To Know Where He Lies: DNA Technology and the Search for Srebrenica's Missing

To Know Where He Lies: DNA Technology and the Search for Srebrenica's Missing

To Know Where He Lies: DNA Technology and the Search for Srebrenica's Missing

To Know Where He Lies: DNA Technology and the Search for Srebrenica's Missing

Synopsis

In the aftermath of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, the discovery of unmarked mass graves revealed Europe's worst atrocity since World War II: the genocide in the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica. To Know Where He Lies provides a powerful account of the innovative genetic technology developed to identify the eight thousand Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) men and boys found in those graves and elsewhere, demonstrating how memory, imagination, and science come together to recover identities lost to genocide. Sarah E. Wagner explores technology's import across several areas of postwar Bosnian society—for families of the missing, the Srebrenica community, the Bosnian political leadership (including Serb and Muslim), and international aims of social repair—probing the meaning of absence itself.

Excerpt

On July 11, 2003, the cemetery of the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial Center filled with people in anticipation of the burial of 282 recently identified victims of the Srebrenica massacre. Most attendees had traveled a long and circuitous journey to arrive there that day. Crossing borders and, in some cases, time zones, they had come together to commemorate an act of physical and social devastation, the worst massacre to occur in Europe since World War II. But their presence also reflected another and altogether different achievement: the results of an innovative DNA-based identification technology that had reassembled bodies and for the first time in eight years reattached names—individual identities—to those 282 sets of mortal remains.

Among those gathered in the cemetery on that hot summer day were two boys, not more than six and eight years old, who were kneeling beside a grave. It was not one of the empty plots, the dark pits of earth that pocked the northern end of the cemetery awaiting the coffins, but one that had been filled a few months earlier at the memorial center’s first commemoration and mass burial ceremony. Side by side, both boys stared intently at the green wooden marker at the head of the mound. Having just finished reciting prayers for the deceased, the older of the two, who sat closer to the marker, reached out his hand and wiped away the clay-colored dust that had covered the name printed on the small black placard. It was a tender, earnest gesture. Brushing away the stray dirt, he paid homage to a relative whom he probably . . .

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