This week we commemorate 27 years since the Srebrenica Genocide, an atrocity described by the United Nations as the ‘worst crime on European soil since the Second World War’. The Remembering Srebrenica flag has flown outside Bristol’s City Hall all week, and the building was lit up in remembrance on Monday evening.
On 11 July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran and captured Srebrenica, a town in Eastern Bosnia which had been designated as a UN Safe Area. In the days that followed, 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically murdered, with their bodies concealed in mass graves.
Srebrenica was the culmination of a campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ used by Bosnian Serb forces during the conflict from 1992-1995, aiming to create ‘Greater Serbia’, a region free from non-Serbs. Throughout Bosnia, up to 50,000 women and girls suffered sexual violence, a weapon of war utilised to ethnically cleanse the region and terrorise the populace. Concentration camps were established in the Prijedor area, with huge numbers of Bosnian Muslims becoming internally displaced or refugees after being forced from their homes.
Every year, Remembering Srebrenica selects a theme that reflects an aspect of the genocide that needs to be commemorated, but also speaks to communities here in the UK. The theme for 2022 is ‘Combatting Denial: Challenging Hatred’.
The killings at Srebrenica have been classified as genocide by both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia. Despite this fact, denial of the Srebrenica genocide and other crimes against humanity committed across Bosnia remains prevalent at the highest levels, including from the Mayor of Srebrenica and current political leadership of Republika Srpska. These attitudes are also supported by Russia which, in 2015, vetoed a UN resolution to condemn the killings at Srebrenica as a genocide.
In the UK, communities are only too aware of the damaging impact that denial can have for individuals and community cohesion. Divisive propaganda and misinformation are thriving, and clear and established facts are denied and manipulated, frequently resulting in minority communities being scapegoated and vilified to create mistrust and promote hatred that threatens community cohesion. Home Office figures have revealed that the number of recorded hate crimes have doubled in the space of five years. Since last year, numbers of recorded hate crimes have increased by 9% to a record 124,091, with nearly three quarters of those incidents being racially motivated.
We therefore hope that this year’s theme will help empower individuals and communities to better understand and confront the denial which emboldens perpetrators and gaslights their victims, to help create safer, stronger, and more cohesive communities.
As we move back to a fully in person Srebrenica Memorial Week, we are pleased that there will be two national Srebrenica Memorial events held on the 12th and 13th of July. Two receptions will be hosted by the Speaker of the House of Commons, The Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, and the Secretary of State for Education, The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP. We are delighted that His Excellency President Šefik Džaferović, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and His Excellency President Željko Komšić, Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, shall be attending both events alongside MPs, faith leaders and diplomatic staff representing countries around the world.
Equally as importantly, we anticipate a continuation from previous years of more than 1000 memorial events, community activities and acts of commemoration right across the UK. Events will be held in councils, police forces, community centres as well as faith and educational institutions right across the country. We pay thanks to the work of our 1,450 Community Champions, 8 regional boards and 3 country boards whose hard work makes the UK the largest commemorator of the Srebrenica Genocide.