Thursday, 9 July 2015

Srebrenica women tell tale of loss through objects of memory

Twenty years ago Saturday, Bosnian Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic carried out Europe's worst carnage since the end of World War II - a massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys that a United Nations court calls a genocide. As Dutch peacekeepers stood helplessly by, the Serbs stormed the Srebrenica safe haven, separating men and boys from women. They drove the males away in trucks and massacred 2,000 on the spot. About 15,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys fled into the woods; the Serbs hunted 6,000 of them down and killed them one by one - some 8,000 in all. The bodies were dumped in mass graves that were bulldozed to hide the evidence, causing remains to be jumbled up into a jigsaw puzzle that has yet to be fully solved. About 1,000 victims remain to be found. Many families have reburied a few bones identified as belonging to their loved-ones through DNA testing.

Two decades later, Srebrenica's women still grieve. Here are some of their stories told through cherished objects.



Fazila Efendic, 64, keeps her husband Hamed's old terracotta-color shirt in the closet. He was 46 when the Bosnian Serb troops shot him dead in the forest. "When I miss him, I open the closet, touch the shirt and I can't say if I feel better or worse then," she says. "But I must touch it." It's the same thing with the school diplomas of her only son Fejzo, who was 20 when he was killed in the Srebrenica massacre. "He won several regional competitions in math and physics. He was a very good child." She showed a white handkerchief with blue stripes that her son gave her before Srebrenica fell. "I carry it around wherever I go," she said. She found the remains of both men years ago and buried them at the Srebrenica Memorial Center, where they lay with nearly 7,000 other victims. She found Hamed in 2003 in one mass grave and Fejzo - or rather two of his leg bones - in 2013 in another.



Meva Hodzic takes out a tobacco box, a rusted Swiss knife and a key from a plastic box, and with them fall crumbs of clay. She puts the clay back in the bag, because it's a kind of relic, too: It comes from the mass grave where her husband was found after Serbs killed him in the forest, as he fled carrying the three objects. "It belongs to these items and they should stay together. I was asked to give all this up for a museum of items found in mass graves. But, no," she says "how can I do that if it's the only thing I have left from him?" Mujo ran into the forest with the other Srebrenica men after promising to come back to find her in the purported safe haven that was under Dutch peacekeeper protection. Instead, parts of Mujo's body turned up after the war in three different mass graves. He was put together and identified through DNA analysis. "Besides him I lost two brothers, my father, two sons-in-law and my nephews."



When Remzija Delic, 58, wakes up in the morning, the first thing she sees on the wall is the picture of her husband Sabit. Then she gets up and looks through the window at the former factory that the United Nations turned into their military headquarters after they declared Srebrenica a safe haven - staring hard at its gate. She goes to the stove and puts the water on boil for her morning coffee. When she returns to the window, she sees her neighbor walking down the street to work, and her face grows dark. She says he was the Bosnian Serb army soldier who separated her husband from her at the factory gate, selecting him to become one of the victims of the massacre. She also lost her father, two brothers and several nephews. As Sabit was trying to board the bus transporting the Srebrenica women to government-held territory, she says, the neighbor grabbed him by the back and yelled: "No. Not you." He pushed him over to the crowd of men chosen for killing, according to Delic. Forensic experts found Sabit, 40, in a mass grave. "You know, all this did not make me hate the Serbs," she says. "There are some wonderful people among them."



Djulka Jusupovic, 65, carefully handles a tobacco box made of cans of U.N.-delivered food, along with a piece of flint used to make fire with during the war. After three years of Serb siege, the population ran out of lighters or matches and improvised just like cavemen did. "Someone would make fire with this in his garden in the morning, then everybody would come with a piece of wood to light it and take it home to make a fire," she said, describing life in a town that was on the brink of starvation before the bloodletting began. She keeps the items in several plastic bags. They are still as dirty as they were found when found on her husband, Himzo, as he was excavated from a mass grave. These days she rarely looks at the objects. Each time she takes them out, she remembers what the forensic experts told her when they handed them to her: Himzo, after being shot, may have still been alive when buried.



"Once this sweater was white like snow," says 60-year-old Kadira Gabeljic. "I knitted it myself." She points to it in a picture of the clothes wrapped around her husband's skeleton when forensic experts found him. "Now it's black from the dirt of the mass grave they found him in, and it is torn in the middle from bullets that rattled through his stomach when the Serbs shot him." Her only two children, sons Mesud, 16, and Meho, 21, followed their father Abdulah and the other men fleeing through the woods. All three were hunted down and slaughtered. Her 42-year-old husband and Meho were taken to a warehouse in the nearby village of Kravice and locked inside with another 1,000 other men who were hunted down. Then the Serbs threw hand grenades inside and mowed down the crowd through the windows, until they killed all of them. Forensic experts later found their body parts in four different mass graves. "Actually, they only found parts of Meho," she said. "The head and legs. The middle part is still missing. I buried what I had."

