Haris Hromic – UN remarks on the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide, July 10, 2015

Photo: Monument to the Srebrenica Massacre by Kathleen Franklin (CC).

Remembering and documenting the Srebrenica genocide is a lifelong process. It is a generational process.

It is a generational process. Over the past two weeks, this institution [the UN], including today’s event and with the scheduled event tomorrow, July 11, is making its contribution to this important process.

Social science teaches us that it takes about three decades before society is ready to deal with consequences of genocide—to engage openly and willingly in defining truth and engaging in the process of reconciliation. We are at the cusp of this period.

Since the declines of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, and through the great wars of the 20th century, the Balkans’ inability to deal with global geopolitical realities has cost its people irreparable loss of human life, massive and in some cases permanent destruction of cultural heritage, and continued erosion of multigenerational wealth.

In that context the Srebrenica genocide can be only understood as the final warning for decisive corrective action. 

Post-war democratic societies often come with severe structural impediments, limited accountability, and challenged judicial effectiveness. Progress in such transitional societies depends on their ability to accept democracy with pluralism, which is often difficult to achieve. Bosnia is certainly a case in point.  

Pluralism for that matter is best achieved through education about oneself and others, and by exploring the ways by which we interconnect and coexist in the most productive and synergetic ways. It is about understanding the real costs of socially destructive policies and creating collective mechanisms to avoid them.

In a diverse and multi-ethnic society we quickly realize that we are not an isolated player but that our wellbeing depends on those around us.

The promise of the 21st century is the freedoms we enjoy, where the knowledge and lessons of such a difficult past can be impressed upon future generations without fear. 

To do that, we must create actionable knowledge capable of strengthening people’s emotional and intellectual wellbeing.

Therefore, pursuing a comprehensive program for national genocide and mass atrocities prevention cannot be the task of any one community alone.

It requires commitment that transcends national borders, commitment that is powerful enough to pierce the veil of national sovereignty when warranted. 

We must strive to have a society that is free of fear, a society that has the moral courage to advance scientific thinking not clouded by emotions, and most importantly, we must create a society that will safeguard impartial judicial standards. 

Peace, justice, and reconciliation initiatives led by any one of the ethnic groups in Bosnia lack acceptance of their benevolent intentions and they continue to be rejected, regardless of the strength of arguments found in court rulings or readily verifiable historical facts.

While the historical record must not be forgotten, it is important that we not burden the new generation of Bosnians with a desire for retribution, but endow them with a strong sense of justice and common responsibility for mutual safety, security, and moral dignity.

In order to begin overcoming the deficit of trust and credibility amongst our communities we are finding ways to partner up with leading global institutions such as the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, the most renowned international center for the study of the prevention of genocide.

Through this partnership we have implemented the first phase of the National Genocide and Mass Atrocities Prevention program for Bosnia and Herzegovina that started in 2014.

We have drawn on more than half a century of scientific study and practical work by top scholars and practitioners, delivering the most effective approaches for preventing mass atrocities and reaching reconciliation. 

Our goal is to develop a standing curriculum for institutions of higher learning whose scientific and academic rigor and creditability of facts is beyond any reasonable dispute.

We are convinced that free standing universities, educational institutions and private schools will adopt it as a part of their core curriculum because it will create value for their students. Simply put, the ability to avoid mass atrocities has rewarding effects in every aspect of our livelihood, from enhancing individual security and supporting economic well-being and preservation of multigenerational wealth, to basic personal fulfillment in proudly preserving cultural heritage and achieving an individual and collective sense of prosperity.

As we reflect on Srebrenica today, let's for a moment consider the notion that complicity, deceit and /or denial by perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities is not as half as bad as victims' (society's) inability to counter a future threat; or for that matter to fail to realize that one still exists. The penalty for such ignorance is a repeated punishment; and in the Balkans the punishment is never light.  

"We must keep the moral outrage alive." Professor Elazar Barkan of Columbia University reminded us of our duty at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York on the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide. As you can see, we have graduated from the Museum to the halls and chambers of the United Nations, including the Security Council.

When it comes to such duties, time stands still and our moral obligation is absolute and never-ending.

In that regard, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia verdicts can at best be a partial measure of satisfaction and justice. The full measure of justice will be delivered by our collective preparedness to prevent future aggression and atrocities.

On July 8th, in this very building, 70 years since the Holocaust, 20 years since the Srebrenica Genocide and 10 years since the Responsibility to Protect commitment challenged the Westphalian System that has been with us since 1648, the Security Council has, in my judgment, positively shocked our shared sense of humanity.  

