Speeches at 24th Srebrenica commemoration in The Hague

Speeches at 24th Srebrenica commemoration in The Hague, 11 July 2019

Just like last year ICHI participated as a co-organiser of the yearly Srebrenica commemoration in The Hague, the Netherlands (www.srebrenica-herdenking.nl) on the 11th of July, since the disbandment of its sister organisation the Political Committee Stari Most (PCSM) in the Summer of 2017 (see www.starimost.nl). Unfortunately, to this day the yearly commemoration programme book is solely in Bosnian and Dutch. Fortunately, this time some of the speeches have been translated into English for members of the public not versatile in either Bosnian or Dutch. Therefore, I produce these speeches here below.

© photo Fred Rohde

Caspar ten Dam, chair ICHI

Leiden, August 2019

Speech by Senada Klempiċ, daughter of a survivor of the Srebrenica genocide

Today, after 24 years, we are gathered again on this public square where we have been meeting for many years now, to remind the world, and especially the Netherlands, of the events of July 1995. The terrible crime that took place in Srebrenica before the eyes of the whole world that we will never forget. In addition to the genocide that we have survived, the survivors of today still suffer lasting sense of injustice that hurts us as much, perhaps even more than the crime itself.

The international community that is so committed to “upholding international law and standards” was quietly watching the crime that took place right before its own eyes in the run-up to the 21st century. After the Holocaust against the Jews during the Second World War, they said “never again”, and yet this happened again on their watch and before their eyes. Were the inhabitants of the protected area of Srebrenica sentenced to death before their actual death?

We were hungry and thirsty, walking barefoot in an enclave, wounded and tormented to infinity. They helped us with humanitarian aid, even by airdrops, to save us from collective death. During that time, we looked into the sky and looked forward to every sound of planes and the hooks of parachute pallets with food supplies. But in those warm July days, we looked at the same sky, awaiting to hear the noise of the planes, this time fighter planes. But that we did not get to see them. We were betrayed! Betrayed by everyone! We were left behind to fight for our life as if we were beasts!

The international armed forces, the so-called “blue helmets”, with their mandate and presence, should have protected us against mass extermination. The same blue helmets only watched as an entire population was forced out and destroyed. Such mass executions and expulsions were declared a genocide by the International Court of Justice a few years later. Consciously, whether or not out of ignorance, the international community had wrong assumptions that would result in massive crimes against one group of population. Mass executions of more than eight thousand Bosniaks took place within the so-called protected area of Srebrenica.

If you have done insufficient or nothing at the time, then at least now see what is going on all those years after the genocide against the Bosniaks and the end of the armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The international community established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which, despite much resistance, has almost completely fulfilled its mission. Most war criminals, especially those who were most responsible, have been punished for their crimes. However, the international community and the European Union are putting little effort into improving the socio-political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is still trapped within the framework of the Dayton Peace Agreement, that prevent the country’s progress even today. They calmly watch public denials of genocide and the contempt of the international community as well as its institutions and representatives stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the mandate and authority to act for any violation of the laws in this country.

The neighboring Republic of Serbia, which was convicted for its failure to prevent the genocide in Srebrenica, still only declaratively supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbian politicians within Repubilka Srpska supported by academics from the Replic of Serbia define new political goals to attempt to cover up and falsify the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They encourage and tolerate occasional outbursts of separating Republika Srbska from Bosnia and Herzegovina. With their actions, they contribute considerably to making an already bad situation increasingly worse and humiliate and undermine Bosnia and Herzegovina. In that same Republic of Serbia war criminals are provided a safe have and are not been prosecuted in national courts, although they are known to be particularly prominent in committing crimes against others. Even some proven and convicted war criminals have sought and found their protection on the territory of that Serbia.

We are well aware that we cannot bring back to life our loved ones and our fellow citizens that we lost. It remains our duty to seek justice in their name, to keep reminding ourselves and the world of this terrible crime called genocide. We can forgive but we will not forget! We ask of you, ladies and gentlemen of the international community and the European Union, to do more for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Loot into the current state of affairs in Bosnia and Herzegovina and work on a better solution to the situation as long as it is still possible. Justice must overcome in one way or another! Otherwise, your and our words “never again” will only remain empty words, as was the case after the Holocaust.

