In 1995, at the height of the Bosnian war, more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were taken from a United Nations safe-area in the town of Srebrenica and killed.
During and after the conflict, a team of Physicians for Human Rights investigators led efforts to document what happened at Srebrenica and the sites of other atrocities across the former Yugoslavia, exhuming and identifying remains in several large mass graves. At the invitation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, we gathered evidence that proved that the men and boys at Srebrenica were executed, many with their hands tied behind their backs, and dumped in mass graves.
The UN Protection Forces only had a mandate to guard survivors, not human remains, so PHR’s Dr. William Haglund – who headed the international team of archaeologists, anthropologists, and pathologists – rolled out a sleeping bag at the edge of the graves. Sleeping near the dead, he said, was the only way he could safeguard the integrity of the site and make sure that no one tampered with the evidence.
After months of painstaking excavations, and years of legal proceedings, the forensic evidence collected by PHR finally helped secure justice for the victims of the Srebrenica massacre: in 2016, the Tribunal convicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and, in 2017, commander Radko Mladic of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, and sent them to prison for life.