11 July 2006: Some 500 victims of the 1995 fall of Srebrenica, recovered from mass graves across eastern Bosnia, were buried today at the Potocari Cemetery just outside Srebrenica, their identities established by DNA testing conducted by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).The memorial ceremony marking the eleventh anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica is allowing family members to bury their dead with dignity, the fate of their missing loved ones finally resolved. Of the 7,789 Srebrenica victims in the ICMP database, for whom family members have come forward and given a blood sample for DNA identification, 2,636 have been identified to date.
Today’s collective burial includes 489 victims of the 1995 fall of Srebrenica and 16 close relatives of those victims who were killed in other events during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. All were identified with the assistance of ICMP’s DNA-led identification process. The remains of a further 120 identified victims will not be buried today; only parts of those remains have been found and family members have decided to wait until further body parts are recovered before burial.
In many cases, the bodies of Srebrenica victims were broken apart when heavy machinery was used by the perpetrators to dig up the mass graves and rebury the bodies in smaller secondary mass graves in an effort to hide the evidence of their crimes. This is why finding and identifying the victims is so time-consuming. It is also one of the core reasons ICMP pioneered the use of DNA as the primary tool in identification of large numbers of victims, a process that has dramatically sped up identification of the victims.
ICMP opened a specialized center to re-associate body parts in January last year, using DNA to match bones from the same individual while concurrently searching for the more complicated DNA matches between victims and their living family members. This re-association system makes the process of identification and returning remains to families shorter and thus less painful.
“The work of ICMP is vitally important in establishing the truth about what happened, not only for the families, but also for the future of BiH society. The truth is a crucial factor in the reconciliation process. By providing irrefutable scientific evidence about the identity of the victims, we are making the extremists who still deny these events took place less and less credible,” said ICMP Chief of Staff Kathryne Bomberger.