House debates

Monday, 21 November 2011


Srebrenica Remembrance

7:59 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

On 16 April 1993 the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 819, which stated that 'all parties and others concerned treat Srebrenica and its surroundings as a safe area which should be free from any armed attack or any hostile act'. The first group of United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR, arrived in Srebrenica on the 18 April 1993. Two years later, on 11 July 1995, Srebrenica fell to the hands of the army of Republika Srpska, led by General Ratko Mladic and under the direction of the then President of the Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadzic. What followed was an attempt at the elimination of generations of Bosnian men and boys. A genocide was perpetrated. The Geneva Conventions were broken. Families were destroyed and generations were lost.

Between 12 July and 16 July, the army and police separated men aged between 16 to approximately 60 or 70 from their families. The Mladic forces executed 8,000 men and boys and forcefully deported 25,000 women, children and elderly. These men, women, children and elderly had sought refuge and safety under the protection of the United Nations. The events of that day should never be forgotten. The Srebrenica massacre was the worst war crime to take place in Europe since the end of the Second World War. I want to read an eyewitness account of the events that day by a woman named Zumra Shekhomerovic. Zumra lived in Srebrenica and helped shelter refugees before the town was taken over. She bore witness to Dutch troops being captured, Serb troops posing in UN uniforms, and General Ratko Mladic promising no harm would come to the inhabitants of Srebrenica. This is her testimony:

They were separating boys from 12 years of age and old men to 77 years of age. When our turn came, two of our neighbors were separated in front of us.

They separated many from my family, and [people] from my area, I know many of those by name and surname, those that were separated. And now it was our turn.

We came, as we were approaching, there was a checkpoint, and at the checkpoint stood armed Chetniks [Serbs]. And [one] said to my husband, as we were coming from above, 'You come this way' and to me, 'You go on!'

…   …   …

His hand was on my shoulder, trembling. … Somewhere deep inside me it still trembles. … It seems to me that every moment I feel it here on my left shoulder and that hot whisper of his that was reaching my ear as he told me not to worry, that everything will be all right. [He said] to tell, when I come to Tuzla [Bosnia], to tell my son that he sends his warmest regards and to tell him to listen to me. And when I talk to my daughter, who is in Slovenia, by phone to tell her that her daddy has been missing her very much and that he cannot wait until the moment he will see her. … But he never lived to see that moment. These were his last words. They separated him and I stayed mute, I could not talk. …

How I walked to the trucks, believe me, I don’t know. I don’t know how I climbed the truck or came by [the] truck. I don’t know what I stood on to climb up [onto the truck]. I passed, and he stayed with his black jacket which he held in his hand. I could see him for another 10 yards while the truck went around the transporter, and afterwards another truck parked in the way. I never saw him again and don’t know what happened to him. I regret so much that I did not say, 'Don’t take him,' that I didn’t scream or shout for help. Maybe it would be easier to live now.

I just left silently, and could not speak, while my tears were flowing like a river …

Srebrenica was the worst atrocity committed in the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina between April 1992 and November 1995, during which the army of Republika Srpska policies of ethnic cleansing, with the support of Slobodan Milosevic, led to the displacement of two million people and the massacre of 200,000, not to mention the tens of thousands that were torture and abused.

The failure of the international community—especially the UN—to protect those in Srebrenica is a stain on the international community's record. Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, said on the fifth anniversary of the atrocities at Srebrenica, 'The tragedy of Srebrenica will forever haunt the history of the United Nations.'

Nothing can fill the holes in the lives of families who lost loved ones on the 11 July. But it is their memories that must sustain us and instil in us the determination to educate future generations to remember; to pass on our ideals of freedom from fear and freedom from want; of peace and justice; of freedom of religion; and of human rights, as the President of the United States of America spoke about here so eloquently the other day. We must remember that all men and women are created equal and that the doctrine of 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' should be our ethos.

As President Obama said last week when he addressed this parliament, 'The future belongs to those who stand firm for these ideals.' At the other extreme of history, that paragon of evil, Adolf Hitler, said on 22 August 1939, on the eve of perpetrating another genocide, 'Who remembers the Armenians?', referring to the failure of anyone to react to Turkey's genocide of 2 million Armenians. It is because he was able to say that in Europe in the 1930s that further tragedies engulfed Europe. If we learn anything from the tragedy of Srebrenica, it is that, if good men and women stand by and do nothing or say nothing, evil will be perpetrated. We must remember.

When I speak to people in my own electorate about these issues, I tell them we must remember all of the horrors and genocides that have been perpetrated since the great Shoah, the great holocaust, of the Second World War, and not just the Second World War but after then: the events that have happened in Rwanda, Srebrenica and in Sudan, in Dafur. I particularly feel the weight of history very strongly on my shoulders to speak out from this parliament on behalf of events that happened in places like that. Never again should an Adolf Hitler be able to say to people in Srebrenica, in Dafur, in Rwanda, in Armenia: 'Who remembers the Armenians? Who remembers the Rwandans? Who remembers the Bosnians?'

This resolution is what the Russians would call an act of pamyat—memory. It is very important to never forget the legacy of these horrors; not from the point of view of torturing ourselves but to educate future generations that, if people are able to act out of racial prejudice and kill masses of others, this will happen again and again. It is our sacred duty to speak out when we see these kinds of events. We must remember the dead and remember the families they left behind.

Those who perished at Srebrenica must be remembered, and 11 July each year should be recognised as Srebrenica Remembrance Day in memory of those who were lost. I am very pleased that the modern Republic of Serbia is being reintegrated into Europe. We welcome the Serb people with open arms to the international community. We, at the same time, remember the Bosnian people of Srebrenica who were massacred. I am very pleased that this House very bravely, very seriously, joins the congress of the United States and parliaments in Europe in remembering these dreadful and important events.


Igor Mijatovic
Posted on 6 Jan 2012 3:22 pm (Report this comment)

Your use of the words Bosnian men is out of place here, you are referring to Bosnian Muslim Men also know as Bosniaks. Bosnian men refers to all men who are from Bosnia and Herzegovina, including Croat and Serb not just the Muslims.

Maksim Stojanovic
Posted on 6 Jan 2012 6:01 pm (Report this comment)

There are always two sides to a story. Funny how only one side is only ever heard regardless of the medium or the story. You people are only putting into your words what information you find. Why must we remember what we have been told? Next your going to tell me that "terrorists" really are behind 9/11, which is a perfect example of "You will believe what you are told and shown on tv,read in newspapers or hear on the radio, end of story". The problem is politicians, get rid of them and you will have peace. What has a politician accomplished ever that directly impacts on an Australian citizen, besides of course raising taxes or imposing some bullshit traffic fine. Peace.

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