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Srebrenica Genocide (20th Anniversary)

Volume 598: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2015

[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.

At least 8,372 men and boys were murdered by the Bosnian Serb army within a couple of days, starting on 11 July 1995. At the time, I was in the Army and the Chief of Policy at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe at Mons in Belgium. I was there when the first reports of what was happening in Srebrenica came through. The operation in Bosnia then was a United Nations operation rather than a NATO one. Despite Srebrenica being declared a UN safe area under the watch of the UN protection force, Serbian paramilitary units over-ran and captured the town. Then General Ratko Mladic and his Bosnian Serb forces systematically rounded up and murdered well over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. It was an act of genocide.

Mladic’s men methodically and coldly separated out men and boys, and herded them away. Fusillades of shots were heard throughout the area, as batches of the men and boys were cold-bloodedly and methodically shot. Mladic himself had promised that no harm would befall anyone, but it was immediately obvious to the local people that that was a total lie.

For their part, the 400-strong Dutch battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Karremans, which was charged by the UN with protecting the citizens of Srebrenica, did very little by way of protest, and even surrendered men and boys to the Bosnian Serb army. At the time in Mons, I asked the SHAPE staff why the Dutch battalion charged with protecting Srebrenica had not used its weapons to safeguard the people. I was told that they had been ordered not to get involved, which I found appalling—under the Geneva conventions of war, those in command have a duty to protect civilians. Unbelievably, I was also told that the Dutch had used the excuse that they could not open fire because their anti-tank weapons were out of date. That is astonishing, considering that most of the belligerent forces’ weapons were out of date anyway by that time.

There is overwhelming evidence of a huge number of atrocities. Men and boys were taken away and summarily murdered in batches; individuals were cut down at whim; and large piles of bodies were pushed into huge pits by bulldozers. Some of the victims were undoubtedly buried alive. One child, who could not have been more than 10, was ordered to rape his sister and was killed when he could not do so. Mothers had their babies’ throats slit before they themselves were raped. Many people chose to commit suicide and some people, particularly women, hanged themselves in the woods around Srebrenica. Agony and death were everywhere, and yet the Bosnian Serb army and its friends carried on committing cold-blooded acts of murder against anyone who they thought was a Muslim. The situation was sheer hell.

Despite being far away in Belgium at the time, I felt a deep affinity with the people on the ground in Srebrenica. Some two years before, it was my soldiers who had first gone into Srebrenica and it was my UN commander, General Philippe Morillon, who had declared on 16 April 1993 that Srebrenica would be protected.

When I learned what was happening in Srebrenica two years after I had left, I felt sick at heart and in some way responsible for what was happening. In truth, the people of Srebrenica had been abandoned to a ghastly fate by the rest of the world. In February 1993, as commander of the British UN battalion in Bosnia, I had witnessed such bestiality at a place called Ahmici in central Bosnia. We even had to dig a mass grave into which we placed more than a hundred bodies—children, women and men. But the horror did not stop there; it continued.

On 1 March 1993, as their commander I ordered soldiers of B Squadron 9th/12th Royal Lancers to cross the lines from Tuzla to see what could be done to help people in Srebrenica, who were being besieged by the Bosnian Serb army. My intelligence organisation suggested that the situation in Srebrenica was very grim, and intelligence officers heard repeated commercial radio calls from Srebrenica for someone—anyone—to come and save them. It was heart-rending.

During the next two days, my soldiers managed to get to Srebrenica after a very difficult passage through hostile Bosnian Serb army territory. When they arrived, they found an appalling situation. About 20 civilians had been killed by incoming shellfire when our vehicles appeared, because they had naturally clustered around us; they were surrounded by people who they believed were their deliverance. One officer—my interpreter, Captain Nick Costello—was talking to a woman holding a baby when the baby’s head was blown off by a shell splinter.

A few days later, we escorted General Morillon into Srebrenica. He was welcomed almost as a saviour but after a while, when he said he was going back to his command headquarters in Sarajevo, the people blocked him in and refused to let him leave. Off his own bat, he declared Srebrenica to be a UN protected area. None the less, there was a crying need to get innocent people out of the place and to safety. Between March and April 1993, British soldiers under my command, including pilots flying helicopters provided by French forces and the Royal Navy, evacuated several thousand Bosnian people from the Srebrenica enclave. Shortly afterwards, the UN ordered British soldiers to be replaced—first by Canadians and then, a year or so later, by an ineffective Dutch battalion.

The Bosnian Serb army finally took the town of Srebrenica on 11 July 1995. Upwards of 10,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys attempted to walk 63 miles across mountains, rivers and minefields to reach safety in the nearest Muslim territory of Tuzla. Only about 2,000 of them made it.

When I visited Srebrenica recently, I met Nedžad Avdic, who was only 17 in July 1995, when he was shot. He was with me yesterday in Parliament but cannot be here today. Despite being badly wounded, he survived and crawled out from under the bodies of his friends. I wish to place on the record what he said. His testimony is chilling. This is what he told me:

“In July 1995, when Mladic’s offensive started, the Dutch forgot us, left their checkpoints and fled. We had no option but to follow them and wait for help, but it did not come.

We were afraid of going to the Dutch HQ at Potocari and feared for our lives. After days of hiding in the woods and hills around Srebrenica, my father, uncle and I headed in the direction of Tuzla on a long, unknown and uncertain road through the woods and minefields.”

Those minefields were extensive: it took us a huge amount of time to negotiate them and get there.

“We were an endless column of men and boys under constant bombardment by Serb artillery from the hills. Many of us were killed and the wounded cried out, in vain, for help.

In the chaos, I lost my father and ran through the crowd crying and calling for him. Lost in the middle of the forest, we did not know where to go. Bare-footed, exhausted and frightened we gave ourselves up. As many as 2,000 men and boys were loaded on to lorries, including me.

We were tortured and were dying for a drop of water. We were forced to take off our clothes. One of the soldiers tied our hands our backs. At that moment, I realised it was the end. We were told to find a place and lined up, five by five.

I thought I would die fast without suffering. Thinking that my mother would never know where I finished they begun to shoot us in the back. I don’t know whether I lost consciousness, but I lay on my stomach bleeding and trembling. I was shot in my stomach and right arm.

