SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Hava Muhic stood Thursday above the smallest pit in the cemetery, near her husband’s grave. It was dug for her baby girl — who was born and died here 18 years ago on the day of the worst massacre Europe has seen since World War II.
Muhic’s baby is among the remains of 409 people recently identified after being found in mass graves, who were reburied at the Potocari Memorial Center on the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. This year’s commemorations bring the total of identified victims to 6,066. Another 2,306 remain missing.
Muhic is burying the daughter she never had a chance to see or call by name.
A simple wooden marker above the little green coffin says: Newborn Muhic (father Hajrudin) 11.07.1995 — the single date marking both birth and death.
Muhic blames her child’s death on the frantic rush to seek safety among U.N. peacekeepers as Bosnian Serbs overran the town. A woman who helped her give birth in the U.N. compound told her the girl was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and that she was dead.
There is no way to know whether the chaos of the day had anything to do with the baby’s death. One thing’s certain, however: Muhic spent 18 years living with the pain of not knowing where her baby girl was buried.
Back then, Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected Muslim town in Bosnia besieged by Serb forces throughout the country’s 1992-95 war. Serb troops led by Gen. Ratko Mladic broke into the enclave on July 11, 1995. That morning, some 30,000 Bosnian Muslims flocked to the U.N. military base in the town’s Potocari suburb seeking refuge.
Among them was Muhic, then 24 — and nine months pregnant with her second child. Labor pains took her breath away as she passed the gate of the U.N. base. One of the peacekeepers told her she could enter the base’s main building but said the others would have to stay outside in the courtyard.
Muhic recalled the moment after she learned her baby’s fate.
“Two men in uniform came … They took my baby and put it in a box. They asked me for my personal information and I gave it to them. They said they were taking the baby to bury it.”
Meanwhile, Serb forces had also entered the U.N. compound unopposed by any of the hundreds of frightened U.N Dutch soldiers. They began separating men from women. Over the course of 5 days, they executed 8,372 men and boys.
A half hour after she delivered the baby, Hava Muhic was told to get up and leave the building. Still covered in blood, she climbed with other women into a truck that drove them to safety. She did not know where her 5 year-old son or husband were.
Years later, she discovered that her husband Hajrudin, his two brothers and her brother were among the thousands killed in the massacre, which the International Court of Justice later defined as genocide. Mladic and former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic are both now standing trial in front of the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the Srebrenica genocide in Srebrenica and other war crimes.
Muhic’s son survived. Now 23, he lives with her in southern France.
Authorities spent years trying to find a mass grave that Dutch soldiers reported digging inside the base for Bosnian Muslims who died of natural causes during the carnage, according to Amor Masovic, one of the directors of Bosnia’s Missing Persons Institute.
Forensic experts searched several locations the soldiers pointed out, but could not find any skeletons.
“Eventually we obtained a photo the soldiers have taken of the open grave with the little body in it,” Masovic said. “By the position of the light poles on the photo and some shades, we found the location last year. There were five other bodies in the grave besides the baby’s.”
Srebrenica’s mayor Camil Durakovic believes the baby would have been alive today had Muhic received normal medical care.
“But it died because it was born under unbearable circumstances and therefore it is a victim of genocide,” he said.
Hava had a name for her daughter but she never had the chance to give it to her. She has asked that it be engraved on the tiny white marble headstone that is to replace the wooden one.
“I will do all I can to have the name the mother wanted for her child engraved on the baby’s tombstone,” said Durakovic. “That is the least we can do for the mother.”
So soon, Hava is likely to have the comfort of visiting a grave where — instead of “Newborn” — the headstone reads: “Fatima”.