By commemorating the Srebrenica genocide, we can help ensure its victims are never forgotten
‘ The importance of commemorating the Srebrenica genocide is heightened by the continued denial of what happened’. Image: PA
Events around the world in the past few years further reinforce the importance of remembering the horrors that took place in Srebrenica 25 years ago
Many of us will remember seeing images of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina on our televisions during the 1990s. We both remember watching with horror the footage of Sarajevo under siege, people being held in concentration camps and slowly learning about the reports of atrocities being committed across Bosnia which culminated in genocide taking place on European soil just fifty years after the world pledged ‘Never Again’.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide where, over a period of just a few days in July 1995, over eight thousand people, mainly Bosnian Muslim men and boys, were systematically murdered by Bosnian Serb forces because of their identity. The victims’ bodies were dumped in mass graves and later moved to secondary and even tertiary mass graves as the Bosnian Serb soldiers sought to cover up what they had done. 25 years on, there is still a significant number of the victims whose remains are missing.
The anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide provides an opportunity to commemorate and reflect on what happened. Despite the current Covid-19 restrictions, individuals and organisations right across the UK have organised events and activities to mark this anniversary, with schools running virtual lessons, local councils holding virtual memorial events and faith institutions including prayers in their virtual services. In addition to all these activities, the UK National Srebrenica Memorial Day commemoration will be held online at 7pm tonight with contributions from the Prime Minister and the Prince of Wales, along with survivors and relatives of the victims.
At this point, it is worth considering why the Srebrenica genocide should continue to be commemorated. On this 25th anniversary, we believe that there are several important reasons for doing so.
Firstly, it is important to recognise the suffering of the victims, their loved ones and the survivors. We have both had the privilege of visiting Bosnia and meeting survivors and some of the Mothers of Srebrenica. These are inspirational individuals who, despite experiencing the very worst of humanity, have shown great strength and determination to rebuild their lives and resist hatred. By commemorating the Srebrenica genocide, we can help to ensure that the victims are not forgotten.
The importance of commemorating the Srebrenica genocide is heightened by the continued denial of what happened, both in Bosnia and around the world.
To be clear, the events of the Srebrenica genocide have been documented in forensic detail by the investigations of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Despite this, Bosnian Serb political leaders in Republika Srpska, one of the two entities that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina today in which Srebrenica is located, continue to deny or minimise the events that occurred.
These events demonstrate where hatred and the dehumanisation of others can lead. Reflecting on them can strengthen our resolve to stand up to hatred in our own society
However, this denial is not limited to figures in the Western Balkans. For example, the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Peter Handke, a known denier of the Srebrenica genocide and apologist for the Slobodan Milošević regime.
Events around the world in the past few years further reinforce the importance of remembering what happened in Srebrenica. There are worrying similarities between Srebrenica and the plight of the Rohingya, for example. Indeed, beyond the most extreme cases, there are numerous examples around the world of people being targeted and killed because of their identity or beliefs. It is therefore critical that we continue to remember and reflect on events such as Srebrenica.
Closer to home, we believe that the Srebrenica genocide and the events leading up to it contain important lessons for the UK and beyond. We recognise that there are certainly clear differences between Bosnia in the 1990s and the UK today.
Nonetheless, these events demonstrate where hatred and the dehumanisation of others can lead. Reflecting on them can strengthen our resolve to stand up to hatred in our own society. While we recognise that much has been achieved in terms of building a cohesive society in the UK, there remains much work still to do.
According to Home Office figures released last autumn, police-recorded hate crime in England and Wales has risen consistently over the past several years. Standing up to hatred in the UK remains extremely necessary.
For all these reasons, we argue that it is vitally important to continue to remember and learn from the Srebrenica genocide. We must not allow the suffering of the victims and the survivors to be forgotten or denied. And we must remain vigilant against hatred and intolerance, both around the world and in our own society. Standing together makes us stronger.
Lord Nick Bourne and Yasmin Qureshi MP are co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on Srebrenica