Speech at the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Gamle Logen in Oslo, 4 June 2015.

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Prime Minister, representatives of the Bosnian community in Norway, ladies and gentlemen,

We are here today to mark the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. It was the greatest crime against humanity in Europe since the Second World War. For many years, the conflicts in the Balkans filled the news headlines. In the face of grim reports about civil war and ethnic cleansing, we felt a sense of powerlessness that we had not felt in Europe since World War Two. We will never forget the images from the market massacre in Sarajevo, or of the streams of refugees from Bosnia.

It was difficult to comprehend how atrocities like these could take place so close to our own borders.

When we now remember Srebrenica, our thoughts go first and foremost to the victims and to their loved ones. Boys and men who lost their lives; women who lost their husbands and sons; women who were themselves subjected to brutal attacks; and families that were torn apart. 

The international community once again failed to prevent grave atrocities in Europe.

In 1994, the year before the Srebrenica massacre, the genocide in Rwanda took place. Last year I visited Rwanda and the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It made a very powerful impression on me, and it was particularly distressing to see photos of the many victims.

After Srebrenica and Rwanda, the international community was determined that grave crimes like these would never be allowed to happen again.

Those who had participated in genocide and war crimes were to be held accountable. And the majority of those responsible were indeed prosecuted. Many of them are now serving sentences. The court cases will soon be concluded. This means a lot in the fight against impunity. And, not least, it means a lot for the bereaved families and the victims.

When we now remember Srebrenica, we must also learn from what happened there.

The international community has taken this very seriously. Ten years after Srebrenica, the UN General Assembly adopted the principle of ‘responsibility to protect’. This means that when a country is unable, or unwilling, to protect its own population against massive atrocities, the international community has a responsibility to intervene, using all available measures, in line with the UN Charter and international law.

The Security Council has also made it clear that such crimes can be a threat to international peace and security.

After Rwanda and Srebrenica, many people lost faith in the ability of the UN to lead peace operations. Since then, the UN has undergone extensive reforms, which have given the organisation a whole new basis for leading peace operations.

The principle of ‘responsibility to protect’ and the reforms of UN peacekeeping operations have given the international community new tools for preventing a new Srebrenica or a new Rwanda.

Unfortunately, however, we are still seeing grave atrocities in situations of armed conflict. Civilians are often innocent victims. Disagreement within the Security Council has paralysed the international community. And we have not always been able to find good solutions for protecting civilians in conflict areas.

But we have also seen examples of the international community taking action. In some cases, the Security Council has allowed the use of military force to protect civilians. It did so in Libya, to stop Gaddafi’s bombing of his own people, and again in Côte d’Ivoire in 2011.

The principle of a shared responsibility to protect has helped to prevent the most serious crimes known to man – war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. 

When we now mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, it is fitting that we also stop and take stock of what we have achieved over the last 20 years.

We are seeing greater integration and cross-border cooperation in Europe. The EU has been expanded from 12 member countries to 28 countries over the last 20 years. Two of the republics of the former Yugoslavia have become members of the EU and NATO.

I am pleased that Norway still has close relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina. And I am pleased that those of you who represent the Bosnian community here in Norway, are also helping to strengthen the ties between Norway and Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

My party, the Conservatives, have carried out a project in cooperation with political parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The main focus has been on women’s participation in politics and on reducing dividing lines across political parties, religion and ethnicity. I especially appreciated the visit from a group of young politicians from Bosnia-Herzegovina, whom I met on Election Day in 2013.

The Bosnians who came to Norway as refugees in the 1990s are now well-integrated into Norwegian society. You play an important role in a range of areas. You have built a new life for yourselves in Norway.

Seeing this can give hope to others who are today affected by conflict, and not least to those who have been forced to flee conflict, in Europe and elsewhere. It can give hope that it is possible to create a better life, a better future.

We have said before: never again. I truly hope that we can now build a future in which these words become a reality.