The shooting continued and I watched the lines of people falling down. I could hear and feel bullets hitting all around me. Shortly after that I was wounded heavily in my left foot. Men were dying all around me. I was dying in deadly pains and had no strength to call them to kill me. I said to myself: ‘Oh my God, why don’t I die?’

The pain was unbearable. It was midnight and the lorry moved away. Trying to raise my head I noticed a man who was moving. We untied one another”—

can you imagine the pain this boy was going through?—

“and avoided the next arriving lorry.

After days of wandering through woods, hiding in streams, sleeping in grave-yards and crawling with my terrible pains, we reached territory under Bosnian government control. My father, uncle and relatives who sought shelter with the Dutch soldiers in Potocari did not survive.”

The Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Centre, situated on the opposite side of the road from where the Dutch battalion was based, records the known deaths of 8,372 people murdered by the rampaging Bosnian Serb army. Nobody can be absolutely certain, but most certainly 6,066 bodies are buried in the Potocari cemetery and about 7,000 genocide victims have been identified through DNA analysis of body parts recovered from mass graves.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent, powerful speech. Last year, I travelled to Srebrenica to see that centre and worked with a local charity, Medica Zenica, which looks after people who were raped during the war. We met a woman there who had been raped so many times she did not even know who the father of her child was. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the mums of Srebrenica, because they have tirelessly worked to make sure that this will never, ever be forgotten and should never, ever happen again.

I thank my hon. Friend for her very appropriate intervention. It is highly appropriate and a great honour that some of the mothers of Srebrenica have just arrived in this Chamber. All of us in Parliament pay tribute to them for what they have had to endure. Many families in Srebrenica lost all their menfolk.

I have seen some 1,000 body parts that are yet to be formally identified. Of course, some people’s remains will never be found. I am president of the British charity, Remembering Srebrenica. It has organised remembrance events in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I thank colleagues from those countries who have helped those events take place. Yesterday, there was a large remembrance service in Westminster Abbey—2,000 people attended—and there are continuing remembrance events throughout the country this week.

There is another charity that does sterling work in the Srebrenica area, but it gets scant funding recognition from the British Government and I wish that to be put right. The charity, officially called The Fund for Refugees in Slovenia, was founded in 1992 by my friend, Lady Miloska Nott OBE, who is here today. Despite its name, the charity’s main thrust has always been in Bosnia. There it has done long-term, sustainable work in the Srebrenica area— not so much the town, but 20 km out from it, in an area that was deeply affected, too. It has built 144 houses and 14 schools for those most affected by the 1995 genocide. It has also built a medical centre. I pay a huge tribute to all that Lady Nott and her charity have achieved.

I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on securing this debate. Before being elected as an MP in June 2009, I visited Srebrenica. It was an extremely moving experience that left a lasting impression on me. I echo what my hon. Friend says about the charity; Lady Nott helped organised the visit for me and other colleagues. I commend her work and that of the organisation. I echo what my hon. Friend says about working with such charities, to continue the rebuilding in Srebrenica and ensure that this genocide is never forgotten.

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which I endorse and want to add to. One of the things that Lady Nott’s charity does is to take Members of Parliament to spend the night in some of the houses that her charity has built. Through that experience, colleagues get a real feel for what is actually happening on the ground.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government recognise this great work. Please, if they can, will our Government contribute financially to the work of a charity that is extremely well run, has good due diligence and makes such an impact on the local area?

I will finish now. This morning, we paused to remember the 7/7 bombings. This Saturday, 11 July 2015, we should all pause to remember that, 20 years ago, the hopes and lives of a small town—8,372 men and boys—were agonisingly destroyed by Bosnian Serb bullets. God bless their memory. All our prayers go to those who survived the Srebrenica massacre and to the mothers of Srebrenica, who still live with what happened every moment of their lives.

It is an honour and a privilege to follow the excellent and moving speech by my hon. Friend on the other side of the House, as I like to call him, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who had a distinguished career in Bosnia and who has done so much since to raise what happened not only in Srebrenica but in so many other places. I have often been truly moved when he has told me of his experiences during those times, as well as those of his wife and many others. Truly, one can only imagine the horrors that he and many others saw.

It is a bleak week, as my hon. Friend said. Today, we remember those who were tragically killed in the 7/7 bombings in London. It is only a short while since the horrific attacks in Tunisia. Tragically, it is the 20th anniversary of the genocide—it is clear that it was a genocide—in Srebrenica. It is an opportunity to stop and reflect on the consequences that hate, intolerance, ideology and, dare I say it, turning a blind eye can have for men, girls, boys and women—humans who share the same blood and flesh as us, regardless of their religion, ethnicity and background. It was truly moving to attend the memorial in Westminster Abbey yesterday and to have the chance to meet again many people I was able to meet on a trip with Remembering Srebrenica to Srebrenica, Potocari, Tuzla and other locations. I saw the places where such horror and brutality emerged, and I can say without hesitation that it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

I remember what I was doing in 1995. I was 15 years old. I was out celebrating with friends on the beaches of west Wales, having a good time and relaxing, yet Nedžad Avdic, who my hon. Friend referred to and whom I have met, was just two years older and was being corralled into a building with his family and friends. He saw so many brutally murdered and executed around him. That struggle, which my hon. Friend illustrated so clearly with Nedžad’s words, serves as an example to us all. We might live in the same continent, but great horrors can emerge at any time.

While I was in Bosnia, we travelled to Srebrenica and Potocari on a bus. As we approached one of the tunnels on the windy roads through the beautiful Bosnian countryside, one of our guides—he was also a survivor, and his name was Mohammed—said, “This is where I emerged from the tunnel.” I said, “What do you mean?” He was one of those who managed to escape to make that long, arduous march through the mountains, attempting to evade the Serb forces at every step. Those people suffered without food and water in brutal circumstances. He was one of the lucky ones—he survived. He told me that he had done a lot of survival training as a youngster in equivalent bodies to the scouts. He used those skills, but his friends and those around him who did not have that skill of surviving in the wilderness often succumbed or were lured down to what they thought was safety by Serbs who told them to come down from the mountains. In fact they were being lured to their deaths—that was the brutality of it. I was taken aback by the video footage kept by those who committed the atrocities. While we were in Potocari we saw some truly chilling footage of executions, of people being led away and of people being lured falsely to their deaths. It will stick with me for the rest of my life.

