Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Srebrenica Survivor Ponders Mladic Capture

Arrest offers little comfort to woman whose husband and sons were among those killed after the fall of the town.
By Marija Arnautovic
  • Srebrenica massacre memorial  - the wall of names. (Photo: Wikimedia)
    Srebrenica massacre memorial - the wall of names. (Photo: Wikimedia)

I will never forget my visit to the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica last fall. The visit took place during the Muslim Eid holiday, when families get together, share a nice meal and celebrate. Eid is a religious holiday, meant to be spent with one’s family.

But Hatidza Mehdmedovic spent this holiday alone, as she did many other holidays over the last several years.

Hatidza's husband and two sons were killed in July 1995, when Bosnian Serb army, VRS, captured Srebrenica. Around 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were murdered in one of the biggest massacres on the European soil since the World War II.

Hatidza fled Srebrenica at the time, but returned to her pre-war home in this town in 2002. Today, she lives alone in a big, empty house.

I came to Srebrenica in November last year to interview relatives of the victims for the radio programme I was working on and find out what they thought about the slow pace with which the local authorities were prosecuting war crimes suspects.

Hatidza was one of the women I interviewed and I accompanied her when she went to the victims’ memorial in Potocari near Srebrenica – where thousands of exhumed and identified victims of the massacre have been buried – because she wanted to pay a visit to her sons’ graves.

Hatidza is a tall, strong woman, but she looked so frail when she leaned over the white headstones, touching them gently with her hand.

“My children will never again come and wish me a happy Eid. But I can come to them,” she said, wiping away her tears.

Hatidza's house is only a few kilometers from the memorial. She walks to Potocari almost every day to be close to the graves of her husband and sons. There she meets other women who come to visit the final resting places of their loved ones. They talk and comfort each other.

”My children are my wound that will never heal, regardless of what happens to those who killed them,” she told me last November, when former VRS chief Ratko Mladic was still at large.

On May 26, Mladic was arrested in Belgrade, after being on the run for 16 years. He is charged with genocide in Srebrenica.

But his arrest didn’t bring Hatidza any peace.

“Nothing can bring my two sons back,” she told me when I called her to find out what she thought about the fact that Mladic had been finally brought to justice.

“To us mothers, the arrest of Ratko Mladic will not change anything. Our children are gone forever. We will never be able to forget that, nor forgive.”

Marija Arnautovic in an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.