Avatar photo

Edward Ferguson

British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Part of UK in Bosnia and Herzegovina

18th June 2015

Remembering Srebrenica

In the last few days, a lot of people have been expressing strong views about the planned UN resolution to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica during the terrible war of the 1990s, where all sides suffered such terrible losses, military and civilian.

When the UK accepted the responsibility of drafting this resolution, we knew that it would be a difficult task, and even a risky one, as some have said.  The absence of sufficient serious and sustained steps towards reconciliation within Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider region over the past 20 years means that the wounds remain raw.

Nevertheless, together with colleagues at the United Nations, we believe that this anniversary is an important one to mark, in a careful and respectful way.  That is what we will collectively be seeking to do as the text is discussed and prepared in New York.

Srebrenica represents the most terrible single event in mainland Europe since the end of the Second World War.  Over 8,000, mostly men and boys, were systematically killed and buried in mass graves.  Thousands of families lost their loved ones.  Many are still searching for their bodies.  First and foremost, this was a human tragedy on a massive scale and it is right that we should commemorate the victims, those who died and those who are left behind.

Of course, we recognise and we respect deeply the fact that the people of Srebrenica were not the only ones who suffered in the war.  Many other families throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina – Serbs, Bosniaks, Croats and others – lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.  The pain they feel is something no-one else can understand.  But the sheer number of those who died in the organised killings at Srebrenica is something without equal and must be the subject of special reflection and commemoration.

The second reason is that this was a hugely significant event for the United Nations itself.  In his report after the event, Kofi Annan, then the Secretary General, recognised that the United Nations had made mistakes and that they had not done enough to prevent the killings.  This anniversary represents an important moment for the United Nations to take stock, and to ensure that it has learned lessons for the future from the tragedies of the past.  It is right that we should do so.

Much of the commentary in recent days has focused on the word ‘genocide’.  But it is important to understand that, however difficult and divisive an issue it might be within BiH’s domestic politics, there is no serious debate about this within the international community.  Two separate international courts, involving some of the most experienced judges in the world, have on a number of occasions confirmed that this event meets the legal definition of ‘genocide’.  However one feels about it, it is an indisputable legal fact that genocide was committed in Srebrenica.  That is why all the members of the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board, when it met in Sarajevo last week, united to reaffirm that genocide in Srebrenica, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the course of the conflict in BiH must not be forgotten or denied.  To say so is not to attack Republika Srpska, or Serbia, or anyone else.  It is a simple statement of a sad truth.

Some have said that this resolution threatens reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in the wider region.  In fact, the political reactions to this resolution expose the sad reality that too little has been done, and too little leadership has been shown, to promote and encourage real, deep and meaningful reconciliation.  There hasn’t been enough honesty about what happened on all sides; people in BiH and the region are entitled to know and try to understand, to allow them to move forward.

This is not just a challenge for one single group, people or country.  We know that all sides suffered the loss of innocent lives in the war.  We believe that the UN resolution should explicitly recognise this, and express its sympathies to all victims of the war.

So I hope that, as this important anniversary approaches, all political leaders, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider region, will focus not on the politics, but instead on the human tragedy not just of Srebrenica, but of the war as a whole.  And I hope that they will see this resolution for what it is intended to be: an encouragement, twenty years after the war, to take forward a process of reconciliation with greater urgency, to come to terms with the past, to learn its lessons, and to work for a just and lasting peace for all the people of BiH.  There could be no more fitting tribute to the innocent victims of war.

14 comments on “Remembering Srebrenica

  1. So no one? No response to my question?

    Can anyone knowledgeable at least tell me if the draft of this resolution on Srebrenica CAN be found?