We also went, as my hon. Friend reflected, to the mortuary and saw the work of the International Commission on Missing Persons. I was truly shocked not only that brutal murders had been carried out, but that the Serb forces chose to disturb the mass graves and dig bodies up. They knew that the evidence would emerge, so they tampered with the remains. They split them across multiple graves. It is truly shocking.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I have been to Srebrenica, and I think it leaves an indelible mark on the soul of anyone who has been. It was such a dreadful occurrence.

The hon. Gentleman mentions the International Commission on Missing Persons. When I visited, we met ladies who still have not found their husbands and sons because of the atrocities that the Serbs committed with the reburial of bodies. The ladies of Srebrenica cannot lay their loved ones to rest. I commend publicly the work that the International Commission on Missing Persons is doing to try to identify remains through DNA and other means. That would enable those people at least to lay their loved ones to rest.

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. I was struck by how so many people were not afforded dignity in their life and were then also denied it in their death, as were their families. Many Srebrenica mothers are sitting in the Public Gallery, and I have been struck by how they just want the matter resolved—they just want to know where their loved ones lay. Advances in technology have enabled identifications to take place, but the extent of the desecration and damage to the graves was such that a number of individuals still cannot be identified. I praise the work of those involved in the International Commission on Missing Persons and others who have done such diligent work over many years trying to bring that sense of closure to the families. I must point out that that feeling is shared by the new generation in the Balkans. One of the workers we met in the mortuary was from Serbia. She was absolutely dedicated to her work, and she wanted to ensure justice and dignity for the families so brutally broken apart by these acts.

Much has been said, and many reports have been written, about the terrible events of that time in Bosnia. Much focus has been put on the situation of the Dutch forces in Potocari and others. To my mind, the actions that took place were deeply concerning and unconscionable. To walk around the battery factory and other locations where thousands were effectively sent to their deaths is a deeply disturbing experience.

It is fair to say that although I am proud of this country’s role in recognising the genocide, in holding memorial events such as we saw yesterday and in hosting the President of Bosnia and many others—including the mothers and survivors in the last few days—we must take a step back and reflect as an international community. This weekend, a number of concerning allegations were made in The Observer concerning what the wider international community knew about directive 7 and about the speech that Ratko Mladic gave to the Bosnian Assembly where he said of the enclaves:

“My concern is to have them vanish completely.”

There were questions about the messages or signals alleged to have been given to Mladic, Karadžic, the Bosnian Government and others about the tenability of the enclaves. We know that on 2 June, Mladic ordered the destruction of Muslim forces in the enclaves, but it is important that we are frank about the worrying allegations that some members of the intelligence services from other countries—including, I am sorry to say, the UK—knew about some of the Serb plans.

I do not think it would be right to focus on individuals, but the allegations are serious and worrying. I do not know their veracity, but it is vital that the international community does all it can to own up to whatever faults and failings there were, as happened after the terrible genocide in Rwanda and other international atrocities. I ask the Minister gently for some assurance that those allegations are being looked at and that any evidence that emerges will be shared in full and frank detail. Now, we can only learn from the horrors, and from the failure at all levels to protect all those people in Srebrenica and at other locations. We must do that. We assume that the march of progress is inevitable and that these crimes cannot happen again, but unfortunately it has been shown far too often that they can.

When we were in Sarajevo, we saw a remarkable and moving exhibition of photos of survivors from Srebrenica and the surrounding areas. I encourage everyone to see it, because it is an important indicator of what happened. It was displayed alongside an exhibition about the horrors and atrocities being committed in Syria today. We need to reflect on the fact that, tragically, we often consider situations after the event and look back at what may have gone wrong. There has been much controversy in the House about the votes and decisions that we have taken on Syria, on which Members have different views. Why do we always focus on those decisions, rather than look back two and a half or three years earlier to understand how we got to a position where such atrocities and flagrant abuses of human rights could take place? That is something for all of us to reflect on.

It is all very well to judge or criticise those who have taken specific decisions, but the question is: how did we allow this to happen on European soil just 20 years ago? How can we work, on all sides of the House, across the continent and across the world, to ensure that such horrors can never happen again?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I add my congratulations my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing this debate and on his work on Srebrenica in the House. I pay tribute to him and to all involved for ensuring that the tragic events in Srebrenica have not been forgotten. The commemoration of those events serves as a warning to all of us, particularly those in government in or positions of influence, of what can happen even here in Europe, which we tend to think of as civilised, and certainly as safe and secure compared with many parts of this troubled world.

Evil can enter the hearts and minds of men. As the service of Compline in the Book of Common Prayer says, we must

“be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”.

The devil can enter the hearts of mankind, especially when propaganda and evil leadership are involved.

Like the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), I was privileged to join my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham in last year’s delegation. Such a visit reminds one of the evil that can take place, even in mainland Europe. Those of us who attended yesterday’s commemorative service at Westminster Abbey and the reception that followed heard from a number of people about how important the UK’s voice can be and how much the UK has contributed, over many generations, to the attempt to bring peace and stability to many troubled parts of the world. The challenge continues.

Since he was first elected five years ago, my hon. and gallant Friend has worked tirelessly to ensure that the events of 1995, and those who were brutally murdered, are not forgotten. I thank him for his dedication, not least through his campaigning as the president of Remembering Srebrenica, a British charity founded by its chairman.

As we have heard, 8,372 men and boys were massacred by Bosnian Serb forces. Those murdered were both old and young; I note that the eldest was 94 and the youngest five. Although their ages were diverse, their ethnicity was not. The victims of this horrific moment of barbarity on European soil were targeted based on who they were. They were killed in some of the most brutal and barbaric ways imaginable—they were events that one can find it very difficult to believe. As has been said, the genocide was the worst crime in Europe since the second world war.

