In the absence of accountability for the massacre in Bijeljina, Rolling Stone partnered with the Starling Lab to help archive and authenticate key records.
We are providing access to photos, videos, social media posts, and documents from our reporting.
The Starling Lab is a research center co-founded by Stanford University and USC Shoah Foundation to pursue innovation and education in data integrity.
Revisit one of the most iconic images from the Bosnian War — in context with other photos taken that day, some of which we are publishing for the first time.
On April 2, 1992, a young American photographer named Ron Haviv embedded with Arkan’s Tigers.
He captured on film one of the conflict’s first apparent war crimes. Over two days, the Tigers and other allied combatants killed at least 48 people, many of them execution-style, according to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
The photo spread widely as a defining image of the conflict.
In 1993, a year or so after fleeing Bijeljina, Dženita was sitting in the lobby of a doctor’s office in Germany, paging through a magazine to pass time.
She was a refugee, a single mother in a country that was not her own. She wanted to go home.
As Dženita flipped the pages, she stopped at a one in black and white. There, blown up to fit the page, was the photo of the young commando swinging his boot towards her mother-in-law, Tifa.
Someone had combined Haviv’s photo with another black and white picture, of a soccer player kicking a ball next to the bodies of Tifa, Abdurahman and Hamijeta Pajaziti.
There was no photo caption, no photographer credit, no context.
Dženita ripped the page out and stuffed it in her purse. She was “shocked,” she says.
Disinformation has swirled for years around the image, some of it initiated by Arkan himself.
“The photographer which made this picture, he is a friend of mine,” Arkan told British journalist Roger Cook in October 1992.
“This lady was shot by the Muslim sniper,” Arkan said, adding that the man pictured mid-boot-swing was simply trying to see if she was alive, using his foot.
Others have disputed the authenticity of Haviv’s photograph.
Deniers have claimed, without evidence, it was edited in Photoshop or taken out of context. In the ensuing decades, people have misappropriated it to depict other conflicts.
For instance, in 2014, certified IFCN fact checkers noted the image went viral as a blogger falsely claimed that it showed ethnic cleansing in Crimea, Ukraine.
Today, online posts continue to question the photograph’s veracity.
Meanwhile, elected officials and citizens in the region are openly glorifying war criminals and denying that the Bosnian genocide happened.
Arkan’s Tigers, infamous for their brutality in Bosnia, have not been held to account for their role in alleged war crimes, survivors and experts say.
No matter how powerful and disturbing Haviv’s photo is, a single photo rarely leads to accountability.
But this photograph is not alone.
Haviv took several rolls of film in Bijeljina, including photos documenting the moments before and after civilians were gunned down.
He hopes his photographs and eyewitness account will lead to accountability.
Several of the other photographs appear to show the same man, a member of Arkan’s Tigers.
The photos have unique identifying elements linking them to Haviv’s iconic photo of the soldier with the raised boot. Many have not been published until now.
They seem to point to single person: Srđan Golubović.
He resides in Belgrade, where he has worked as a DJ for decades.
To authenticate and preserve these images, Rolling Stone teamed up with the Starling Lab.
They digitized Haviv's slides, developed from the very 35mm film in his camera in Bijeljina decades ago.
Using Starling Lab’s custom-built system, Haviv helped scan the photographs.
Each file was immediately sealed with advanced cryptography to establish that the “authentic” digital pixels came from the scanner we used and were not edited or visually altered.
As each original photo was saved by the scanner, Starling Lab ran it through a math formula that generates a unique ID number, called a “hash” and locked it with an encrypted key.
Think of the result as a digital fingerprint, created and sealed by cryptography.
If someone were to change even a single pixel of Haviv's photos, running the altered image through the same formula couldn't generate a matching fingerprint — which would help expose the fake.
Tens of thousands of servers now hold immutable records of the authenticity of Haviv’s files.
This ensures the archive is more resilient and can withstand the test of time.
You can see the hash in an “Authentication Certificate” made for each document in the archive by clicking the circled icon on the image.
In each certificate you can explore over 10 different cryptographic methods used in the archival process.
Haviv’s photographs captured Arkan’s Tigers in action in Bijeljina.
But many questions remain, including: Who bankrolled the infamous unit? A set of classified Serbian State Security Service payroll logs from 1994 and 1995, obtained by Rolling Stone, suggests some answers.