Remembering the dead of Srebrenica
Published in the Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 12th July 2012
By Baroness Warsi
Earlier this year I stood in the middle of a beautiful, quiet valley in rural Bosnia-Herzegovina. As I do every time I stand there, I asked myself: how could somewhere so peaceful be the site of Europe’s worst atrocity since the Second World War?
That spot in the Drina Valley is the town of Srebrenica, the place where – 17 years ago to the day – eight thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys were rounded up and murdered by Ratko Mladic’s Serb troops. Those hills are the place they fled their attackers. The nearby factory is where they sought shelter, and where they met their end.
Today, dignitaries and victims’ families will once again gather in that valley to remember those who died. 520 newly identified victims of one of Europe’s worst massacres will be buried there. The anniversary also gives the wider world a chance to reflect upon the genocide committed in Srebrenica, and our duty to the people of this town.
Our first duty is to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice. Seventeen years ago today, Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb leader, said to the TV cameras: “Here we are, on July 11, 1995, in Serbian Srebrenica, just before a great Serb holy day.” Seventeen years later he is on trial in The Hague, facing 11 charges: of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. As the Foreign Secretary said in the Hague on Monday: “The lesson of the last two decades is that if you commit war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, you will not be able to rest easily in your bed: the reach of international justice is long and patient, and once set in train, it is inexorable.” There is no expiry date for these crimes, so that even, if like Ratko Mladic, you succeed in evading justice for 16 years, you will eventually be brought to account.
Our second duty is to condemn those who deny the massacre. In 2007, the International Court of Justice ruled that the atrocities carried out by Mladic’s forces constituted genocide. The act was committed with virtual impunity in front of the eyes of the very international community that was there to prevent it, but did not. It failed to act in Srebrenica, as it had failed in Rwanda 12 months earlier. There cannot be true reconciliation until the fact of the slaughter is accepted by all.
Third, we must encourage communities together. Inter-ethnic tensions are stifling regeneration and reconciliation. What Srebrenica needs is leadership in the interests of all its citizens, whatever their ethnicity. It’s a challenge that inspired me to set up a social action venture, Project Maja, in Bosnia three years ago. The sight of Serb and Bosniak volunteers cooperating to create a new IT suite in the local high school shows that the process of regeneration was as important as the outcome, and it was good to return again earlier this year with another project.
Above all, the world’s primary duty is to remember what happened in that Bosnian enclave 17 years ago. That’s why the British Government has supported the establishment of the memorial complex in Srebrenica, contributed to public infrastructure renewal, and supported the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) in its work to identify the remains of those that are still missing.
Of course, the greatest reason for remembering is to ensure the world never lets it happen again. What happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina has shaped events across the world today. I, like many, still carry the guilt. Only last year the UK was faced with a decision whether to act against Colonel Gaddafi as he threatened to massacre his own people in Benghazi. As I sat around the Cabinet table, I thought of Srebrenica.
So as mourners come together today, I hope that we can all renew our commitment to the town and its people so that, one day, Srebrenica will no longer be synonymous with war, murder and suffering, but with optimism, prosperity and hope.