My hon. and gallant Friend described in chilling detail how the slaughter came about and was carried out. We must never forget the brutality that man is capable of, and it is right that we use parliamentary time to commemorate the events of two decades ago. The atrocities now taking place in north Africa, Iraq, Syria and so many other places remind us that we must be eternally vigilant. It is worth recalling that the former Yugoslavia was a popular holiday destination for British people, who would have visited many of the places touched by the massacre. A mainstream European country descended into brutality. Let us hope that we can indeed remain eternally vigilant. But will we? Let us hope and pray that we do.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing this debate and I salute his leadership in Bosnia. Along with many others in the House, I am deeply impressed by what he did in his time in command. It would be hard not to be moved by the experiences he shared in his speech and by some of the things that have happened since. I thank him for that.

We remember those who were murdered in July 1995—more than 8,000 Bosniaks, mainly men and boys, in and around the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian war. The killing was perpetrated by units of the Army of the Republika Srpska—the VRS—under the command of General Ratko Mladic. The former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, described the mass murder as the worst crime on European soil since the second world war. That gives an idea of the magnitude and horror of what took place.

I am sure that we all remember the coverage from 1995—it would be hard not to—and, as we were reminded by the first speech, it was shocking in its intensity. I can vividly recall not being able to believe or understand the senseless genocide that was taking place. I was looking at the TV and thinking, “Is this happening, or is it unreal?” Yes, it was unreal, but it was happening in front of our modern society’s eyes.

The paramilitary unit from Serbia was known as the Scorpions. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) used biblical language to describe them as a lion looking for whom to devour. That is what they were doing. They could have called themselves other names, but they chose the Scorpions, and they were known for their evil, wicked depravity and murderous thoughts. Officially, they were part of the Serbian Interior Ministry until 1991, and they participated in the massacre, along with several hundred Greek volunteers.

In January, the conviction of five men from the former Yugoslavia was upheld, which was welcome news to all those who remember the sheer horror of these events. However, more than five men were involved, and more than enough time has now passed by this, the 20th anniversary, for action to have been taken. We all believe it is time that those involved—from inside and outside Serbia—were held accountable.

In 2004, in a unanimous ruling in the case of Prosecutor v. Krstic, the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which is located in The Hague, ruled that the massacre of the enclave’s male inhabitants constituted genocide—a crime under international law. The evidence of the forcible transfer of between 25,000 and 30,000 Bosniak women, children and elderly people that accompanied the massacre was found to confirm the genocidal intent of the members of the VRS main staff who orchestrated the massacre and who need to be held accountable.

In 2005, in a message to the 10th anniversary commemoration of the genocide, the Secretary-General of the United Nations noted that, although blame lay first and foremost with those who planned and carried out the massacre and those who assisted and harboured them, the powers with the ability to respond had failed to do so adequately. He said that the UN had made serious errors of judgment and that the tragedy of Srebrenica would haunt its history forever, and that is clearly the case.

Serbia and Montenegro was cleared of direct responsibility for, or complicity in, the massacre, but it was found responsible for not doing enough to prevent it and for not prosecuting those responsible, in breach of the genocide convention. The preliminary list of people missing or killed in Srebrenica, which was compiled by the Bosnian Federal Commission of Missing Persons, contains 8,373 names. As of July 2012, 6,838 genocide victims had been identified through DNA analysis of body parts recovered from mass graves. As of July 2013, 6,066 victims had been buried at the memorial centre in Potocari. Almost 1,500 victims have still not been identified. Let me put that into perspective. As the hon. Member for Beckenham will know, approximately 3,000 people were killed over a 30-year terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland. In three days, almost three times that number were killed in Srebrenica.

There is a lesson that has been taught so many times, but that I fear we are not learning: we must take action before things reach this stage. An apology for a massacre is not enough. There must be a determination that we never allow these things to happen again. There must be not just words, but deeds. There is so much happening in the world that we need to act on, and it is my firm belief that action must be taken, lest our children stand in this place in 20 years’ time lamenting the fact that we allowed the actions of ISIS, among others, to happen. That is for another debate and another day, but it is not disrespectful to the memory of the men we are talking about to plead for us to learn from the inaction we saw and to take action when needed.

I was proud to be one of the hundreds of parliamentarians who signed the Remembering Srebrenica book of pledges, and I will be prouder still to be remembered as a parliamentarian, in a House of parliamentarians, who learned the lesson taught by atrocities and who honoured the memories of those who so senselessly lost their lives by doing all in my power to prevent a repeat of such atrocities.

My hon. Friend talks about learning lessons. Does he agree that those of us who have lost loved ones in more normal circumstances cannot even begin to understand the pain and anguish felt by those who, 20 years later, still do not have the remains of their loved ones and who cannot have a burial so that they can begin to grieve properly? We have seen that in Northern Ireland over 40 years, but the scale in this case is unimaginable, and we need to do what we can to resolve the issue.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is impossible to gauge the unfathomable enormity of what took place. In Northern Ireland, people disappeared, and some of the bodies have not been accounted for. We feel for their families. However, if we magnify that a thousandfold, we get a sense of what these things mean in Bosnia.

In conclusion and as this important anniversary approaches, I hope that all political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in the wider region, will focus not on the politics, but on the human tragedy of not just Srebrenica, but the war as a whole, and will take forward reconciliation with greater urgency. There can be no more fitting tribute to the innocent victims of war than that we remember each and every one of them today and that the Government do their best to make changes and to hold people to account. Twenty years after these events, we need to hold those responsible accountable. We all know, of course, that they will be held accountable in the next world and that they will have to come before a judgment seat to answer for what they have done, but I would like to see them get their just rewards in this world before they reach the next one.

Order. Three more people wish to speak. I do not wish to impose a time limit. If each Member speaks for a maximum of five minutes, we should be able to fit them all in.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. Often, when we contribute to debates in this place, we find ourselves following far superior contributions. In this debate, that was inevitably going to be the case, given the personal experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), whose contribution was poignant and moving, as I have come to expect from him. As ever, the modesty he shows hides much about this difficult and awful time in European history, and I am sure he will always keep that to himself.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for securing this important and timely debate and for the work he has done on many aspects of this awful experience. I also pay tribute to him for yesterday’s commemoration service in Westminster Abbey. It was an extremely important moment, which clearly meant so much to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and, most importantly, to the survivors and the families who lost loved ones.