  2. In this year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta I hope the United Kingdom will also acknowledge the right of Bakira Hasecic to use the word genocide in relation to what happened at Bikavac in 1992. What happened at Srebrenica was not genocide in isolation, it was the culmination of the process of eliminating the Bosniak population of the Drina Valley. When Bakira Hasecic is refused the right to use the word genocide to describe the individual crimes identified by the ICTY as underlying acts of genocide and the international community and its High Representative allow the word genocide to be obliterated from the monumental history of Visegrad, we deny the substance of Magna Carta and its modern day embodiment in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    23 years ago Milan and Sredoje Lukic forced 70 Bosniak civilians into a single room in a house in Bikavac, on the outskirts of Visegrad,.before setting the house on fire and incinerating all but one of the captives inside – mostly young women with children, along with some elderly men and women. The youngest of the many children in the room was less than one year old. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Trial Chamber honoured the reality of Magna Carta when it provided a forum for the testimony of the courageous Zehra Turjacanin, the only survivor of Milan Lukic’s genocidal slaughter.:


    All the fine words that have been uttered to mark the anniversary of Magna Carta are meaningless if the international community is unwilling to defend the right of those who were on the receiving end of genocide to tell the world the truth about what they experienced in 1992 – a truth embedded in the words used by Judge Patrick Robinson of the ICTY:

    “In the all too long, sad and wretched history of man’s inhumanity to man, the Pionirska street and Bikavac fires must rank high. At the close of the twentieth century, a century marked by war and bloodshed on a colossal scale, these horrific events stand out for the viciousness of the incendiary attack, for the obvious premeditation and calculation that defined it, for the sheer callousness and brutality of herding, trapping and locking the victims in the two houses, thereby rendering them helpless in the ensuing inferno, and for the degree of pain and suffering inflicted on the victims as they were burnt alive.”


    The legacy of Magna Carta is the right of the victims of Visegrad to have the world reminded what happened to them. When Her Majesty the Queen laid a wreath to the victims of Bergen-Belsen she reminded us of the commitment “Never Again”. When we allow the victims of genocide in the Drina Valley to be told they must not use the word “genocide” we turn our back on that commitment along with our commitment to the freedoms that Magna Carta has brought us.

    This morning I’ve watched a fox catch and kill a squirrel. If we are unwilling to defend the right to tell the truth we leave ourselves with nothing more than the law of the wild, like those men, women and children in Bikavac in June 1992.

  3. Does anyone know where this document can be downloaded in it’s original form?
    Everyone talks about it but very few have seen it. I would love to read it.

    Thanks in advance for any help…

  4. I heard the rumors that Naser was sacrifice to get UN Resolution .It can’t be the trouth,there is no sence to sacriface any men from Srebrenica to do something for Srebrenica???
    I am sure that you would not let things be like that.

  5. Your Excellency,
    Thank you very much for pursuing the truth and the justice since without the two there will be no peace.
    The Resolution shall definitely contribute to reconciliation despite the lack of leadership mentioned in your text.
    I hail the initiative of the UK Government for drafting the text of the resolution and I hope the UN will pass it unanimously for the sake of humanity and the victims that lay in Potocari but also for the ones that perished forever.

    Your Excellency, thank you very much for the very open and direct post because the truth cannot be partial.

  6. Clarification: The reference in the last sentence is to Igor Strelkov who I’m sure you are aware fought in the Visegrad area in 1992 as a volunteer alongside Boban Indjic and the militia operating under Visegrad Brigade command.

  7. It’s an indisputable fact that what happened at Srebrenica was genocide, confirmed beyond legal dispute in the highest forum of international law. End of argument.

    But genocide did not suddenly happen at Srebrenica out of nowhere, without advance warning. What happened to the refugees crammed into Srebrenica on and around 11 July 1995 was the culmination of a genocidal campaign aimed at eliminating the Bosniak population of the Drina Valley and abolishing the border between Serbia and the entity we now refer to as Republika Srpska.

    Beginning in April/May 1992 a Serb/Serbian campaign of genocidal murder and other terrible atrocities proceeded systematically from Bijeljina all the way up the Drina to Visegrad, devastating towns like Zvornik, Vlasenica, Bratunac, Rogatica etc. and creating a flood of refugees who were eventually driven to seek shelter in the government-held enclave of Srebrenica.

    This was not genocide at Srebrenica, this was genocide across Bosnia. I’m not clear what the Embassy may have done on 14 June to mark the genocidal slaughter at Adem Omeragic’s house in Pionirska ulica in Visegrad, or what it proposes to do to show its genuine sorrow at what was allowed to happen in Bikavac on 27 June 1992. But what happened in Visegrad and in the rest of the Podrinje was genocide, just as surely as what happened at Srebrenica.