On that day the Bosnian Permanent Mission to the United Nations was not alone. That day we had 10 ambassadors on the Security Council who were serving the Bosnian cause, the cause of humanity, defending the dignity of Srebrenica and its people, proudly and justly and accepting them as equal in right and status.  I use this opportunity to thank Ambassador Mirsada Colakovic for her diplomatic eloquence and grace in orchestrating the July 1st Commemoration at the UN--we can only hope that your next post as ambassador will be Moscow. It seems that they need help.

The tide has turned at the Security Council. The ethical awakening has reached its critical velocity. We are finally ready to move forward.  The next 20 years shall be dedicated to restoring our collective dignity and fully ensuring European security. It is an inevitable course for Europe and the Western world. It is the path that we must walk if we truly desire justice with truth and security for all Europeans. 

But June 8th was also a moment when we must recognize that world is guided by two sets of values and standards. It indeed is a clash of values. A clash that is more destructive than any clash of civilization could ever be.

We must work even harder to overcome the schism of values we have witnessed in the Security Council.

Let’s make sure our future is firmly embedded in the newly found synchronicity of values among our European partners and the United States and all those member nations that stood firm in defense of human dignity as the Security Council’s Srebrenica Resolution came to a vote on June 8.

You may think that resolution was defeated with a single veto, whereas in fact for the first time, so widely and so highly, our struggle has been legitimized, our effort reinvigorated, and our commitment and purpose reaffirmed. 

At this juncture it is worth looking back and exploring how we got there and what needed to be accomplished to document facts and build  a system of institutional memory and collective responsibility for such actions to become reality.

Just to name a few, we will start with the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia: ICTY. 

In 1998, Radislav Krstić, the Bosnian Serb general who commanded the Bosnian Serb military in overrunning Srebrenica in July 1995, was indicted by the ICTY for  genocide. In 2001 he was convicted of genocide and sentenced to 46 years in prison.

In 1999, the UN published the “Srebrenica Report,” detailing its failure to stop the Bosnia massacre. This masterpiece of ethical diplomacy by then ambassador of Jordan and now High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, and Bosnia’s Ambassador to UN Mohamed Sacirbey, to name just two prominent actors, cannot be understated in its importance. Along with the workings of the ICTY the Report began to establish an institutional character of Srebrenica remembrance in a global, political, and legal context.

In 2001, The Hague tribunal found Serbs guilty of widespread and systematic enslavement and torture of Bosnian Muslim women. Mass rape and sexual enslavement in time of war was for the first time regarded as a crime against humanity, a charge second in gravity only to genocide. Foca Case was just one representative sample of Serbian methods of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Rape was not simply an individual action but it involved a chain of command.

A young  judge at the time, Nusreta Sivac, was one of over 20,000 Bosnian Muslim women raped in concentration camps in Bosnia, as estimated by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Partly thanks to Judge Sivac's efforts to gather testimony from women across Bosnia, rape has been categorized as a war crime under international law. It is the strength of one woman and thousands of courageous and selfless testimonies that ended impunity for the perpetrators a gift to every woman threatened by war and sexual enslavement.

For a moment, fast forward to the July 1st UN Srebrenica commemoration event and reflect for a moment on Adisada Dudic’s powerful UN appearance. A Srebrenica survivor who was a helpless 5-year-old child at the time of the genocide, and is today a Cornell Law- trained, practicing lawyer in Washington, DC, Adisada certainly gave me an ever greater confidence that justice will be attained and truth will prevail and reach the minds and perhaps one day the hearts of our neighbors.

“Denial,” Adisada said, “does not make the facts go away, it does not change the past and certainly does not erase memory”—a message she memorably and powerfully delivered to the UN diplomatic corps, the leadership of the United Nations and ICTY, and most importantly to those who should have been there but chose not to face the truth yet again. 

If we have a hard time agreeing on the horrors of the Srebrenica genocide how will we bear the burden of war crimes perpetrated against Bosnian Muslim women: rape, enslavement, and torture? That burden is yet to be fully addressed, both in terms of legal consequences and national reconciliation. Both, the guilt of perpetrators and the silence of their own majority on one side, and victims’ burden of pain are enormously hard to reconcile. This is a crime not only against Bosnian Muslim and Bosniak mothers, sisters, and daughters, but also a crime against all women.

As a society we must achieve conditions that will allow citizens to readily recognize and counter reprehensible behavior, denial of past crimes, or glorification of morally repugnant history.

