TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — The comfortable, small-town life of the women of Srebrenica began unraveling in 1992, at the start of Bosnia’s brutal 44-month-war. But the devastating loss they suffered in the closing months of the conflict has deprived them of hope that they will ever be able to heal from trauma.
On July 11, 1995, Serb troops under the command of Ratko Mladic marched into Srebrenica, a sliver of land in eastern Bosnia. They captured and executed some 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys. All the male members of countless Srebrenica families perished in the massacre.
Some of the victims were literally wrested from the hands of their mothers, not to be seen again until their remains surfaced years after the war from one of more than 90 mass graves around Srebrenica. Meanwhile, women, small children and the elderly were packed onto buses and expelled.
In their old lives, the women of Srebrenica used to avail themselves of the loving support of their large, extended families. As orphaned, widowed and often suddenly childless refugees in other parts of Bosnia, they came together, united by pain unfathomable to anyone who had not experienced it. Their life now revolves around the search for the remains of their loved ones and a quest for justice.
Walls in the offices of an association they formed are plastered with photos of their fathers, brothers and sons. For 22 years, they have been silently protesting on the 11th day of each month in the northern town of Tuzla, where many of them had settled after the war. They gather in the central square holding photos of their lost relatives and banners demanding justice.
On Wednesday, a U.N court will hand down its verdict in the case against Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb wartime military leader, charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Some of the Srebrenica women will be in the courtroom of The Hague-based tribunal to observe it while others will gather in Bosnia surrounded by photos of their dead relatives to watch it on television.
“We might get justice if he is sentenced to life in prison.but we’ll never find solace,” said Hajra Catic who lost a son, her husband and 20 other male relatives in the massacre. Catic, now 70, is still searching for the remains of her son.