    The Genocide Convention of 1948 wasn’t framed to provide a livelihood for legal nit-pickers, its aim was to prevent genocide ever again, and in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 the Convention was betrayed. The international community, well aware of what was taking place, temporised until it was shamed by the prospect of another imminent round of genocidal slaughter in 1993 into the gesture of making Srebrenica a “safe area” under its protection – a place of shelter and safety that it subsequently proceeded to abandon to its horrific fate in 1995 without meaningful resistance.

    The UN did not simply “make mistakes”, it , and most notably the permanent members of the Security Council, the UK among them, essentially colluded with the intending perpetrators of genocide. Before waving its own flag over belated gestures like this UN resolution, the UK needs to reflect on what it actually did to prevent the genocide that it condemns.

    Perhaps it would not be a bad thing if we paused for a brief moment in our celebration of a form of words and asked Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind, Pauline Neville-Jones and Rupert Smith to tell us precisely what actions the UK was taking in those days immediately following the fall of Srebrenica to prevent the slaughter of the prisoners we knew were being held by Serb forces under the command of Ratko Mladic. Could they tell us at last how determinedly we engaged with diplomatic partners, Slobodan Milosevic included, to save lives that were within our power to save?

    And then, that little bit of personal accountability dealt with, before we turn back to the task of crafting aspirational resolutions, perhaps we could also come up with some concrete proposals to our UN partners, based on supposed “lessons learned” from Srebrenica”, regarding how the international community can in future make the idea of a safe area under UN protection a reality and genocide prevention a meaningful concept.

    In the meanwhile, Mr Ferguson, I hope you will find some way of honouring the victims of the Visegrad genocide at Bikavac on 27 June and apologising to their relatives for the blind eye we have turned to them. It’s perhaps worth bearing in mind that it was at Visegrad, the town where the international community allows men with angle-grinders to deny genocide, that we gave the leader of the Crimean occupation a first lesson in victorious impunity.

  8. Thank you for moving this forward and for your clear and open comments.
    As you correctly say there has been a lack of leadership in facing the truth and without that there can not be a closure with the past and true reconciliation.
    I would love to see also a positive development re the memorial at omarska in acelrmittal prijedor. As far as I know this is still not resolved.

  9. Hi Mr.Ferguson,

    I can’t believe you won’t publish my comment. A great democratic figures, like you British diplomats are, would allow a different view and would protect a freedom of speech, wouldn’t you?
    I bet you would, must be some technical difficulties on Bosnian language site, so let me try again here:

    Nice work indeed!
    However I expect you British (being a leader in overall human rights field) first do the same regarding a hundreds of thousands of Iraq kids and civilians being killed by British bombs last 25 years – not to mention English actions against Africans including murders and relocations (does it belong to category of genocide and ethnic cleansing?); then Hindus, Indians, Arabs, Australian natives too… dear Lord, it’s a long list of Queen deeds isn’t it?!

    Otherwise somebody may say that you are just a cynical opportunists looking to wash your bloody English hands by talking about somebody else, while in a meantime and for centuries proceeding with the same traditional English politics and crimes,driven by pure greed.

  10. Mr. Ambassador, this is right move to change the sad reality that has been exposed. Thanks to UK government for drafting resolution and thanks to you for kind support.

  11. Is arresting Naser Oric a fitting tribute? Offering him to those who carried out the genocide?

    Switzerland has stabbed us in the back, but things could get worse. Naser Oric has said that he’s not going to Serbia alive. I do not blame him.

    We have a petition going http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/release-naser-oric-immediately-and-ensure-his-safe Please help us bring Oric back to Bosnia.

    We all know this is just Serbia trying to avoid responsibility and an innocent man, in fact, a hero, is their toy. Surely this is NOT right ever, let alone at a time like this.

    Hundreds of war criminals are living a normal life in Bosnia, waiting to be persecuted, Naser Oric, who proved his innocence, is being taken captive twice.

  12. The UK government has done the right thing and most Bosnians appreciate it. Special thanks to the UK ambassador in B&H and his staff.

  13. Thank you, Your Excellency, for your wise and encouraging message.
    My only hope is that it will not fall on deaf ears since it is a high time for some of the leaders in the region to wake up, face the truth, and start delivering instead of manipulating their peoples, re-writing history and destroyung our present and future.
    I wish you and your country all the best in your noble mission.
    Senada Kreso

Comments are closed.