On 10 July Commissioner Judith Thompson, along with the Chair of Remembering Srebrenica NI Peter Osborne, hosted an event in Belfast to mark the 22nd anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica.
Taking place in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, the event commemorated the 8,372 victims of the massacre on 11 July 1995 - most of whom were Muslim men and boys - killed under orders from General Ratko Mladić and his Bosnian Serb forces.
Guest speakers were Munira Subašić, President of the Mothers of Srebrenica, and Waqar Azmi, founder and Chair of Remembering Srebrenica. They addressed attendees, that included survivors from Srebrenica and members of the CVSNI Victims and Survivors Forum, articulating their experiences and learning such as ‘silence only benefits the perpetrators not the victims, so we all have to speak up’.
They also described the hurt and legacy that the genocide left behind. Survivors have ‘the want to find the bones of loved ones and public acknowledgement of the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina’ with their proudest achievement being that their ‘children who have been educated to the highest standard and have only respect for others regardless of race or religion’.
In May this year, the Commissioner was part of a group that travelled to Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of the ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’ programme to learn about the genocide in Srebrenica. The Commissioner emphasised the significance of this commemoration:
“Today’s event allows us to honour the lives lost at Srebrenica. It also serves as a reminder that we must continue to ensure that the conditions that led to that genocide – and other violent acts that occurred in the past - must not be allowed to happen again. There are lessons for all of us from Srebrenica, especially here in Northern Ireland.
It would be wrong to make direct comparisons between Srebrenica, the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Northern Ireland, but there are some parallels in the complexities of the post-conflict journey. The people I met during my visit told me that acknowledging the wrongdoing of the past can make change happen. They spoke about the importance of maintaining the truth of what happened, but not to let the past dictate the present.”
Ms Thompson went on to stress the importance of the attendance of the Victims and Survivors Forum along with victims and survivors from Srebrenica, and highlighted the need to listen to their voices:
“The attitude of the victims and survivors I met in Srebrenica resonated with me, and reminded me that it is their voice that matters. It is encouraging that the collective voice of the Victims and Survivors Forum here in Northern Ireland is beginning to be recognised by our political representatives. During our recent meetings with Northern Ireland’s main parties, one political representative said that the Forum’s input ‘has the opportunity to correct the political deficit around legacy’ and that political engagement ‘is a way of reconfiguring the process, and moving the attention away from vested interests.’ It is clear that the Forum can make a real and positive difference in the political world and in wider society.”
The Commissioner continued:
“Although each of the 23 Forum members has very different backgrounds and experiences, they share a collective goal – that the events of the past should never happen again.
In striving for a new way of thinking about our past and making a conscious decision not to repeat it, we will be doing a great deal to honour those who died in Srebrenica.”
Peter Osborne, chair of Remembering Srebrenica in Northern Ireland and chair of the Community Relations Council, said:
“The scale and brutality of what happened at Srebrenica is daunting but there are themes that are common in every conflict, including in Northern Ireland. It is wonderful to have Munira Subašić, President of the Mothers of Srebrenica, in Belfast to help us join the dots by talking about Srebrenica as a victim and survivor.
At a time when perpetrators in Srebrenica still don’t recognise what happened there as a genocide, it reinforces how lack of acknowledgement harms efforts at relationship building and reconciliation.”