Denial is never an option and it must be countered everywhere. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, we shall fight them in the streets, we shall fight them in the fields and hills, we shall fight them in the schools and classrooms, we shall fight them in parliaments. We shall fight them in the halls of arts and science, and we shall prevail, we shall fight until justice is served and truth respected.

Furthermore, in 2003, the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial was opened by former U.S. President, Bill Clinton who at this very occasion said “  … Srebrenica was the beginning of the end of genocide in Europe. [...] We remember this terrible crime because we dare not forget, because we must pay tribute to the innocent lives, many of them children, snuffed out in what must be called genocidal madness. [...]

The Srebrenica Genocide Memorial remains a lasting reminder and a final resting place for Srebrenica genocide victims. Tomorrow we will put to rest another 136 remains of our fathers, our sons, our brothers.

Closer to home, here in New York City, in 2005 we opened one of the first salvos of institutionalized remembrance by partnering with the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.

In 2005 and 2006, our communities in the United States managed to secure the sponsorship and passage of House Resolution 199 and Senate Resolution 134, thereby legislatively institutionalizing the truth about the character of the Bosnian war, clearly recognizing its character as aggression and genocide.

In 2009, we had our eyes set on the European Parliament. We have helped initiate the effort and deliver the text of the Srebrenica resolution to the European Parliament, based on which it proclaimed that July 11th will be the day of remembrance for the Srebrenica genocide in the European Union, while inviting countries in the region to do the same.

In March 2010, on the back of mounting pressure from the actions delivered in the United States and EU, the Serbian parliament passed a landmark resolution apologizing for the 1995 Srebrenica “massacre.” But it stopped short of calling the Bosnian war killings genocide.

In 2011, the Srebrenica Memorial Flower was designed and now only four years later it is a universal symbol of Srebrenica genocide remembrance!

In 2014, the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina finally declared July 11th the day of remembrance.  Such action still remains impossible on the national level due to Serb objections to accepting the Srebrenica Genocide as both a legal and now historical fact.

In June 2014, we have launched National Genocide and Mass Atrocities Prevention Program for Bosnia and Herzegovina in cooperation with the Auschwitz Institute.

All this and a lot more has led to the June 8th Security Council resolution on Srebrenica.

To that end, truth must remain the cornerstone of our reconciliation efforts. But such truth must reach the level of national consensus the same way that it now represents the consensus among European nations and the United States, as clearly demonstrated by the unanimously accepted resolution in the United States congress on July 8th as well as Srebrenica resolution in the EU Parliament.

Delaying the inevitable is both emotionally destructive and economically repressive.  It is the choice that Bosnian society continues to make and as a consequence continues to endure with great cost.

Last but not least, we must continue to work towards a Bosnia that has equal promise for all of its peoples, a Bosnia that does not reward outcomes of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

We can only hope that the evolution of the Dayton Peace Accord Framework will play out in the theater of democracy rather than in the theater of war. 

We should all look forward to the next 20 years as a time that will deliver a true reformation of Bosnian society, as the Western world consolidates its own set of international norms and values and as we now can finally, with some level of comfort, enjoy having true partners in our struggle for truth, justice, and stability. 

Let’s remember that this institution was not only built to preserve peace but also to engage humanity to manage the horrors and outcomes of wars.  Let us all ensure that justice and truth is satisfied so that we never again fall into a trap of ignorance, hatred, and self-destruction.

It is often said that history is written by the winners. I see this moment as the beginning of that history finally being written!  On the 20th anniversary, we are reaching the momentum that will separate us from cowardice, dishonesty, and ignorance and putting ourselves firmly on the path that states that what happened in Srebrenica has only one name: genocide.

It is our solemn responsibly and duty to never forget, not in this generation, not in any generation; for in doing so we will be that much better prepared to meet future challenges with knowledge, conviction, and capacity to triumph over evil. 

We have to continue to work on declaring July 11th an official day of remembrance at the United Nations, alongside Holocaust and Rwanda Genocide Days and creating a standing UN Srebrenica Outreach Program. After all, the UN failed to fulfill its mandate and lives were lost and genocide was committed on the UN watch in its Safe Zone! 

We must actively continue working on delivering on that commitment. We need tangible action! That is our duty. Our work is not done!

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Haris Hromic is a Carnegie Council trustee. His professional career includes engagements in the financial services industry, the NGO field, government, and academia.

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Tags: Bosnia, Srebrenica, United Nations, genocide

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