William Hague leads tributes to the Srebrenica genocide victims and calls for a united Bosnia to join the European Union
* Britain honoured those massacred in Bosnia in 1995, hosted Srebrenica Memorial Day at Lancaster House on 11 July
* First and only memorial of the genocide in Europe outside Former Yugoslavia
* Event organised by UK charitable initiative Remembering Srebrenica
* Rt Hon William Hague MP calls for a united Bosnia to honour legacy of victims
* Baroness Warsi speaks of importance of learning from the past to honour future
Survivors of the Srebrenica Genocide spoke out in London on 11 July for the first time against a genocide declared the worst crime in Europe since the Second World War. During 11-16 July 1995, the genocide, which Prime Minister David Cameron believes “shamed Europe and shamed the world,” culminated in the brutal murder of 8,372 Bosnian men and boys, and the inexplicable mass rape and torture of tens of thousands of women, with men sent to concentration camps by the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska, under the command of General Ratko Mladic.
For the first time in history, survivors, politicians and government officials gathered in London at Lancaster House to commemorate theanniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide organised by UK-based charitable initiative Remembering Srebrenica. The Rt Hon William Hague spoke at the event, calling for a united Bosnia to lead the way into the European Union, which Rt Hon Lord Paddy Ashdown called “a Bosnia whole, free and undivided and a member of the European Union.” Said Hague: “This must be the lasting tribute to Srebrenica and its victims… let us honour their memory and reaffirm the conviction that this, one of the starkest and most tragic chapters in human history, and most certainly European history must never be forgotten.”
The UK is the only country in Europe outside Ex-Yugoslavia to commemorate Srebrenica Memorial day, in accordance with a 2009 EU Resolution establishing 11 July as the official day of remembrance for the victims of the Srebrenica Genocide. The day included survivors being hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron at No 10 Downing Street.
Added Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities and the Department for Communities and Local Government, Baroness Warsi: “We must not allow for future generations to forget, we must not forget that BH still has many challenges and at a time when hatred tragically across Europe continues to grow, in so many different forms with so many different faces it’s important we remember the hatred of the past and learn from it to try to stop the hatred of the future.” Speaking ahead of speeches by Srebrenica Genocide survivors, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said: “After all the torments of the 20th century, after all the lessons of history, after all the examples, it turns out that we, Europeans, are still capable of slaughtering our fellow citizens. Because of what happened, because of what we are capable of, the voices we are about to hear must never be silenced.”
Genocide survivors Hasan Hasanovic, Saliha Osmanovic and Hasan Nuhanovic recounted their stories. Hasanovic is one of the few survivors of the 63 mile ‘Death March’ from Srebrenica to Tuzla, which claimed the lives of his father and twin brother. Some 15,000 men set off, but thousands were massacred in the forests. Osmanovic witnessed the murder of her husband and son through a video filmed by Bosnian Serb troops on the Death March. Author Nuhanovic’s family were denied UN protection, and handed over by the Dutch to the Bosnian Serb Army. Their remains were unearthed in mass graves. Nuhanovic sued the Dutch government and won.
The evening was MCd by Martin Bell OBE, who covered the Bosnian war as a news reporter, and included a musical tribute composed by Yousuf Islam (Cat Stevens), and a soprano performance by Aida Corbadzic.
Selected Excerpts from Speeches:
UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague:
“As we all here tonight well know, it’s 18 years ago this week that more than 8000 men and boys were murdered at Srebrenica by the Bosnian Serb forces of General Ratko Mladic … an act of genocide delivered on European soil only five decades after the liberation of Nazi death camps in 1945. This evening we remember those innocent victims and we pay tribute to their incredible strength and fortitude and we renew our determination never to let the forces of prejudice, hatred and evil go unchecked. It is sadly true, as others have observed this evening; that the world can’t honestly say that it will always prevent such events from happening again… But we can say that we will do our utmost to learn from them and do everything we can to prevent such events happening again… many of those that lost loved ones over those fateful ten days have spent the past 18 years seeking justice. That includes the mothers of Srebrenica, some of whom I met during my visit to the town in 2009, and who left an indelible impression on me… seeing their unshakable determination to rebuild their lives and hold the perpetrators to account was a moment that touched me deeply and one I will never forget. Sadly, between 20,000 and 50,000 women are estimated to have been raped during the course of the war. This impunity must be tackled and we must work towards removing the stigma that keeps so many of the victims from seeking justice. This is part of our campaign to eradicate sexual violence in conflict, the United Kingdom is working with Bosnian authorities to begin addressing this tragic legacy…. If we are to prevent such crime from being repeated wherever we can, then it is our duty to ensure [the Srebrenica victims] are never forgotten and today’s event is part of that remembrance process… accepting the truth, dealing with its legacy and dealing with the policies of reconciliation instead of division if Bosnia-Herzegovina is to deal with a more prosperous future… I say to the Bosnian people: your destiny is in your own hands. We will never give up on you and we will always stand by you. We will always keep the door open, the European Union and NATO for you, but it is your path to walk through it and you should demand nothing less from your leaders than that they work to take the necessary steps. Today, as we remember the innocent victims of Srebrenica I urge the country’s political leaders to work together and I remind them of their duty towards their citizens who deserve all of the benefits of working together with the whole of the EU in the 21st century. If you fail to work towards that goal then you fail your own children and your own future. This must be the lasting tribute to Srebrenica and its victims… let us honour their memory and reaffirm the conviction that this, one of the starkest and most tragic chapters in human history, and most certainly European history must never be forgotten.”
Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government:
“The bitter burning shame, and the question for all of us here, is what do we do with our shame when we hear of such horrors and brutality and depravity in our continent? Why is bearing witness so important? Because bearing witness is the best way to ensure we never forget. Never forgetting is the best way to try and ensure ‘never again’. It was Edmund Burke who said ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ and the truth is we did nothing… the truth is that we have to will action and we have to will the means, and as we look around the world and look at what happened in Srebrenica and what is happening in some parts of the world we have not created those means yet. It is every one of our‘s responsibly to ensure that we do… ”
Rt Hon Lord Paddy Ashdown:
“It rained today in Potocari… the graves were full of water. I remember Potocari, I remember the 11th july, hot and burning under the sun, a great cloud of dust put up by the mourners, thousands of mourners…. The little coffins covered in green cloth, dancing on upheld hands. Dancing, ladies and gentlemen, because there was nothing in them, just little shards of bone and a few scraps of hair, that’s what the bodies have been identified by…. This terrible sin is a sin before every religion…. It is one of the places, just as much as Auschwitz, which people should go to remember. We said never again and it happened, again and again and again…. It happens today. It happens in Syria. It happens even in the name of Islam. So the memorial I want for today is a living memorial, that this astonishing little country of Bosnia-Herzegovina joins the only community of the European Union….. Let the memorial I wish for this day be a living Bosnia, a Bosnia whole, free and undivided and a member of the European Union.”
Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities at the Department for Communities and Local Government, Baroness Warsi:
“It was only many years later that I came face to face with the horror of what happened [in Bosnia], when I visited Srebrenica and met the mothers and stood there in the sweltering heat on 11 July while mothers and sisters buried their men, and I saw a community which was left devastated…. It is incredibly important for us to be the first country to start to say that the 11 July is to be commemorated, that we must not allow for future generations to forget. We must not forget that Bosnia-Herzegovina still has many challenges and at a time when hatred tragically across Europe continues to grow, in so many different forms with so many different faces it’s important we remember the hatred of the past and learn from it to try to stop the hatred of the future.”
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:
“Right at the very heart of Europe, all those hopes turned to ash as the army of ghosts descended from the mountains beyond Srebrenica, with accounts of husbands, fathers and sons, murdered in cold blood. History had obscenely repeated itself and the 11th July became another day to enter into the index of infamy. [The massacre] was the worst crime committed on our continent since the holocaust. Today the spectre of Srebrenica casts a long and flickering shadow. The shock remains, as raw as it did then… it’s under a day’s journey from the gates of Auschwitz to Srebrenica. And after all the torments of the 20th century, after all the lessons of history, after all the examples, it turns out that we, Europeans, are still capable of slaughtering our fellow citizens. So because of what happened, because of what we are capable of, the voices we are about to hear must never be silenced.”
Hasan Hasanovic, Survivor and Curator at the Potocari Memorial Center:
“I moved back to Srebrenica in 2009 when I started to work for the [Potocari] memorial centre as a curator and translator. I am married and I have a beautiful daughter who is now three. What I do on a daily basis is painful because I have to recount my story five or six times a day. But I want to speak to people and share my story because my heart beats and now, finally, someone is listening. Thanks to the organisers of this event, Remembering Srebrenica and the UK Government, I can now say, Srebrenica is not going to be forgotten.”
Archbishop of Westminster, The Most Rev Vincent Nichols:
“I share with all of us humility and a sense of shame at what we have heard and what has happened and what we strive to understand… I would like to thank all those who have both, this evening, and over the years, made these events visible to us. I would like to thank photographers, journalists, reporters like Martin Bell, publishers who made sure that these things did not remain hidden so that we are humbled, have to face these facts, and that the facts are never lost. But I would like to say this evening that in my view, and I’m sure in the view of many people in this room, that religious faith is not a problem that we have to solve, it is a resource that we must discover again and learn to receive and integrate into our lives properly… Today the 11th July has got a deep new meaning for me in my life. Today the 11 July in our calendar is also the feast of St Benedict, the founder of European monasticism and one of the phrases associated with the Benedictine order is ‘Pax Inter Spinas’ – peace among the thorns. We’ve certainly felt the thorns of man’s inhumanity this evening, may this also be for us a source of peace together in Europe.’
Chairman of Remembering Srebrenica, Waqar Azmi OBE:
“Remembering Srebrenica, as painful, as harrowing as it is, is vital so we can show that hatred never takes hold in this way again. It is particularly special to be holding this event in London. In 2009 the European parliament declared that 11 July was to be designated as a memorial day for the Genocide of Srebrenica. This country should be proud, proud of being the first country in Europe to put that into practice, sending out a clear message that we stand with Bosnia and we stand against hatred together.”