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26 years on from the Srebrenica massacre – How to make “never again” a reality

Srebrenica

Chamber was joined this week by Chair of the APPG for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Fleur Anderson MP and Benedict Rogers, co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong watch and co-founder of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. They came together to discuss the Srebrenica massacre which took place 26 years ago and how to prevent future genocides.

Srebrenica

The Srebrenica Massacre was the largest massacre of the ethnic cleansing campaigns that occurred during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War that killed around 100,000 people. During the massacre refugee Bosniak Muslim men and boys were separated out and over several days over 8,000 were executed by Serb forces while many women and girls were subjected to rape.

Ethnic cleansing during the conflict was not only an expression of ethnic hatred but also a political weapon intended to change the post-war borders of states that could have emerged after the conflict. 

Peace has to be built

Apart from her work on the APPG for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Fleur Anderson is an expert on the Bosnian war due to her work their at the time. During her twenties she worked in Bosnia for Christian Aid in Banja Luka, returning four years later with her family to help in rebuilding efforts around Bihać.

What struck her from her time there was that genocide can spark anywhere. Bosnian society, considered a peaceful and diverse society, was a place where one week you could be sending your children to be taught at school by a teacher that the next week could be firing a gun at you. The sobering reality is that society can disintegrate so quickly.

View the full discussion here

Srebrenica memorial day during the Ukraine war

With the war in Ukraine raging on, and ominous reports of the deportation of populations from Russian occupied areas and the russification of services, commemorating the largest genocide on European soil since the Holocaust is an especially salient.

Noting that the UK and the UK Bosnian population are unusually vocal in remembrance of the massacre, Fleur Anderson noted that that there  is a growing denial of the genocide committed in Bosnia, with schools local to Srebrenica not teaching what happened.

On a recent visit she saw the UK’s support for the Srebrenica Memorial Center and heard harrowing accounts of survivors.

Prosecuting Genocide

One of the main avenues of genocide prevention is the prosecution of perpetrators, in their discussion Fleur and Benedict unpacked the problems faced by those seeking justice. It starts at the UN where countries involved in human rights violations of their own and opposed to international intervention oppose the classification of some genocides, these include Russia and China that both retain vetoes on the UN Security Council.

The processes and definition of genocide were each codified after the Second World War and are in need of updating. Following that, it can be difficult for Governments to apply the term to politically important or powerful countries. Denying genocide is an act of political power still exercised on the world stage.

In the UK there have been moves made to take the decision out of the hands of politicians and allow the High Court to designate instances of genocide. This however was too much for the Government who thought that power was too important to delegate. The APPG is now waiting on the Government to formulate their own process to ensure that genocides are more quickly designated, even where they involve powerful countries.

Both Benedict and Fleur noted just how essential it is that war criminals, especially those at the top are prosecuted for their crimes. The deterrent effect of such prosecutions needs to be nurtured.

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Benedict Rogers, co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong

Combatting denial and challenging hatred

Before any progress can be made on preventing genocide the practise of genocide denial must be stamped out. As noted in this discussion, where genocides are denied there can be no foundations of lasting peace, the separation of communities is reinforced, there can be no justice handed down by authorities that have reconciled with the reality of the situation.

Hopeful examples of countries that have begun the hard process of reconciling their population and education to the hard truths of ethnic violence include Rwanda and South Africa. These examples show that trying to forget and move on is no substitute for building a lasting peace.

Final Thought

Days like today are important memorials but are even more important as warnings. By engaging in this most heinous of subjects we can hopefully inoculate ourselves against the terrible violence ethnic and religious tensions can unleash.

Remembering the horror is step one, step two is remembering the nuance. As Fleur said in this discussion, there is a ladder of genocide. It starts with classification, then moves on to symbolisation and then discrimination. The signs are historically obvious and depressingly common. Each step on the ladder makes it all the harder for society to make the right choices. We need to teach people to spot dehumanizing rhetoric, remember previous genocides and remain forever vigilant.

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