The Dutch government has so far devoted enormous funds to the investigation and identification the victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in many other aid projects. Thank you very much for this, however you should be aware that material help is not the first priority for victims. Above all, we need a spiritual satisfaction. It is crucial for us that it is accepted and acknowledged what has happened in the not too distant past. We hereby request that the Dutch government and parliament clearly and strongly accepts the resolution of the European Parliament to condemn the crime of genocide in Srebrenica and that 11 July be declared a national Memorial Day for the victims of the genocide. In that case I believe that every year on the 11th of July we will be here at this place with many, many more people.

For all victims of genocide, especially those that are buried today at the Potocari Memorial Center, I ask for mercy and peace for their souls. Thank you for your time and attention. Thank you for sympathizing with the survivors whose souls are much wounded.

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Speech by Jan Willem de Haan, lawyer who once helped survivors of the Srebrenica genocide to receive asylum and citizenship in the Netherlands 

Dear people,

Today is the 24th anniversary of the fall of the Srebrenica enclave in The Hague. Every year you are here and every year you serve as a painful reminder of an event that the Dutch government would prefer to see sink into oblivion. Even to date the combination of the words “Srebrenica” and “the Netherlands” give a bitter aftertaste.

The theme of the commemoration today is “truth and justice”. Two concepts that the inhabitants of Srebrenica, who have had undergone the fall of the enclave, have hardly received. To this day, those who are responsible for the drama are trying to minimize, shift or even deny their responsibility. To this day, there are people that have participated in or have given instructions for the massacre who have escaped their punishment. “Truth and justice” still have a long way to go.

The fall of the Srebrenica enclave was worldwide news and was the prelude to the first genocide on European soil since the end of the Second World War. After the genocide during the Second World War, a promise was made. “This will never happen again.” The world community would guarantee that a genocide could never happen again. The Srebrenica drama is a bitter reminder that that promise has turned out to be an empty promise.

The world community must be reminded time and time again of the extreme consequence of not intervening, being late or being too weak in conflicts. The Netherlands can and should play a important role in this. After all, the Netherlands is and remains connected to Srebrenica and knows first-hand what happened in Srebrenica and what role it played in it as representative of that world community in the form of the Dutchbat.

In addition to “truth and justice,” recognition also plays an essential role. Instead of expressly acknowledging the failure of Dutchbat and its shared responsibility. To this day procedures are still being conducted on behalf of the Dutch State, so as not to be accountable for the fate of the inhabitants of Srebrenica.

During the time that I worked as a lawyer at the SRA, I got to know a number of you who are present here. The stories that I heard were all horrific and heartbreaking. Only then could I see and hear what an impact that horrible war in Bosnia has had on ordinary people, who have never asked for that war. And then, seeing and hearing is not the same as feeling, having to go through it. Srebrenica has a permanent impact on those who have lived through it, their children and grandchildren.

I can make a bit of an imagination of that impact. During the Second World War my Jewish grandmother has had to experience, as her entire family had been transported to the East to never return. Her husband, my grandfather, a member of the resistance, was unable to witness the end of the war and died in March 1945 just before the liberation. The memory of him is still there. 300 meters from this place, in an entrance to the Dutch House of Representatives that is no longer in use, you will find the “honor roll of fallen”. A calligraphic book with the names of about 18,000 Dutchmen who fell as a soldier or member of the resistance during the battle in World War II. For me, born 17 years after the Second World War, it is important that, in addition to the annual commemoration on May 4th, there is a monument in the form of the ‘honor roll of fallen’. It this is a form of recognition.

The annual 11th of July commemoration on Het Plain in The Hague for years has had to take place while the flag the Ministry of Defense was flying high on top of the flagpole. Only a few years ago there has been a realization that raising the flag half-mast is the appropriate thing to do. It would behoove the Dutch government if, in addition to acknowledging it fully recognized its own failures. Because again, whether we like it or not, the Netherlands remains tied to the fate of Srebrenica for days on end.

It is precisely because that history has such an impact, and because the memories of it live on for so long, that it is important that those responsible and co-responsible acknowledge their role in the drama. It is not appropriate to try to cover up that responsibility or to minimize your own role. Regardless of how difficult or painful this may be, recognition of one’s own role must take place without reservation. Only then will there be “truth” and “justice” may follow.

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