During a debate marking the 27th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide, members of the United Kingdom’s House of Commons spoke about the dangers of genocide denial, the “fragile situation” in BiH and the UK’s role in maintaining stability in the Western Balkans.
Yasmin Qureshi MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Srebrenica, spoke about her meeting with the women who lost their loved ones in the eastern Bosnian town.
“These are inspirational women, who despite experiencing the worst of humanity, have shown great strength and determination to rebuild their lives and resist hatred,” she said.
Qureshi stressed that “by commemorating this genocide, we help to make sure that the victims are not forgotten” and that this is even more important having in mind that there are still those who deny what happened.
She stressed that Bosnian Serb political leaders in BiH’s Republika Srpska (RS) entity “continue to deny and minimize the events that occurred” and “refuse to allow the history of what happened to be taught in schools.”
She also pointed out that the genocide has been an inspiration for far-right extremists and islamophobes, giving the examples of the perpetrator of the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Breivik.
The story of Amir
MP Alicia Kearns for Rutland and Melton gave an emotional speech.
She said that the genocide in Srebrenica represents the most extreme case of ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian war and stressed “how industrialised, appalling and truly evil” the acts committed in the town were.
“It was the barbarity of Srebrenica and the failure of the UN’s peacekeeping mission that forces the international community to finally put an end to the bloodshed and to implement the Dayton Peace Agreement,” she said.
“This was a deliberate genocide to eradicate the Bosniak population and replace them with a Serb community that was somehow suggested to be superior to another,” she added.
Kearns then told the story of Amir, a boy who was 11 when the war started.
She described Amir as a happy boy who loved toy cars and comics.
“Then the militia came and he lost everything,” she said.
Two years later, the boy was shot by a Bosnian Serb soldier in Sarajevo.
Kearns then began shedding tears.
“I’m not ashamed of my tears today, because every time we shed a tear, we show that we care and that we will not stand for these people being forgotten and silenced,” she said.
The MP then continued the story about Amir.
She said the boy asked why the soldier was shooting at him.
“And sadly, Amir knew the answer. He was a male, and he was a Bosniak. This made him a target for annihilation. Because, according to the Serbs, he was not human. He did not deserve to live, he did not deserve a family, he did not deserve a future,” she said.
Amir then noticed a nearby UN tank and a peacekeeping soldier. He cried out for help, and the soldier did nothing, Kearns said.
A civilian then grabbed Amir and put him in a car. The boy fainted and woke up in a hospital.
Kearns described how the boy barely survived the surgeries and suffered from malnutrition.
Eventually, he recovered, but realised that “parts of his body will never be the same again.”
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel saw Amir on the news and “unbeknown to Amir, someone decided that goodness had to win,” Kearns said, adding that Wiesel began organising the boy’s rescue.
Amir survived, but 25 years later he passed away due to complications stemming from his surgeries in Sarajevo, she said.
Kearns said that the international community failed Bosnia, but that there were individuals who did everything they could to save lives.
She gave the example of MP Robert Alexander Stewart, a former British Army officer and United Nations commander known as “Bosnia Bob.”
She explained that he “helped to evacuate thousands with helicopters from Srebrenica despite being told not to.”
“That is what we need more of around the world. People who step up, who step through bureaucracy, who refuse to be told no because they will save lives,” Kearns said.
Stewart also later spoke at the debate, pointing out “how terribly important” it is.
“Because it is widely viewed in Bosnia, they pay huge attention because they don’t get this sort of debate in their own country. The young people don’t want another war and people in Bosnia are watching what we say and what we do very carefully,” he said.
Kearns praised the women of Srebrenica who “fight hard for justice”. She said that they have “seen the worst of humanity and yet demonstrate the best of it.”
“Their lack of vengefulness or revenge in the face of such evil, and their drive for justice is the story of BiH now. From the pain, the people of Bosnia have built a culturally rich, vibrant and beautiful place that is a forward-looking European nation. Positivity out of pain is one of the greatest strengths of the Bosnian people,” Kearns said.
“But the ability to move on and heal is reliant on one thing, and that is the truth. Through dialogue and through truth we heal, and we help those who are still searching, who are still healing,” she said.
“We must act today to preserve security and stability”
Minister of State for Europe, Graham Stuart, warned about the “fragile situation” in Bosnia.
“There is no question that was happened was genocide,” he said, as he condemned genocide denial in the country.
“Glorifying the perpetrators and instigators of such heinous acts takes us further away from reconciliation and hinders the country’s ability to move forward,” he said.
“The leaders of Republika Srpska have been emboldened by Russia's actions. With Moscow's support, they are using divisive, dangerous, nationalist rhetoric. They are encouraging ethnic hatred and genocide denial and they are pushing for the de-facto secession of RS in direct contravention of their country’s constitution. The situation is serious and we must learn the lessons of history in the region and the consequences of inaction,” Stuart said.
“If we’re serious when we say never again and if it’s not empty rhetoric, we must act today to preserve security and stability. That’s why we are deploying a wide range of diplomatic, economic and defence support to BiH,” he added.