- On 26th July the charity Remembering Srebrenica and the feminist group Chelt Fems will join together at Gloucester Guildhall to commemorate the genocide in Srebrenica 21 years ago. It will also explore the increase in hate crime and the continuing rise of violence against women in post-Brexit Britain. Having visited the town, I have been invited to speak
It is reported that more than 8,000 people died in the massacre of Srebrenica, a small Serbian town about the size of Winchcombe. Already one of the worst acts of genocide of the 20th century, subsequent research and advances in DNA technology suggest that may be a conservative estimate.
And the slaughter did not end there. Quite apart from those who lost their lives, an estimated 20,000 – 50,000 women and girls were subjected to rape and other forms of systematic sexual violence.
Two years ago, I was one of a select number of people from the region invited to visit as part of the ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’ programme. The questions most of the people I met wanted answered were “Why did it happen?” – for although the slaughter was attributed to sectarian rivalry, religion is no longer accepted as the sole reason for it.
Not only is the evidence of what took place etched into the town’s fabric -because almost every building in Srebrenica remains riddled with blast and bullet holes like it all happened yesterday – it is also seared into the consciousness of those who survived and are trying to rebuild their lives.
With the reported increase in hate crime and/or related incidents, Srebrenica is relevant today as a vivid illustration of mankind’s intolerance at its worst. It also provides a valuable lesson against complacency and the notion that ‘it couldn’t happen here’.
While the ‘Brexit’ result prompted extreme verbal and, in some cases, physical abuse in other parts of the country, it has also led to concerns around a rise in the more unpleasant elements of nationalism.
Reports of referendum-related incidents, both inside and outside our county, underline fears that there are people who think that they have licence to target their hostility at other ethnic groups with impunity and that somehow it is no longer criminal behaviour. They are mistaken. Hate crime is wrong and the Constabulary takes it seriously.
Gloucestershire is a varied county with a long history of diversity and tolerance. Many of our communities have welcomed immigrants and refugees from many different countries and cultures and in many differing circumstances.
It is a proud record that spans generations and it is vital that spirit of fellowship endures.
The genocide in Srebrenica
- On 11 July 1995 General Ratko Mladić and his Bosnian Serb forces marched into the town of Srebrenica and systematically murdered 8372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys.
- In 1993, Srebrenica had been declared a UN Safe Area, under the watch of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR). In July 1995, Serbian paramilitary units overran and captured the town, despite its designation as an area ‘free from any armed attack or any other hostile act’.
The Charity Remembering Srebrenica
- It is committed to sending 600 individuals on its Lessons from Srebrenica over a three-year period. Each delegate pledges to carry out an activity on their return to the UK. These are designed to raise awareness of the risks of hatred, racism and intolerance, using Srebrenica as an example of an integrated society that disintegrated.
- Gloucestershire Police & Crime Commissioner Martin Surl was one of 800 leaders and key figures to have gone on the ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’ programme to Bosnia.