"Next week the world will pause to mourn the loss of over 8,000 people, mainly men and boys, murdered in the Srebrenica genocide"
Statement by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the UK Mission to the UN at the High-level Commemorative Event on the Srebrenica Genocide
Thank you Mirsada for convening this heart-wrenching event.
Mr President, Mr Deputy Secretary-General,
Next week the world will pause to mourn the loss of over 8,000 people, mainly men and boys, murdered in the Srebrenica genocide.
They lost their lives in the single worst atrocity committed on European soil since the Holocaust – less than fifty years after we vowed to save future generations from the scourge of war.
On the 11th July leaders from around the world, and the region, will gather at the Srebrenica memorial in Potocari to remember. They will witness the burial of one hundred and thirty-five victims of the genocide, including eighteen children, who will be finally laid to rest in a custom befitting their Muslim beliefs. Even twenty years on, the heartbreak is not over.
I remember Srebrenica and Potocari vividly from my time as British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the tenth anniversary and on many other visits, I remember row after row of bright, white headstones, the horror of the battery factory, the simple moving commemorations, the grief etched on the faces of mothers. And then, the natural beauty of the valley, making all the more painful the atrocities, the murders, the genocide that happened there. I remember witnessing firsthand the bravery and fortitude of the survivors, men and particularly women who act as a living memorial to what happened. Some of them are here with us today. I pay tribute to them and their testimony. They stand in defiant contrast to the cowardice and hatred perpetrated against them and their loved ones twenty years ago.
As we remember the lives lost and the families torn apart, let us pause also to reflect on the lessons that all of us can learn from Srebrenica. I want to touch on three; the necessity of political will, the power of accountability and reconciliation, and the challenging politics of division.
At Dayton, we came together to end a war and begin a peace that has endured for two decades. It is not a perfect peace and we did not act early enough. We could have predicted the horror that was to come – we heard the poisonous, nationalist rhetoric, we saw the spread of violence that followed. But when political will was most needed to stop the ethnic cleansing, we could not deliver quickly enough.
Our collective failure to protect a UN designated safe area still haunts this organisation.
But we now have even greater access to information, even greater forewarning of impending conflict, atrocities and genocide. We have learnt, and must continue to learn, the lessons from Srebrenica for UN peacekeeping. Above all, when we say ‘never again’ we must mean it – in other words we must ensure that we have learnt that political will is absolutely vital.
Next week the UN Security Council will consider a resolution on Srebrenica. It will commemorate the victims, show solidarity with survivors and call for reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This resolution does not seek to bring up painful divisions nor point the finger of blame. I am sure that every Security Council member who reads the text will see that it is balanced. It is a chance for the Council to reaffirm the whole international community’s commitment to prevent genocide, and war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as to examine the tools at our disposal to do so.
It comes at an important time for the United Nations. This year is marked by a confluence of anniversaries; 70 years of the UN, 10 years of Responsibility to Protect, and now 20 years since Srebrenica. This is the moment for the Security Council to show, through this resolution, that we are committed to making ‘never again’ a reality.
Here today in the General Assembly, we are united in our condemnation of genocide. We are united in an emphatic rejection of those who would deny what happened two decades ago. The acceptance of the truth - that genocide happened, and was allowed to happen five decades after the Holocaust - is a vital first step to reconciliation.
Establishing and accepting this truth has been a long and painful process. For many Bosnians, the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Commission on Missing Persons has helped end the uncertainty. Though it has taken time, the architects of this genocide, Mladic and Karadzic, are now going through the justice process in The Hague. And war crimes trials continue in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region.
And through the dedication of the International Commission on Missing Persons, over two thirds of the people reported missing during the war have now been accounted for. And no other post-conflict country has achieved such a high rate of resolving cases of missing persons. As Adisada so movingly reminded us, this work is essential and can bring a little solace to those whose loved ones were killed. The lessons learnt by the ICMP have gone on to help those missing loved ones in Iraq, Libya and beyond.
Ladies and gentleman,
Though it may be hard to comprehend, twenty years on, there is a positive legacy that we can draw from the “problem from hell” and those darkest days at Srebrenica. It is that Bosnia and Herzegovina today is a sovereign, multi-ethnic, multi-religious country that is making progress towards the European Union.
It is not without its flaws; its politics remains dysfunctional and split largely on ethnic lines. Bosnia’s progress towards Europe has at times faltered. But those who committed these terrible crimes at Srebrenica sought to create a very different future for Bosnia and Herzegovina. And today we can say that they have failed.
There are those who still seek to redraw the borders; who still seek division where there should be unity. We must therefore do all we can to help Bosnia’s leaders promote the politics of hope if their country is to realise the promise of a more secure and prosperous future.
The United Kingdom will play our part. I am proud that we have prepared the resolution commemorating the victims of the Srebrenica genocide. We will all continue to support Bosnia and Herzegovina along its EU path. We stand ready to help build a better future for the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We cannot forget and we will never forget.