Sitting in the peaceful surroundings of the abbey yesterday, and listening to the addresses and readings, I could not help but reflect on the horrors of the events we are talking about. The idea that such genocide could ever happen again on European soil would have been unthinkable before the events in Bosnia, especially given how much the continent had suffered during world war two, and it is staggering and shameful that such things did happen again, just half a century later. Demonising people for who they are was something we had all prayed and hoped would never happen again.

My experience of Bosnia is nothing compared with that of my hon. Friend or many others taking part in the debate. My first visit to Bosnia took place at the beginning of the previous Parliament. I was part of a delegation of Conservative Members of Parliament and MEPs from across Europe. We went to Bosnia as part of a social action project called Project Maya to help refurbish a school for children with special needs, and anyone arriving in Sarajevo is instantly struck by the bullet holes in the buildings and the scars of war.

We were also there to meet politicians, young people and organisations involved in rebuilding the nation and in ensuring that these events are never forgotten and that lessons are learned. One of the first visits we went on was to the International Commission on Missing Persons, which the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned. It is impossible to understand how anyone would feel losing a loved one in the horrific circumstances we have heard about; however, not knowing what has happened to them or where they are, and not being able to have a dignified burial or the acknowledgment of their death, must make the grief unbearable. The commission was tasked with trying to resolve those issues for families.

What made things even worse was that the bodies of those who had been killed were not only buried in mass graves, but dug up again and buried in other places. Identifying them has been a mammoth task for the commission. If that were not enough, suspicion and fear have meant that many families have felt reluctant to give DNA so that bodies could be identified. We saw how the commission tried to overcome that through confidential bar coding and other measures. I understand that now some 71,000 blood samples have been taken to help with the identification process. So far 91 mass graves have been uncovered in Srebrenica, yielding some 6,800 positive identifications of more than 8,000 missing people. Some people have been able to bury their loved ones, but, tragically, some have had to do so again as more body parts have been found. Not being afforded the opportunity to go through the natural cycle of bereavement makes the atrocity even more cruel.

For me, the most moving visit was to Srebrenica itself. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth described the countryside, and that is what struck me: it was beautiful, but we were about to visit somewhere where such a terrible thing happened. There was an eerie silence in the factory when we went round it, reminiscent of my visit to Auschwitz. In the film I saw the faces of the men who were terrified and knew that something awful was happening. Seeing all the names on the stones at the memorial was really moving.

Going up to the village, I spoke to some of the mothers. They gave a moving speech about what had happened to them. I felt utterly powerless and weak in the company of one of the women; I went up to her and said privately, “I am sorry that the west stood by.” Her reply was remarkable. She said, “It is not your fault; you were not around at the time. You were not in a position to make a decision, but if ever you see people suffering again, please don’t stand by and watch it happen.” Those are words that will stick with me for ever.

I will never forget the visit to that country. It has had a lasting effect on me. On this 20th anniversary, it is right to remember, but it is also important to learn the lessons—to make sure we do not again stand by and let such atrocities happen, and that, when people are persecuted for who and what they are, we stand up and support them. We should also pay tribute to the work of Remembering Srebrenica. It does some great work with young people in our country, including 750 educational visits to enable people to learn.

I pay tribute to all those who continue the fight to make sure that we do not forget—especially the mothers. There was testimony yesterday in Westminster Abbey from the president of the Mothers of Srebrenica:

“Europe and the world bear responsibility for the genocide in Srebrenica. Silence on genocide is its approval. However, I firmly believe that twenty years later, Europe and the world can make things better.

Help us find the bones of our children! Ease our suffering by protecting the mother from the murderer of her child. Take the uniforms off our children’s murderers. If there was no justice and mercy for more than 10,000 innocent men, women and children systematically murdered back in 1995, then please show some mercy and justice today.

We still believe in goodness. We believe that truth and justice are on our side. We bear no hatred towards those who executed this inhuman plan, because hatred is weakness and we refuse to be weak.”

Those are incredible words from people who have suffered so much, and we can learn much from them.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham again on the debate. It is important to remember, and it is important that as a free nation we should always stand by the people affected if we ever see atrocities happening again.

I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing the debate and on all the work that he has done over the years with Remembering Srebrenica. I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Srebrenica, which was set up about three years ago. I want to thank right hon. and hon. Members who have supported it and its work.

My interest in what happened in Bosnia stems partly from having seen what happened during the war in the former Yugoslavia, as it disintegrated before our eyes. In addition, I worked for two years with the United Nations mission in Kosovo, from 2000 to 2002, so I had a chance to see at first hand some of the things that happened in Yugoslavia. I did not have the opportunity to travel to Bosnia, because of various security issues and concerns at the time, but I had the chance to speak to people who had been there—and, of course, to people generally across Yugoslavia. I am sure that Members are aware that there were many massacres in Kosovo too, carried out by Miloševic and his people. I had a chance to see mass graves there.

I am grateful for the fact that we are remembering Srebrenica and the 8,344 young boys and men who died in the massacre, but it is also right to remember that those were not the only deaths. About 100,000 Muslims died in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. In addition to the killings, as is almost inevitable in wars, thousands of women were raped. We have heard accounts of how that happened consistently—and it seems almost to be a pattern in war.

I was humbled yesterday to be one of the 20 people to light a candle in Westminster Abbey. It was a wonderful event. I thank not only Members of the House who have given cross-party support, but the United Kingdom; we were the country that years ago pushed in the European Parliament for an annual day to commemorate Srebrenica. It is sad that even though the Parliament passed a resolution that the event should be commemorated every year in all the European countries, we are probably the only one still doing it properly. The rest of Europe has a lot of catching up to do.

I pay tribute to our country and our Parliament for what they have done, and for the assistance given by the Foreign Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government. I hope that the commemorations will come to be held in not just a few towns and cities, but every town and city in the country. The events in question should never be forgotten.

Much has been said about the details of the horrific crimes that happened. I met some of the mothers and survivors about three years ago for tea on the Terrace. The hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) spoke about dignity and forgiveness, and how the mothers bear no malice despite everything that has happened to them. Perhaps the world at large can gain understanding from such things. People were killed for their religion, sometimes by neighbours—one of the mothers said that some of the people who turned against her family were neighbours.

