Yvette Barnes (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

Yvette Barnes (Bosnian Family - BOSFAM): Yvette earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Business from San Jose State University in San Jose, California. From 2002 to 2004, Yvette worked as a business development volunteer in Nepal where she trained a Nepali NGO on micro-enterprise development and micro-credit. After returning to the United States, Yvette worked as a project coordinator for a construction firm in Northern California. At the time of her fellowship she was pursuing a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. concentrating in International Development.

Blog 7

05 Jul

Today I visited the International Missing Persons Institue, which is responsible for identifying the remains of the people who were massacred in Srebrenica in 1995. The Tuzla office is down the road from Bosfam and although the MPI has offices in Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Belgrade (Serbia), the office in Tuzla is the only one responsible for the Srebrenica victims. There I met with a man named Zlatan, to whom I was sent in part by the Advocacy Project to gather some information and also to see for myself the work that the MPI does. I talked with Zlatan, asking him questions about the process for which he is a part of. The whole organization, I was to find, are wonderful about talking to whomever wants to visit, whether it be journalists or family members of the victims. The MPI started this work in 1999 officially, and to date they have positively identified about half of the individuals missing from Srebrenica. This year there will be about 490 bodies buried at the memorial in Potocari, near Srebrenica.

At first I was amazed that nearly 11 years after the massacre so few bodies have been buried, only about 1500, but upon talking to Zlatan, I came to know just what a difficult process this has been for the MPI. The bodies of the Srebrenica victims were found in over 30 mass graves. In addition, many of the bodies were reburied in an effort by the Serbs to hide the full impact of the atrocity. They did this with bulldozers and so when a body is exhumed it is rarely complete. So there are primary mass graves, secondary mass graves and even tertiary mass graves. Lastly, there are those victims that fled the round ups through the forest surrounding Srebrenica.

To compound this , there are further problems with identifying the bodies. Mainly the DNA can not be linked positively. This is often the case when entire families, generations were massacred at Srebrenica. In addition, the MPI has the task of gathering DNA from the relatives of the victims, many of whom have long since left Bosnia. A couple of years ago the MPI did a big campaign for DNA donors but this was mostly in Europe and to date DNA has not been collected from many of the victims families living in North America and Australia.

After talking to Zlatan, he suggested I go up the road to the morgue, where the forensic anthropologists actually perform the work. There I met with a Canadian woman named Laura, who has been working on this project for nearly four years. She was wearing surgical scrubs when I got there, as were the other forensic anthropolgists, there are about 4 of them at this facility. She was nice enough to give me a tour of the facility, including the room where they store some of the bodies. I walked in and was immediatly hit by the smell. I asked her what it was; ammonia. Bodies that have been around 11 years exude the ammonia smell, which I can tell you even now, hours later is still burning my eyes. There were spaces for about 800 bodies, although the storage room had well over 3000 body bags, most of these had only part of the remains. I also toured the room where the photographer takes photos of the belongings. There on the shelves were little knick knacks from the victims, like clocks and water canteens. These items are either claimed by the family or buried with the victim.

Lastly, over some coffee, I met a case worker. There are about four full time case workers and they have an incredibly tough job. These are the people who contact the victim’s families, telling them when there has been a positive identification and what step in the process the MPI is at with their loved one. And they have a long way to go, with as many as 6,000 missing people still to be identified the work will carry on until every last soul is laid to rest.

Posted By Yvette Barnes (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

Posted Jul 5th, 2006

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