Scores of Srebrenica Gravesites Remain Abandoned and Unmarked

9. July 2021.14:36
BIRN’s newly-updated database of wartime mass graves shows that few of the 94 sites where Srebrenica victims were buried have been marked, while others have become overgrown or been used as dumps, ploughed for farming or sold as construction sites.

This post is also available in: Bosnian

A warehouse in Kravica where 1,313 Bosniaks from Srebrenica were executed in July 1995. Photo: BIRN/Armin Graca.

BIRN’s Bitter Land database of mass graves from the Yugoslav wars has been updated ahead of the July 11 anniversary commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide to include information about a series of gravesites from the 1995 massacres by Bosnian Serb forces, many of which remain unmarked.

“The database has been updated with mostly secondary mass graves in the Srebrenica and Zvornik areas, many of them connected to the killings in a warehouse in Kravica, where 1,313 Bosniaks were executed after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995,” explained Nejra Mulaomerovic, who developed the project with BIRN’s regional director, Marija Ristic.

“Gravesites that hid hundreds of bodies remain unmarked to this day and victims’ relatives are still searching for their loved ones’ remains as a consequence of the cover-up operations to hide the bodies in 1995,” Mulaomerovic added.

In some places, the land around gravesites has been ploughed for agricultural use or used for the construction of houses and business premises or the dumping of rubbish.

Apart from the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, there are no large commemoration sites. The few marked gravesites of Srebrenica victims are around the village of Kamenica, where some of the 13 graves have been memorialised with small plaques by Bosniaks who returned to their houses after the war.

Memorialisation efforts have been hampered by the fact that most of the sites are in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity, whose leaders deny that the July 1995 massacres were genocide. Installing memorials to Bosniak victims is often not permitted and the locations of some sites are known only to a few locals or family members.

BIRN’s Bitter Land database project was launched last month and maps the largest mass grave sites from the Yugoslav wars.

The database contains locations, current and archive photos, forensic evidence, court documents, witness testimonies and field research of gravesites, illustrating the scale of the violence and the subsequent cover-up operation to conceal the bodies, as well as current accountability and memorialisation efforts.

Aerial image of the Liplje 1 grave where remains of 148 Bosniaks from Srebrenica were found. Photo: BIRN/Zlatan Menkovic.

Suspicions about mass graves in the wake of the Srebrenica massacres first emerged after the US government published satellite imagery a month after the killings of Bosniaks by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.

Thousands of bodies have since been recovered but the search for an estimated 1,000 Srebrenica victims continues, although hampered by a lack of resources and witness information about sites, as well as by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Most of the gravesites that have been found are around the towns of Zvornik and Bratunac, including killing sites and both secondary mass graves, where bodies were reburied as part of the attempted cover-up of the massacres.

BIRN’s research shows that there was a pattern across the former Yugoslavia in which military and police forces would capture large groups of people, transport them in buses or trucks to killing sites, where murder squads would be waiting to execute them.

Lower-lever units and loyal public utility service workers would then transport the bodies in trucks to burial sites – pits, mining complexes, mountains, fields, forests and minor roads.

The largest cover-up operation came in the aftermath of Srebrenica. Initially victims were buried in the vicinity of the killing sites, but later in the summer of 1995, orders were given came to dig up these graves and rebury the corpses in secondary graves in an attempt to conceal them more thoroughly.

The Srebrenica cover-up operation was supposed to be covert but was carried out publicly and required the involvement of a lot of people, resources, assets and vehicles, as well as the involvement of civilian police.

So far, the UN tribunal in The Hague and domestic courts in the Balkans have sentenced a total of 48 people to more than 700 years in prison, plus five life sentences, for Srebrenica crimes. The most recent to be convicted was wartime Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, whose life sentence was confirmed last month.

Senior Bosnian Serb leaders were also convicted of masterminding the hiding of the victims’ bodies, but many more who directly took part in the operations remain free.

No attempt has ever been made to bring cases to domestic or international courts against companies or their managers who provided logistical support for the Srebrenica genocide.

The Bitter Land database provides information on the location of mass graves from the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo in three languages – English, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian and Albanian.

The information provided includes the number of victims identified after exhumations, archive reports and images, plus details of related court cases, witness testimonies and other resources.

This post is also available in: Bosnian