We need to learn the lesson from the fact that such dehumanising hatred can build up—that we are mistaken if we target groups and tarnish our view of them because of race, ethnicity or religion. Treating a group constantly as not part of our society, or not fitting in with our values or doing certain things, is the sort of thing that can lead to such genocide and neighbours turning against each other.

I want to touch on genocide or killing that is still happening; Syria has been mentioned. Conflicts are sometimes confusing, and the situation in Burma is also relevant. May I have another minute, Mr Chope?

The hon. Lady has the Floor, but I hope to fit in Mr Kerevan as well, and we need time for proper winding-up speeches.

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much.

I want to mention Burma, where ethnic cleansing is happening and many are being killed. I am sorry that the international community has not been doing much about it. Perhaps we need to move on that.

I pay tribute to my gallant friend, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), for organising the debate. “Gallant” is an important word, because it is a truism—true in this case—that the people who hate war and its aftermath most are former soldiers who have experienced it. We should remember that.

I will briefly explain why this debate is of significance to me. I was born at the end of the 1940s and am of the generation brought up in the shadow of the Nazi holocaust. It was axiomatic to us that such mass, clinical, industrial murder could never take place again in Europe—but it did. I was shocked when it happened in Srebrenica. I had thought that it could never happen again, but it will always happen again if each generation does not learn the lessons and if we do not preach the lessons to the young of our country. We have to go on doing that; it will happen again unless we go on preaching the dangers.

I also want to speak because I have a Bosnian Muslim constituent. Campaigning in the general election, I knocked on a door in Haddington, a country town in Scotland, in East Lothian. A happy family from an immigrant community answered the door and it turned out that they were from Bosnia; they had come over as refugees in the aftermath of the war. I did not know that a number of refugees at that time had been relocated to Haddington to keep them together and to form a local community. It is now 20 years on, however, so I happily asked, “Are any other Bosnian families still here?” The people in the door laughed and pointed next door and up the street and I discovered that quite a significant community had made its home in Haddington. They were talking with broad Scottish accents, as is the way if someone lives there for a while. We have made them welcome, but they have joined us and entered our community despite all their traumas, so I thank them.

In my past life I was a documentary filmmaker, and I have been so moved by this issue over the years. We made a documentary film about the survivors of the massacre with Samir Mehanovic, an old Bosnian Muslim friend of mine who suffered and lost family in the crisis, but now lives here. It will be shown in an edited form on BBC World and we are premiering it in Sarajevo at the weekend. The film is designed for the cinema; we wanted people to see things on the big screen, in the dark, to achieve immediacy, rather than having it go on in a living room on the small screen, which does not have the same impact.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned some of the footage taken by the Serbian irregulars and the Serbian army of the cruel things they were doing. I could only watch some of the scenes once. I actually argued with my friend Samir in favour of taking the footage out of our film, but he would not have it—it traumatises him to watch it, but he wants people to see.

The message of our film is the one I wanted to bring to the Chamber, however briefly: we should not only honour and remember the dead, but remember the living. There are many survivors—most are now in Tuzla—but they have found it difficult to find work, their memories are still in their heads and they still need help, support and solidarity. We must remember that fact, which I commend to the Minister. There is still work to be done for the living as well as the dead.

My final point involves Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, who in the past few weeks has been doing his usual thing of denying the massacre. He has even been to the massacre site and denied that it ever took place. There have been contacts between the Bosnian Serbs and the Moscow regime; pressure is put on Moscow to continue to operate at the United Nations in an attempt to stop proper UN recognition and continuing investigation of the massacre. I commend that fact to the Minister.

There is still work to be done at the UN to ensure that we go on remembering Srebrenica, seeking justice for the victims and remembering those who are still alive.

Thank you, Mr Chope. Others have done this, but I thank in particular the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) for bringing this timely debate to the House. This event was one of the most devastating of the 20th century—something we hoped never to see again, but did. All of us are thinking about the people of Srebrenica this week. They will certainly be in my prayers over the coming days.

I want to say something about the hon. Gentleman; if I may, I shall call him my hon. Friend. The events in Bosnia were important when I was growing up—at school, as a student and when I travelled to Bosnia in 1996. I remember watching the hon. Gentleman on television, giving one of the first positive views that I saw coming out of Bosnia. His bravery at the time came across the television screen to the young man I was. I also pay tribute to the work that he has done since—he never left it behind, but kept going.

The conflict shaped my view of the world; it had that effect on many people. However, in a previous life I also spent many happy times working in Bosnia. It is a wonderful country. The tributes that we pay today must also go to the people who have built Bosnia since. The bravery of the country is reflected in the fact that so many have attended the debate in the Public Gallery. That, too, takes bravery—to come and sit through the debate, keeping the memory of Srebrenica alive. I hope that hon. Members will join me in paying tribute to those who have joined us today.

In the House, we often disagree on issues, but I want to pay tribute to the UK Government for what they are doing at the moment. They are, to quote President Izetbegovic of Bosnia, “leading the way” in Europe in remembering Srebrenica. This week there has been a service in Westminster Abbey and on Friday I will attend a service in Edinburgh with our First Minister. It is great to see that there will also be a service in Belfast city hall and one led by Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales. That is tremendous.

My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) led a Scottish delegation to Bosnia and Srebrenica last year. He said:

“We must never ever forget the act of genocide that happened at Srebrenica and it is a duty of every one, irrespective of race or religion, to teach the generations that follow us to challenge the evils of hatred, racism and extremism at all times, which is why the Remembering Srebrenica’s ‘Lessons from Srebrenica Visits’ are so important.”

I pay tribute to his work.

Many of us have talked about the lessons that are needed. There was a failure of not only the UK, but Europe and the international community only 20 years ago. Paddy Ashdown, who puts it better than I ever could, said:

“Whether through error, misjudgement, an inability to comprehend, or just inattention, we stood aside when we should not have done. We should therefore remember Srebrenica, not just to bear witness to those who suffered, but also as a warning to us all of what happens when we turn our back.”

My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan) said that we need to honour not only the dead, but the living. In honouring the living, we reflect on man’s inhumanity to man. We think about the other conflicts in the world and the lessons that we can learn from them. We might not always agree on what those lessons are, but it is important to learn them.

I again thank those who have attended the debate and who continue to work hard to keep the memory of Srebrenica alive. They do a service to us all.

