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Remembering Srebrenica: Honour Victims, Survivors By Preventing Future Atrocities, UN Experts Urge

UN human rights experts today urged governments to honour victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide by building peaceful, inclusive and just societies to prevent a repetition of such an atrocity.

“Genocides are not spontaneous,” the 17 experts said. “They are the culmination of unchallenged and unchecked intolerance, discrimination and violence.” On the 25th anniversary of the start of the genocide, in which at least 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were massacred within a few days, the experts* issued the following statement:

“It’s been 25 years since the world witnessed the worst atrocity to take place on European soil since World War II, the genocide of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in July 1995. The Srebrenica genocide was the outcome of a four-year campaign that marshalled the forces of discrimination, hostility, forced deportation, arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, systematic sexual violence and mass murder, resulting in the killing of more than an estimated 8,000 predominantly Bosnian Muslim men and boys. 

The international community also failed to protect the people of Srebrenica who were killed at the time when they needed our support most.

In remembrance of those whose lives were taken so brutally in this massacre, we are humbled by, and pay particular tribute to, the courage, strength and resilience of the Srebrenica and Žepa survivors who stand with millions of others as totems of the unspeakable devastation that unchecked xenophobia discrimination, hostility and violence against persons based on religion or belief can engender.

The graphic accounts and testimonies of the heinous acts of violence and ethnic cleansing (including sexual violence against women and children) that took place in Srebrenica amounted to genocide, according to both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The besieged town was intended to be a safe haven for persecuted people from nearby villages. On 16 April 1993, the UN Security Council had passed Resolution 819 requiring all parties to treat ‘Srebrenica and its surroundings as a safe area which should be free from any armed attacks or any other hostile act’.

Genocides are not spontaneous. They are the culmination of unchallenged and unchecked intolerance, discrimination and violence. They are the result of sanctioned hatred fostered in permissive environments where individuals first spread fear, then hatred for material or political gain, fracturing the pillars of trust and tolerance between communities and resulting in devastation for all.

In our interconnected, technologically advanced and diverse world, it is deeply alarming that racism, xenophobia, stigmatisation and scapegoating continue unabated, destabilising or even destroying societies and the lives of individuals around the world.

As international experts vested by the international community with global human rights mandates, we are guided by the lessons of the past. We reflect on the lost opportunities to prevail against systematic human rights violations, not just in Bosnia and Herzegovina but in cases of atrocities elsewhere both before and since. But we also aspire to continue to mobilise the international community in its effort to tackle any expression of ethnic, racial, religious, gender-based or other forms of discrimination, hostility and violence against all persons. These include groups in vulnerable situations, such as religious or ethnic or sexual minorities, migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.

On this day of reflection, 25 years on, we also remember other communities that have been subjected to or are facing mass atrocities purely on the basis of their identity. We urge States and the international community to uphold their obligations, take urgent and effective action to protect those in danger, fend off the virus of hate and discrimination (including online), and ensure accountability.

Building resilience in the post-war era requires respect and empathy for the survivors and their families, and sustained efforts by the leaders of the country to strengthen trust and good-will within and between various communities. Meaningful efforts to combat inaccurate and inflammatory rhetoric and reject discourses of denial are also crucial. The international community, too, must join Bosnia and Herzegovina in acting collectively through committed, long-term work on healing a society ravaged by war. We owe it to all those whom we failed to protect the guarantee of non-repetition through building peaceful, inclusive and just societies.

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