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The True Legacy of Srebrenica Should Be That Such Violence Is Never Perpetrated Again

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Today we mark the anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide and offer our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. The events that took place on this day 18 years ago began a chain of events that led to the deaths of over 8,000 men and boys and the forced removal of 30,000 women and girls. The horror and the barbarism perpetrated in and around Srebrenica in the days that followed 11 July evoked the darkest days of the Second World War; days many hoped would never be repeated in Europe.

Eighteen years on, the legacy of Srebrenica and the conflict of the 1990s still haunts Bosnia and Herzegovina. Victims remain unidentified and perpetrators of these crimes remain at large. Since the end of the fighting, only 60 cases of wartime sexual violence have been prosecuted, despite some estimates suggesting that up to 50,000 women were raped in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the violence. Every year remains of victims from Srebrenica and other atrocities are discovered, beginning the painful process of identification that often ends with a family's grief being revisited. This injustice and uncertainty continues to exacerbate the suffering of the victims and their loved ones.

Overcoming the legacy of such deeply traumatic conflict requires real effort. I am pleased that the G8 pledged $23 million last month to tackle the scourge of sexual violence across the globe and we will continue to call for greater recognition of victims of sexual violence and more support for those still struggling in Bosnia and Herzegovina nearly twenty years on. The UK is also supporting the work of the International Commission for Missing Persons, whose efforts to identify those who died in Srebrenica continue to bring closure to their families and friends left behind. We also support the work of the Bosnian State Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to help ensure war criminals are brought to justice.

We will continue to provide this vital assistance. However, we do so in a climate which remains divided along the same ethnic lines that proved so fatal nearly two decades ago. Bosnian children are educated separately according to their ethnic group and political parties continue to promote their own ethnic agenda, rather than take decisions in the national interest. A refusal by politicians to compromise is stalling Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress toward the EU and NATO. Membership of both would benefit all of Bosnia and Herzegovina's people. On the surface, it would seem that the scars of the ethnic cleansing that ripped this country apart have not yet healed.

Yet across the region, there is optimism and hope. Croatia joined the EU earlier this month, and Serbia and Kosovo are making welcome progress, aided by the spirit of reconciliation. Bosnia and Herzegovina is lagging behind. It is encouraging that over three quarters of Bosnians want the same European future, irrespective of their background. Last month, groups from all walks of life joined in the streets of cities across Bosnia and Herzegovina to demand action from the Government on a number of issues affecting the lives of ordinary citizens, again regardless of politics or ethnicity.

Some say that the legacy of Srebrenica can be seen in our foreign policy decisions today and that the lessons from Srebrenica apply as much to the international community as they do to the people and politicians of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The world was shaken by the events of summer 1995, and it is hard to deny that the international community was found wanting. One day, the true legacy of Srebrenica should be that such violence is never perpetrated again, whether in Europe or anywhere else in the world.

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