We had not planned to attend the peaceful monthly protest organized by the Women of Srebrenica Association, and we were honored to be able to observe and participate. Iltezam Morrar and I joined our new friends as they prepared for their monthly march with photographs and banners that have been created to recognize their loved ones.
On the 11th of every month, honoring the official commemoration date of the Srebrenica genocide of July 1995, the protest march begins at the Ping Plateau in Tuzla and proceeds to the town’s main square, formally called Square of the Victims of Genocide in Srebrenica. The Women are persistent: their protest is intended to demand truth and justice for the more than 8,000 of their relatives who were killed or remain missing, as well as the continuation of exhumation, identification and burial process.
The women held a banner of pillow cases stitched together with the names of their loved ones who went missing in Srebrenica in 1995. The pillow cases are symbolic: they represent each missing person. The symbol is powerful and can be witnessed as vehicles pass and honk in acknowledgement, when traffic stops, or when someone lovingly reaches out to touch a piece of the banner as he or she walks by.
On this day, almost seventy citizens have come to support the demonstration. The gratitude shown toward the marching women was evident among people living in Tuzla and it was a testament to how relevant and important the women’s work is, even after sixteen years.
As in every monthly protest, local and international journalists are present to film. Today’s march was joined by human rights activists from Italy, high school students from Bologna, and a television crew from Germany. The crew is currently working on a portrait project of women of Srebrenica, as well as a documentary film. Hajra Catic, the Founder and President of the Women of Srebrenica Association, seemed accustomed to microphones being shoved in front of her from all directions. She didn’t even blink. The Association’s youngest member, Advija Ibrahimovic, explained:
“We always invite the media, and the women all know exactly what to say to them.”
What may have attracted the media on this day’s protest was the Association’s recent announcement of their decision to file a lawsuit against former chief International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, and her associates. Many personal objects recovered in mass graves were destroyed because ICTY claimed they could not be used as evidence in war crimes trials against Srebrenica perpetrators.
The women claim that the personal objects were destroyed in 2005, and they believe these objects were found in mass graves that were uncovered in 1996 and 1997. For them, this lawsuit is about justice and holding those responsible for destruction of more than 1,500 personal items belonging to those killed.
For the women of Srebrenica, each and every object is precious. Every piece of clothing or possession that is discovered creates a more vivid memory of their loved ones, and each unearthed item offers a material memory of someone they lost. Earlier at our meeting with the Association, Hajra explained how any object that belonged to their brothers, sons, or husbands is a living reminder not only of their terrible deaths, but of the lives they once shared. The pillow cases with stitched names should not be the only remaining memory of those lost.
Reported by Heather Frederick. Written by Amra Celebic and Vanessa Ortiz.