Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Remembering Srebrenica - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

On Monday, the world marked the tenth anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica. I represented both the United Kingdom and the European Union at the intensely moving ceremony, which was held among the valleys where 8,000 mainly Muslim men and boys were killed. The vast majority of these unarmed victims were shot and their bodies buried in mass graves.

As part of the ceremony, more than 600 of those victims were given their first proper burial. The lines of coffins were a vivid reminder that this was one of the darkest chapters in Europe since the end of the Second World War; the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has described it as genocide.

The responsibility for the massacre clearly lies with the Bosnian Serb forces who overran Srebrenica on July 11th 1995. However, as the English parliamentarian Edmund Burke said: “the only thing that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.

Many Bosnian Muslims had fled to Srebrenica because it had been designated as a United Nations safe haven. At the ceremony leaders of the international community acknowledged that it is to the shame of the international community that this event took place under our noses, and we did nothing like enough. I said that I bitterly regretted what had happened and was very sorry for it.

All this has placed an added responsibility upon the entire international community to ensure that the events of ten years ago are never repeated. We are charged with working in partnership with all the countries in the region to build a more peaceful future.

There are three things we need to do for this to happen. The first is that we must continue to engage actively on the ground. In Bosnia and Herzegovina this is taking the form of support for the Office of the High Representative and for the European Union force (EUFOR). We must stay the course in Kosovo and ensure that the NATO force there(KFOR) is properly equipped to do its job of backing up the UN administration(UNMIK).

The second thing we are doing, and one which will guarantee long-term stability, is holding open the door of the European Union for the countries of the Western Balkans. In June of this year, the Presidents of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Serbia and Montenegro(SaM) and Croatia issued a joint declaration at Mount Igman. The declaration made clear that all three countries aspire to membership of the European Union.

Partly driven by the prospect of joining the EU the situation in the region has already changed for the better. Free and fair elections have been held throughout the region. Changes of government via the ballot box are routine and large-scale conflict no longer threatens to break out. However a huge amount remains to be done. All of the countries must meet the political and economic standards set out in the 1993 Copenhagen Criteria. For many of them this means redoubling efforts to target corruption and organised crime and to implement economic and judicial reform. The UK and the whole of the EU stands ready to support any government which is willing to address these problems not only with words but also through genuine action.

Most importantly of all, no country will make further progress towards EU membership until it co-operates fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The horrors of Srebrenica and of the other atrocities perpetrated during the dark days of the 1990s cannot be papered over. They must be dealt with honestly. For Serbia and Montenegro and for Bosnia and Herzegovina, both of which are keen to open early negotiations on Stabilisation and Association agreement with the EU, this means no longer protecting fugitive indictees. In particular they should help in locating and bringing to justice in The Hague Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the two men who stand accused of ordering the massacre at Srebrenica. For Croatia, which stands at the cusp of opening accession negotiations, this included full co-operation in the search for the fugitive Ante Gotovina, who is accused of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war.

The final piece to the jigsaw is helping to build mutual trust within the region. This will require the full normalisation of relations between the three signatories to the Dayton Accord -Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I welcomed, therefore, the conviction expressed by all three Presidents in the Mount Igman declaration that there is no alternative to the full renewal of good neighbourly relations and to regional co-operation based on full equality.

Mutual trust will be needed between people as well as between countries. Tragically, ethnic hatred, mistrust and intolerance has long thrived too much in this region. The best guarantee that we will never go back to the dark days of the 1990s is to resolve these hatreds and to build a lasting peace.

The ceremony last Monday was a time for mourning. It was also a time to remember – and we must go on remembering. It is only through the living memory of the depths of depravity to which humankind can fall that we can hope to build a better future for all mankind, in the Balkans and everywhere.

Jack Straw

Jack Straw

John Whitaker "Jack" Straw attended the University of Leeds. Mr. Straw worked as a barrister before becoming a political adviser to Labour ministers in the mid-1970s, which then led him to a career in journalism, his post as shadow home secretary, and ultimately to his current position as the British foreign secretary.

More Posts