It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope.

Every time the story of the terrible events in Srebrenica 20 years ago is told, it is as shocking as it was when the truth was first revealed. As we have heard today, what happened in that small mountain town in the Balkans stands apart as one of the darkest chapters in European history. It is the story of thousands of families who believed that they were in a place of safety and shelter, but who were brutally and systematically put to slaughter. It is the story of how more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men lost their lives and of how rape was inflicted on countless women and young girls as a weapon of war. It is the story of how an entire community were stripped first of their dignity and then of their humanity, just because of the names that they were born with. The crime was described by the United Nations as

“the worst committed on European soil since the Second World War”.

Many of the details of what the victims experienced are simply too harrowing to put into words. That is why it is so important that we mark this anniversary.

I therefore congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing this important debate. He spoke with all the passion and expertise we would expect from someone who served as he did with great distinction in Bosnia. I take this opportunity to thank him for the great service he has done for this House in bringing us together to mark this terrible tragedy. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), and the hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), for East Lothian (George Kerevan) and for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) for their excellent contributions to the debate.

What the hon. Member for Beckenham said had particular resonance for me. As a young officer in the British Army, one of my first deployments was to Kosovo during the conflict that took place there in 1999. Although we were several hundred miles away, we could still feel the legacy of what happened at Srebrenica. Forces loyal to Slobodan Miloševic were on the march, again seeking to cleanse towns and villages. I saw at first hand how division and hatred can tear a country apart, ripping apart families and destroying people’s lives. I remember discovering the scene of massacres and the piles of people’s personal possessions. Those memories will never leave me.

We must never allow the terrible crimes of Srebrenica to be forgotten. It was genocide, as has been declared by both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and it is important that we use that word. As we mark two decades since those atrocities, I offer three brief reflections.

The first is that justice must always be done, no matter how long it takes. The perpetrators of those terrible acts must be brought to justice. The international community, including the UK, has made an important contribution to that, through both the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the Bosnia and Herzegovina state court. Twenty senior Bosnian Serb leaders have been indicted over the past two decades and both Radovan Karadžic and Ratko Mladic are now on trial in The Hague. A further seven people accused of taking part in the massacre were arrested by the Serbian authorities as recently as March this year.

It is right that Britain has provided support to the state prosecutor’s office to help ensure that those guilty of war crimes do not go unpunished. We must continue to stand in solidarity beside Bosnia and Herzegovina and provide what support we can. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister updated the House on the latest efforts that are being made to that end.

Does the Minister agree that we need to extend every possible support to the families who lost loved ones at Srebrenica whose fate is still unknown—a point rightly raised by the hon. Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham)? Many of the bodies of those who lost their lives in those July days have never been recovered, and too many families are still looking for the remains of their loved ones so that they can give them a proper burial. As well as the 8,372 who perished, more than 15,000 men fled across the mountains to Tuzla to try to escape the slaughter. Many of them would never make it. Some were ambushed; others, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, were tricked by forces wearing stolen UN uniforms to lull them into a false sense of security. The locations of many of the mass graves that they were buried in are still undisclosed. That must be resolved as a step towards broader reconciliation.

Secondly, we must make every possible effort as an international community to ensure that such appalling events are never repeated. It is easy to say, “Never again”; the hard part is ensuring that our words are matched with deeds, as the hon. Member for Strangford said. There is a particular responsibility on us, Great Britain, to play our part in living up to that, as a leading member of the United Nations. As the hon. Member for Beckenham said, history has long accepted that failings by the UN contributed to what happened at Srebrenica. Those included delays in providing support to a UN peacekeeping force that was ill-equipped and ill-prepared. As Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General, wrote in 1999:

“Through error, misjudgement and an inability to recognise the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder.”

The blame for what happened in Bosnia will always rest with the people who carried out those hateful and heinous crimes, but those who stood by or did not act readily enough also have a burden to carry. Our duty today is to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. We must work together to ensure that the international community has both the will and the capacity to act in response to cases of genocide or crimes against humanity. That approach is enshrined in the UN’s responsibility to protect, but in recent years cases such as Darfur and Syria have reminded us that there has not always been willingness to act. Does the Minister therefore agree that, as we mark 70 years since the signing of UN charter, we must ensure that our actions continue to live up to its founding values, to protect

“the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”?

I welcome the Government’s role in drafting a resolution at the UN to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica. That decision was not without controversy; indeed, some Serbian leaders have called for the resolution to be dropped. If anything, the tensions over the resolution remind us of the challenge that remains in healing the wounds of the past.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

[Hywel Williams in the Chair]

Before the Division, I was welcoming the role that the Government have played in drafting a resolution at the UN to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica. I would be grateful if the Minister could update the House on what progress is being made on agreeing the text of a UN resolution on Srebrenica and what efforts the Government are making to ensure that it commemorates the anniversary in a suitable and respectful way.

Let me raise a separate but related point. The Minister will be aware that the French Government and others have floated the idea of permanent members of the Security Council suspending the use of the veto in cases of genocide. That was not the issue at Srebrenica, but it does have relevance for preventing any future atrocities like it, so I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm what the British Government’s attitude is to that proposal.

Thirdly and finally, we must continue to bear witness to what happened at Srebrenica. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the countless charities and organisations working to ensure that the lessons of genocide are passed on and never forgotten: Remembering Srebrenica, the Fund for Refugees in Slovenia, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust and many others.

I also welcome the fact that the UK has contributed funds to the memorial complex near Srebrenica. Nothing will make up for the horrors of the past, but the first step we can take to ensure that they are never repeated is to ensure that future generations know what happened in Bosnia in 1995. They need to know that genocide is not just something that happened many years ago at the end of the second world war. It can happen today, and it could happen in the future if we let down our guard.

I end with this reflection. It is particularly appropriate that we are holding this debate today, a decade on from the terrorist attacks of 7/7. In preparing for it, I reflected on an event that I attended in Parliament last week at which I was honoured to meet survivors of the holocaust. Of course, our country is still recovering from the painful blow inflicted on a beach in Tunisia just 11 days ago. Whether we are reflecting on what happened 70 years ago in Auschwitz, 20 years ago in Srebrenica, 10 years ago on 7/7 or two weeks ago in Tunisia, those events are all bound together by the same thing—hatred, extremism and contempt for human life. Above all, that is what we must overcome if we are to ensure that our world is never again darkened by such atrocities. We need to educate all our young people about the importance of tolerance, respect and always challenging racism, discrimination and hatred. If this anniversary reminds us of nothing else, let it remind us of that. That would be the best tribute that we could possibly pay.

