People gather to pay their respects and to give victims a dignified burial.
Thousands of people from around Bosnia and abroad gathered in Srebrenica on Tuesday for the annual ritual of commemorating the 1995 massacre in the eastern town.
The ritual also provided an opportunity to give a dignified burial to the victims unearthed from mass graves and only recently identified through DNA analysis.
Twenty-eight years after they were brutally murdered in Europe’s only acknowledged genocide since the Holocaust, 27 men and three teenage boys were due to be laid to rest on Tuesday at a vast and ever-expanding memorial cemetery just outside Srebrenica, joining more than 6,600 massacre victims already reburied there.
Relatives of the victims can bury only partial remains of their loved ones as they are typically found scattered over several different mass graves, sometimes miles apart. Such was the case of Mirsda Merdzic, who was due to bury her father on Tuesday.
“Only a very few bones of his were retrieved because he had been found (in a mass grave) near the Drina River,” she said while huddling next to a casket shrouded in the green burial cloth. “Maybe the river washed him away.”
Selma Ramic reburied a handful of bones of her father several years ago, but continues returning to the town for the anniversary to honour others who had shared his fate.
“One photo is the only thing I have left of my father, but I have love for him in my heart,” said Ramic, adding: “He still lives in us, he will live on as long as we are alive.”
The Srebrenica killings were the bloody crescendo of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, which came after the breakup of Yugoslavia unleashed nationalist passions and territorial ambitions that set Bosnian Serbs against the country’s two other main ethnic populations — Croats and Bosniaks.
On 11 July 1995, Bosnian Serbs overran a UN-protected safe haven in Srebrenica. They separated at least 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys from their wives, mothers and sisters, chased them through woods around the ill-fated town, and slaughtered them.
The perpetrators then ploughed their victims’ bodies into hastily made mass graves, which they later dug up with bulldozers, scattering the remains among other burial sites to hide the evidence of their war crimes.
The Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic were both convicted of genocide in Srebrenica by a special UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
In all, the tribunal and courts in the Balkans have sentenced close to 50 Bosnian Serb wartime officials to more than 700 years in prison for the Srebrenica killings.