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The geopolitics of exhumation and interment: excavating mass graves and identifying the disappeared in post-genocide Bosnia and Herzegovina

Authors: James Riding*, Newcastle University
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Political Geography, East Europe
Keywords: Genocide, mass grave, exhumation, identification, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Srebrenica
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper examines the practices of exhumation and interment in post-genocide states providing a geographical study of the excavation of mass graves in eastern Bosnia and the identification of almost 7000 of the more than 8000 victims reported missing after the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. Ninety-one mass graves have been located in Srebrenica alone and the remains of a single human are often found in multiple sites due to the reburial of victims in secondary and tertiary mass graves. The Missing Persons Institute (MPI) of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was established in 2005 on the International Day of the Disappeared with a mandate to search for mass graves throughout BiH and to end the discriminatory practice of searching for missing persons based on their ethnicity. Yet today victims are searched for, exhumed, analysed, identified, and interred amidst an ethnically divided landscape. To examine exhumation, interment, and identification in BiH the paper describes the excavation of mass grave sites and traces the work of the International Commission on Missing Persons, who promote multi-ethnic interaction in the identification of victims using a barcoded system to conceal the identity of DNA samples collected from the families of the missing. Mortal remains are sent across BiH to Banja Luka and Sarajevo for preparation and testing and to mortuaries in Tuzla and Sarajevo until bodies are pieced together. The hope for many families is to be reunited with a single piece of a loved one so that they may have a grave at which to grieve.

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