Remembering Srebrenica

Twenty years ago in July 1995, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered, an act that has come to be known as the Srebrenica genocide. These mass killings were perpetrated primarily by units of the Army of Republika Srpska, and the Scorpions, a paramilitary unit from Serbia.

In 2004, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia unanimously ruled that these killings constituted genocide. One year later Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made an official statement that, while the blame lies first with those who planned and carried out the massacre, the UN shares in the responsibility. He remarked: “As I wrote in my report in 1999, we made serious errors of judgement, rooted in a philosophy of impartiality and non-violence which, however admirable, was unsuited to the conflict in Bosnia. That is why, as I also wrote, ‘the tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt our history forever’.” The Secretary-General has also described the genocide as the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War.

The UN held an event for the remembrance of the genocide. This was marked by poignant comments from the Secretary-General, as well as surreal and heartbreaking personal testimonies from a survivor of the Bosnian genocide, a former journalist of the Washington Post who was reporting in Bosnia at the time of the genocide, and a survivor of the Holocaust. Their were simultaneously hopeful and heartbreaking.

Today we are haunted by the events in Bosnia and the questions it has engendered. What actions must we take in order to prevent future genocide? How do we construct a world in which there is consistent global accountability? The UN does not have all the answers, but requisite to any work toward such answers is proper remembrance. This is to say, we must remember our history—victories and failures—rightly if we are to honor the survivors and victims of the Srebrenica genocide. Our remembrance must not merely be an act of commemoration but also a work toward the future. Words of lament and condemnation will ring hollow if we do not allow witnesses to witness, if we do not end the culture of impunity that exists around the world, and if we do not strengthen our to work for the justice of the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

So let us resist being paralyzed the past. Let our remembering be a further step on the path to understanding, on the path of resisting violence and embracing justice, peace, and compassion.


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