THE BLOG

Truth and Justice Are Antidotes to Violence and Hatred

07/07/2015 16:57 BST | Updated 07/07/2016 10:59 BST

Twenty years ago this week, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, about 8,000 men and boys were murdered because of their religion. They were lined up and shot; the killers took cigarette breaks during the slaughter; some even had themselves filmed in the act of murder.

Fifty years after having said "never again" following the holocaust, Europe was the site of the Srebrenica Genocide which opened another bloody chapter in our collective global history, a chapter that, also, has yet to be closed.

The first time I visited the site of a mass grave in Bosnia and Herzegovina almost two decades ago, I was sickened not only by the evidence of carnage and brutality. I was struck by the devastating failure - the failure of law, the failure of morality, the failure of humanity.

We will gather again in Srebrenica this week to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide. As a Commissioner of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) since 2001, I have visited the town many times. My initial meeting with the Mothers of Srebrenica was on the first anniversary of their horrific loss. Since then, I have spent long periods in the company of these women, who are among the bravest and most inspiring people it has ever been my privilege to meet.

They have refused to abandon the pursuit of justice, and they have refused to descend to the level of the men who murdered their fathers and husbands and sons: they have refused to hate.

Instead, as I have witnessed, they have met with Serb and Croat women as they struggled together to come to terms with the deaths of their husbands, sons and fathers - killed, in some cases, perhaps by the husbands or sons of women sitting across the table. They have taken part in ICMP organized meetings to search for threads of solidarity, reconciliation and justice amid the debris of conflict.

There is a saying that if you look after justice, peace will look after itself. This may be true. The opposite is certainly true - if you do not attend to justice, then peace will not take hold.

ICMP was established in 1996 at a G-7 Summit in Lyon to help the authorities in the Western Balkans address the issue of more than 40,000 individuals who had gone missing during the conflicts of the early 1990s. 20 years later, over 70 percent of the missing have been accounted for, which is unprecedented. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the figure is nearly 23,000; and of the roughly 8,000 reported missing from Srebrenica, ICMP has been able to account for 6,930.

The application of rigorous scientific methods, including DNA technology, has made it possible to identify the dead and in many cases to establish where they were killed. This in turn has made it possible to bring conclusive cases against those responsible for the massacres. In the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 50 individuals have been tried for crimes committed in and around Srebrenica in July 1995; at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia 20 individuals, including Slobodan Milosevic, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, have been tried for crimes related to Srebrenica. The Mladic and Karadzic cases are ongoing.

Each of the thousands of white headstones at Srebrenica bears a name. On 11 July there will be more than 100 burials of newly-identified bodies. The perpetrators of the massacre wanted to erase the presence of these people, to eliminate them from human memory. The victims' bones were scattered. But the missing have been accounted for and the dead have been laid to rest. This is a powerful response to the genocide. It is part of the long, slow application of justice, the affirmation of truth, the constructive empathy that can mitigate the terrible pain still experienced by the bereaved.

The active, unrelenting, and articulate engagement of families of the missing, working across national, religious and ethnic lines has been critical to holding domestic authorities and international agencies to account and consolidating the foundations of peace.

Truth, compassion and justice are antidotes to violence and hatred. This is something we must understand and champion today as we confront new and terrible cults of intolerance and death.

ICMP has responded to the horror of Srebrenica with effective strategies that use state of the art technology and foster the rule of law. Today, we are applying this approach throughout the world to all types of missing persons cases, including disasters, human trafficking and migration - a practical response that can uphold truth and justice and ensure that violence, hatred and inhumanity do not prevail.

Queen Noor has been an ICMP Commissioner since June 2001