Speech

Remembering Srebrenica reception: PM speech

The Prime Minister held a reception at Downing Street to mark 20 years since the Srebrenica genocide.

Well, thank you for those words, and thank you Grand Mufti for those prayers, and thank you everyone for coming today. It is so important that we are here today, and it’s so important that we are commemorating those terrible events of 20 years ago. So important because this was the biggest act of genocide – and it’s right we call it genocide – on the continent of Europe since the Holocaust. It’s important that we’re here and we’re remembering because this is a story that is not yet over; still today there are bodies being identified, bodies being buried, work being done that is absolutely vital in remembering this horrific event.

But it’s also important, as has been said, that we remember so we do not repeat. President Obama gave a wonderful speech in that church in Charleston a few weeks ago, and he said that history must never be a shield against progress; instead, history must be a manual for making sure we don’t repeat the errors of the past. And it’s in those terms that we meet here today, and you’re so welcome in Number 10 Downing Street.

Let me say a word about remembrance, a word about justice, and a word about the future. In terms of remembrance, I know there are very many important ceremonies taking place, and of course on 11 July in Bosnia will be the most important of those ceremonies. But I’m proud that the United Kingdom I think is now the second-largest commemorator of those terrible events at Srebrenica, with the service there was today and I think many dozens of memorials all over the United Kingdom. And we’re determined to go on playing our part, not least with the vital work being done at the United Nations to draft and agree a proper resolution that commemorates these appalling events 20 years ago, referring to them correctly as genocide and being clear that those who deny them are genocide deniers. So we will go on remembering, we will go on commemorating, for the reasons that I’ve given.

In terms of justice, there is still more to be done, not just in relation to these terrible events, but others like them. And that is why we have always supported the International Tribunal process, and that is why Britain has led on this issue of preventing sexual violence in conflict, with conferences held here, with work done here, with it being a major foreign policy aim for all our embassies, for all our ambassadors, and for all the work we do around the world in conflict prevention and ensuring justice.

But it’s also important that we look to the future. I think it is extraordinary how much has been achieved in the Balkans since those terrible days in the 1990s, but this is ongoing work. All I can promise is that Britain, with other allies, will continue investing in your country, working with your country, seeking to help and improve and reform your country, because we believe in the future of Bosnia. My own party has proved that with Baroness Warsi, who led social action programme Project Maja year after year, with Members of Parliament and other supporters going out and trying to make a difference on the ground. And we know how important it is to hold out the hope of membership of the vital institutions of Europe, including the European Union, for the years ahead.

So, thank you for coming. Thank you for allowing Britain to play this role in commemorating these terrible events. It’s an honour to have you here in Number 10 Downing Street. It’s an honour to know that there are survivors with terrible stories to tell about what they went through in those days, days when over 8,300 people were brutally murdered on our own continent. And that is what we should hold on to: the scale of what happened, the appalling nature of what happened, and the fact we will never forget.

And I think it’s important also to British Muslims to know what a vital part of our country you are, and when there are appalling events like this Britain will always work to avoid them, Britain will properly commemorate them, because we know that Islamophobia should have no part in our country or in our national life.

This is something that every European country has to aim to achieve: to be a successful multiracial democracy where opportunity is genuinely open to all, where we live alongside each other whatever god we worship, whatever the colour of our skin. I’m not saying Britain is perfect – we still have so much to do – but that’s the sort of country we want to be, where you can rise as high as your talent will allow, and where we know that Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, can live together not just in harmony, but in happiness and in success. That is what we believe in our country; that is what we want for every country in Europe, Bosnia included.

So, thank you for coming. Thank you for what you do. Thank you to the survivors for giving your testimony. It must be an easier thing to turn away and try not to relive the past, but instead to forget. But by giving your testimony, by teaching young people of what happened 20 short years ago, you provide a vital service so that we all remember. And so let us above all dedicate today to you, to your memories, to the relatives you lost, but the service you give us today. Thank you.