Excellencies, distinguished participants, dear colleagues, I would like to begin by sincerely thanking the organisers of this poignant and important commemoration. To me, remembering what happened in Srebrenica 25 years ago constitutes not only responsibility that we all share in humanity but also an imperative to prevent the commission of such crimes in the future. We therefore must start with the humility to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go from achieving this objective.
Yet, the lessons of Srebrenica make it all too clear that when the signs are there for all to see, we must spare no effort to take action and to prevent such tragedies. I have heard and shared this call for recognition and action very often but to me it comes louder and clearer when expressed by those who have suffered the horrors of the past. In Srebrenica, the voice of the relatives of the victims, especially the mothers of Srebrenica, remain a source of inspiration for us all. I applaud their efforts to push for justice and to campaign the call for remembrance.
Two years ago, I had the honour of visiting the Mothers at the Potocari Memorial Centre. On that occasion, I stood with them in fields that have witnessed unbearable suffering. I travelled to Srebrenica to honour the Mothers fight for justice and to pay tribute to their fathers, their brothers, their husbands, their sons and in some cases their entire families. These innocent civilians lost their lives when the most terrible of crimes was committed, the crime of genocide. But remembering is not only about revisiting the events of the past. When we memorialise past events, we ask for institutional support to the survivors and to those who mourn the lives that were lost.
Memorialising is about telling them that that experience matters. Not only to each individual but to society as a whole. It is about telling them that they have a unique contribution to make to the future of their country and to the entire humanity. In short, dealing with the past means dealing with the present and dealing with the future.
Victims’ suffering never ends and neither should our embrace of their cause. They should start with the acknowledgement of the integrity of what happened. I remain in this belief that some continue to question that the events of 25 years ago constitute genocide. Dear colleagues, genocide denial is real and concerning. It is presented proudly by people of influence and people with power. It is used to achieve political gain. It is equalled by non accountable media organisations and platforms. It is spread via social media. It sews fear, mistrust and hate. It divides people, communities and states. It does not allow for healing and empathy. Instead it is part of a well thought out strategy to deliberately push aside inconvenient facts, always at the expense of the victims and survivors. The International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has determined conclusively that genocide was committed in Srebrenica in 1995. The International Court of Justice as well as national courts have consistently reached the same conclusion. Denying the seriousness of what happened or even that crimes happened at all is a grave offence that has real consequences. Genocide denial is an affront to the victims and an inpenetrable barrier to any meaningful effort for reconciliation. It simultaneously fits on and strengthens contested narratives about the past, the present and the future. It turns perpetrators and war criminals into heroes. We must counter genocide denial strongly. All political leaders and all people in a position of influence, including religious leaders, must combat negative rhetoric and the glorification of war criminals with words of compassion and empathy to overt the pain and suffering of their neighbours, victims, survivors and witnesses. The very people who we are honouring today are the true heroes. They have displayed immense courage by coming to the courts to testify against those who harmed them and others, those who gave orders to target civilians during conflict, those who flouted the Geneva Conventions.
Despite the passage of many years, victims and survivors never gave up hope that they would see justice. We must always remember their suffering and honour their cause.
Excellencies, distinguished participants, dear colleagues, the lessons of Srebrenica compels us to urgently take immediate action now. At the United Nations, reflections on the failure to prevent what happened in Srebrenica was instrumental to the establishment of the position of Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide which I have the honour to hold. This position is tasked with collecting and analysing information as well as sounding the alarm whenever and wherever the risk of genocide exists.
Many of the risk indicators that we use today globally are informed by the lessons that we learned from the events that preceded the Srebrenica genocide. Those lessons have been learned by many. Here in the United Kingdom, Remembering Srebrenica is working to raise awareness on the terrible tragedy and to educate on the consequences of hatred and intolerance. This work is essential everywhere. No society is immune to the risk of genocide and other related atrocity crimes. The global rise in hate speech, intolerance and the denigration of entire groups is of great concern. We must redouble our efforts to confront hatred where we find it. Ultimately we all share the same objective, to work towards a world free of hate and division in which crimes, such as the ones that were committed in Srebrenica, no longer happen.
A world that has learned the lessons of the past and a world where communities can live together in peace and dignity as it is their inherent right. Acknowledging the truth about what happened and empathising with those who have suffered greatly constitutes the first and essential step in this direction. Let us never deviate from this commitment. The victims deserve no less, neither does our common humanity. I thank you very much.