The genocide in Srebrenica—the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys—represents the worst atrocity in Europe since 1945. It is also probably one of the darkest moments in the history of the United Nations. Twenty years on, it is right that we recall those events, pay tribute to the victims of the atrocities committed at Srebrenica and remember those from all sides who have lost family members and friends during the conflicts in the Balkans. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) both for securing and leading today’s debate and for the way in which he has spoken up for Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the memory of Srebrenica and its victims and for the western Balkans region overall during his time in the House.

Hon. Members have rightly said during the debate that alongside those who lost their lives at Srebrenica, we need to hold in our thoughts the survivors, who to this day mourn the loss of their family members and friends. The testimony of Nedžad Avdic, which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham included in his speech, was a searing testimony to the appalling nature of the events that took place in and around Srebrenica 20 years ago. While commemorating those events, we need also to redouble our resolve to continue to push for the perpetrators of war crimes in the Balkans and elsewhere to be brought to justice.

This is an opportunity to encourage greater reconciliation both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the wider western Balkans region. It is also a moment to pause and reflect on the lessons learned and commit ourselves to making “Never again” not just a slogan, but a reality.

The United Kingdom is leading the drafting of a United Nations Security Council resolution to commemorate the victims of the genocide in Srebrenica and those who suffered on all sides in the war. That resolution encourages further steps towards reconciliation and a brighter future for Bosnia. The draft text that we have tabled also affirms our determination to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and to use all the tools at our disposal to do so. The Security Council is due to vote on the resolution in New York this afternoon.

As the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) said, Srebrenica is an acute reminder of the extreme consequences that can occur when divisions are allowed to prevail and when we fail to stand up to extremism and hatred, so this is also an important opportunity to reflect on what can happen when hatred and discrimination go unchecked.

Of course, part of reconciliation is about justice. It is for that reason that UK funding has provided immense support to the state prosecutor’s office, where financial support to the Srebrenica team from 2004 until December 2012 has had a direct impact on the number of successful prosecutions for Srebrenica-related war crimes. Our embassy in Sarajevo continues the valuable work on justice, supporting programmes to bring Bosnia’s justice and security sectors into line with international standards.

However, there is a great deal more to do. Reconciliation is also about rebuilding the damaged relationships to ensure that communities can live alongside each other in a cohesive and integrated manner and that intolerance never again divides Bosnia and Herzegovina or Europe. I am therefore glad that regional leaders of all faiths and ethnicities will join citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and representatives of the international community at the burial of more than 130 people and in shared commemorations at Potocari cemetery. Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal will represent the United Kingdom at the ceremony on Saturday 11 July.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham asked about the work done by the Fund for Refugees in Slovenia. I can tell him that Lady Nott is due to speak to my officials later this week, and we will obviously be interested to hear her ideas at that point, although the fact that the Department for International Development does not at the moment have an in-country programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina means that one obvious potential source of funding is not available.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) asked me about the recent article in The Guardian. He was generous enough to say that he did not expect me to go into detail about it, but I have read the article. Comprehensive documentation has been published by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and the detailed Harland report in 1999 gave the official United Nations version of events. I think that the best thing we can do is to learn the lessons and resolve that we will never again stand by and close our eyes to atrocities of the sort that were committed two decades ago.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the International Commission on Missing Persons. I have seen for myself the work that it does in Sarajevo and Cyprus under extremely difficult and challenging conditions. We have been a strong supporter of the ICMP since it was established and we have provided more than £3 million in funding over the past 15 years. In the last financial year alone, we provided several hundred thousand pounds to help the ICMP to excavate a previously unknown mass grave site at Tomašica in north-west Bosnia and Herzegovina, which could produce evidence that will have an impact on ongoing cases before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. I assure the House that our commitment to the ICMP will continue.

We are spending about £4.75 million this year on projects that promote security and stability in Bosnia, including on peacekeeping, security sector reform, good governance and community reconciliation. We want Bosnia and Herzegovina to fulfil its potential as a stable, prosperous nation in the heart of Europe. When I have been to Sarajevo, I have found it encouraging to talk to young people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, who see their future as being in the mainstream of European civilisation and who want not to forget the past, but to come to terms with it and build a better, more united future for their country.

In February last year, the entire international community heard the concerns of the Bosnian people. The demonstrations brought into stark relief the urgency of addressing key political and economic challenges, such as creating jobs for young people in their own country. That is why in November last year, our Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), alongside his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, led a new initiative to try to re-energise Bosnia’s path towards EU integration, a plan that has been adopted by the EU as a whole. The focus of that initiative is on delivering real reform and changes that will have the most direct impact on the Bosnian people. That does not mean that we can avoid addressing difficult political and constitutional issues, but I believe it is right to move ahead as quickly as possible with changes that will make a difference for the better to the lives of ordinary families from every community in Bosnia. Bosnia’s political leaders have signed up to that approach, and they need to implement reforms that will move the country forward and create a society that will bring opportunities for all its citizens. It is vital that old, divisive nationalist politics does not get in the way. Last year, in response to the appalling floods, Bosnians from all ethnicities showed that faced with a crisis, they could work together.

The bloodstained nature of recent history means that the path will not be an easy one, but we have a public commitment by party leaders from across the political spectrum in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The international community has a responsibility to support the people in holding their leaders to account to improve the lives of their citizens. All citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve lasting prosperity and stability, and that will be achieved only when hope and good will for the richness of all members of society prevail over division. Building a secure, integrated, reconciled Bosnia and Herzegovina is, I believe, the best way to ensure that we can in truth say, when we reflect on Srebrenica, “Never again.”

I thank everyone who has taken part in this important debate. I end by expressing my gratitude for the support we have had from behind us—from the Mothers of Srebrenica and some of the victims, who are here today. It is probably not parliamentary protocol to say that, but we are here for them. God bless them.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.