Twenty five years ago, Srebrenica, a small town in eastern Bosnia, was the centre of suffering and sorrow. 11 July is the anniversary of a tragedy that saw 8,372 people killed and many more forced to flee. Over 1,000 of them are still unaccounted for.
Hajra Ćatić has been looking for her son Nino ever since that fateful day in July 1995. During the tragic fall of Srebrenica, Nino, a well-known journalist and writer, and her husband, disappeared.
Ten years later, her husband’s remains were found in a mass grave and identified, but Hajra is still waiting for information about Nino’s fate. A hand-written poem that Nino wrote in March 1993 was found at the location in woods where he was last seen in July 1995. It is one of the very few personal belongings Hajra has from Nino.
Her worst fear is that she may not be able to find and bury him.
Hajras’s story is one of the many in Srebrenica. As you pass the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial in the valley leading to the town, you can feel the 6,610 souls buried there. According to the ICRC’s records, more than 1,000 people are still unaccounted for from July 1995, a quarter century after they went missing. Empty places between the existing tombstones are left for them in Potočari, so they can be buried beside their close family members, once they are found and identified.
This year, like every before, a collective commemoration for the victims is being held on 11 July. Nine people identified during the past 12 months will be buried, joining forever those who silently greet every visitor and passer-by. As time goes by, the number of people identified every year is decreasing. From several hundred identified and buried yearly in the past, the number declined to less than a dozen being buried in Potočari this year.
That is inevitable. The same progress could not be sustained as the memories of those who know something relevant fade, and as reliable information is harder to come by. The situation and the uncertainty of the families require all venues to be explored and close cooperation of all actors involved in the search process.
The ICRC is actively searching for information on locations of potential gravesites. Our experts are looking through the archives of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague and many other international archives. Pieces of information collected are analyzed and transferred further to the relevant authorities for further processing and potential action.
Diligently going through the archives and painstakingly collecting thousands of witness statements, military notes and documents could be discarded as futile attempts. But that work is extremly important for the families because they have the right to know what happened to their loved ones. Communities paralyzed by grief must come up with an answer, in order to move forward and continue the process of reconciliation. We all need it.
The ICRC works closely with the families of the missing faced with the prolonged suffering of having no certain information of what happened to their loved ones, while often facing social, legal, and economic consequences.
Together with our partners, in particular the local Red Cross organizations and many family associations, the ICRC provides psychosocial support to the families, advocates for their right to know, and draws attention to their needs – not only in Bosnia-Herzegovina but across the Western Balkans. Overall, more than 10,000 people are still missing from the 1990s conflicts in the region, of which 7,000 are missing in Bosnia-Herzegovina alone. You can find more information on the families of missing persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina and their needs here.
It is easy to get overwhelmed with the numbers, but let us not forget individuals. Let’s not forget the person, whether in Srebrenica or any other place, who was once loved, who was once cared for, and had hopes and dreams for the future – a future different than the one that befell them.
Remembering the nine ICRC employees killed in Srebrenica 25 years ago
Over 8,000 people from Srebrenica lost their lives in July 1995. Among them nine were our ICRC colleagues. Their human remains have been exhumed from mass graves and identified in the past decades. Today we remember and pay tribute to them. And we share our loss with all who lost loved ones.
Bajro Buljubašić, exhumed from a mass grave; identified on 8 June 2011.
Mevludin Džanić, exhumed from a mass grave; identified on 15 May 2006.
Samir Halilović, exhumed from a mass grave; identified on 24 March 2005.
Džemail Haskić, exhumed from a mass grave; identified on 27 August 2009.
Rudolf Hren, exhumed from a mass grave; identified on 13 November 2009.
Salko Hublić, exhumed from a mass grave; identified on 8 February 2005.
Muhamed Mehanović, exhumed from a mass grave; identified on 8 March 2005.
Ahmo Mujić, exhumed from a mass grave; identified on 29 June 2010.
Husein Šabanović, exhumed from a mass grave; identified on 13 May 2008.
The Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial is their final resting place.
Source : Icrc