 1995 by the soldiers of Karadzic and Mladic. For the past seven years, forensic experts have sought to identify the remains.


Three thousand bags containing human bones – this is all that remains of the July 1995 massacre of over 8,000 Bosnians in the town of Srebrenica.


While one of the massacre’s presumed chief culprits, Radovan Karadzic, attempts to delay his transfer to the International Criminal Court in The Hague (Netherlands), thousands of bags containing human remains await identification in a laboratory in the central Bosnian city of Tuzla, 50 kilometers north-west of Srebrenica.


For the past seven years, Laura Yazedjian and her team of forensic experts have been analyzing the remains of the massacre in an air-conditioned lab. The smell, here, is nauseating. Each bag is referenced with precision, in an attempt to put a name on every corpse. Some one thousand bodies are yet to be identified.


“This one is from the Budac mass grave, located in the Srebrenica area. The content of grave number 1 was exhumed in 2005,” explains Laura Yazedjian. Next to her lies the skeleton of a 50-year-old man killed by a bullet in the head. As Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladic marched on Srebrenica in 1995, the local Muslim population sought to escape. Those who surrendered, mostly men, were simply executed. More than a decade later, Mladic is still on the run.


Forensic experts focus their efforts on the victims’ femurs or teeth. “We’ve taken a sample from the femur,” says Laura Yazedjian. “Teeth and femurs hold the most traces of ADN, so we now have a 94% chance of extracting the victim’s ADN”. Results are then compared with the lab’s vast database. Some 80,000 Bosnians have given a drop of blood for this purpose. If the sample matches one of the families in the database, the corpse will finally have a name


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