Thursday 9 July 2015

continue reading

Scientists are struggling to identify more than 100 mummified migrant bodies in Texas

Bodies in trash bags, bones in milk crates, and skulls wedged between caskets. That’s the horrific scene researchers found when they excavated a county-run South Texas graveyard for suspected undocumented immigrants last year.

Forensic scientists are now struggling to reunite the more than 120 bodies they excavated from Sacred Heart Cemetery, in Falfurrias, Texas, with their families. The process has been slow going: There’s no funding for the scientists’ work, and only three people have been identified so far. Experts say this is likely how many dead migrants are buried across Texas, where this kind of treatment of the dead isn’t against the law.

Usually, counties are supposed to take DNA samples and clearly mark graves of unidentified bodies. Then they upload that DNA data to a national missing persons database. But in Brooks County, Texas, the site of the cemetery, that didn’t happen: no DNA samples were taken, bodies were buried haphazardly, autopsy reports are rife with errors, and the county only has death records for a third of the people in their cemetery.

Baylor University anthropology professor Lori Baker arrived at Brooks County in the summer of 2013 with her students, offering to help identify bodies. She expected to find maybe a dozen bodies they could work on. Instead, they dug up more than 50, in various states of decay, over the course of 10 days. The next summer, they went back and dug up another 70, some dating back more than a decade. And there are still graves left to exhume.

“It was really frustrating to see the lack of respect that the funeral home had for these individuals in their final resting place,” Baker told Fusion. “They didn’t seem to care about them.”

An investigation published in the Texas Observer last week found that the county and funeral home responsible for the cemetery likely violated numerous regulations—but because the state has very vague laws about how to bury corpses, no one was found criminally responsible.

According to the Observer‘s report, the county hired a local doctor with no experience as a pathologist to conduct autopsies of the bodies. And they contracted the burials to a local funeral home, Funeraria del Angel Howard-Williams, which Baker said was the most to blame. “They were the ones getting paid a substantial money for the burial, between $1,100 and $1,400 dollars,” she said. “That’s plenty of money to buy an eight-dollar body bag.” The funeral home declined to comment to Fusion.

About 90 miles north of the border, Brooks County has become a (literal) hotspot for migrant deaths: hoping to avoid a border patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias, the county seat, migrants walk through scrub brush and desert, where temperatures can rise beyond 100 degrees in the summer.

But Brooks is hardly an exception; about half of the 6,300 immigrants who have been found dead near the border since 1998 are still unidentified, the Houston Chronicle reported. Baker, who has started to investigate similar cemeteries in other Texas counties, thinks that bodies of suspected migrants are treated the same way across most of the state. “It’s a bigger problem than I think most people know,” she said.

And while state lawmakers approved $2.3 million to expand the DNA database this year, there’s no funding to identify these bodies, leaving the work to volunteers: Students at Baylor and Texas State University are now trying to identify the corpses and get them back to their families. They comb through missing persons reports, take DNA samples, and share their findings with consulates in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico. “It’s a pretty long process when you have a mummified body,” Baker said.

One of the corpses in the cemetery belonged to Elmer Barahona, who was 20 in June 2012 when he left his 2-year-old daughter behind in El Salvador to go find work in Houston. He made it 1,500 miles across Mexico and the U.S. border, but while running across the desert in 100 degree heat to evade the checkpoint in Falfurrias, he hurt his leg and collapsed. The smuggler helping him and others left him behind for dead. County officials found his body and threw him into the cemetery with the others.

Like other unidentified migrants who made it across the border but didn’t survive, he was left nameless and unclaimed until 2013, when researchers excavated the cemetery. They identified him thanks to a brown plaid shirt wrapped around his injured leg. His body is now in a Houston funeral home, waiting for final approval from the Salvadoran government to come home.

The identification finally gave some peace to Barahona’s family, including his aunt, Marta Iraheta, who had been criss-crossing South Texas, visiting morgues with photos of her nephew. “I felt like I was in hell,” Iraheta recalled at a 2013 vigil in Houston. She urged attendees to remember the missing, and asked for their prayers: “Pray for him, for his family, and for those that remain in the desert that came in search of the American Dream.”

Thursday 9 July 2015

continue reading

Human remains found in Langtang

Remains of a foreigner, who was missing after an avalanche hit the Langtang region following the devastating earthquake on April 25, were found on Friday.

Police suspect that the human remains could be of a French national Renelouis Dutreve.

According to the District Police Office, Rasuwa, the French passport bearing 14 DI 17741 number was recovered for the site.

It has been learnt that the human remains have been sent to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in the capital city for examination.

Thursday 9 July 2015

continue reading