Speech by Liesje Schreinemacher on the occasion of the Srebrenica genocide commemoration

Speech by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Liesje Schreinemacher, on the occasion of the Srebrenica genocide commemoration on 11 July 2023 in The Hague. 

The spoken word applies. 

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dobor Dan.

8,372 names. 8,372 names are listed on the memorial in Potočari. 8,372 names of innocent victims. Some not even 15 years’ old. They were murdered in cold blood in the hills around Srebrenica. And it was a premeditated act. An act motivated solely by blind, implacable hatred. Hatred of a community that had lived for centuries in Bosnia. Even now, words cannot convey the staggering scale of this genocide.

Srebrenica is the ultimate warning of what can happen if our societies are poisoned by polarisation, racism and ethnic nationalism. And this dark chapter has not yet been closed. Far from it. The pain is still felt every day. Today we come together to remember and pay our respects to all the victims of the genocide in Srebrenica. Our thoughts are with all the fathers, sons, brothers, nephews and friends who are no longer with us.

We recall the powerlessness of our UN troops in the face of Bosnian Serb aggression. And we reflect on the failure of the international community to offer adequate protection to the people of Srebrenica. This led to the biggest genocide in Europe since the Second World War.

As part of that international community, the Dutch government shares political responsibility for allowing a situation in which that failure occurred. Last year, on behalf of the Dutch government, defence minister Kajsa Ollongren offered her deepest apologies.I would like to reaffirm that sentiment here by observing a moment of silence.

We all carry the scars of Srebrenica with us. And of course, as Bosniaks in the Netherlands, you more than anyone. But let me assure you: you are not alone. One generation on from the genocide in Srebrenica, the most important task before us is to come to terms with this nightmare together. The apology offered by the Dutch government will, I hope, contribute to this process. The work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals here in The Hague has also been essential.

Thanks to their efforts, perpetrators been convicted and punished. And the ICTY established an irrefutable hour-by-hour account of what happened in Srebrenica. Acknowledgement of the facts helps to heal our collective trauma and set our future course. And I also see several more grounds for hope, and for confidence in the future.

I see the most important of these in you, the Bosnian community in the Netherlands. The vast majority of you came to the Netherlands because of the war. You came having lost everything that was dear to you, and with no time for tears or for grief. In the words of Emir Suljagić, director of the Srebrenica Memorial Center, each memory was a scar. But with great courage and resilience, you built new lives. Your children went to school or university here, and are now working hard to shape their own futures. I stand here today with nothing but respect and admiration.

We share a common determination to keep the memory of Srebrenica alive. There is no better example of this than your initiative to erect a monument in the Netherlands commemorating the genocide in Srebrenica. The monument, which will be here in The Hague, illustrates what can be achieved if Bosniaks and Dutch people work together to achieve a common goal. It will give the genocide a permanent and visible place in the Dutch urban landscape. Making it all the more clear that Srebrenica is also part of Dutch history. And fulfilling a long-cherished wish of your community.

On this day, 11 July, I think it is important that you know that the Netherlands stands shoulder to shoulder with you. Especially at a time when Bosnian Serb leaders are again calling into question the continued existence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is a concern for many among you. And we share that concern. We are seeing a resurgence in genocide denial and ethnic rhetoric in Bosnia. And the Republika Srpska, under President Dodik, continues to undermine the Dayton agreement. Let me be very clear: this is unacceptable.

The Dutch government stands firm in upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For this reason the government, with the support of the House of Representatives, has decided to send Dutch military personnel to join the EUFOR operation ALTHEA. And in that way contribute to security and stability in the region.  

The Netherlands will always maintain its bond with Bosnia and Herzegovina. We owe this to you, and to the more than 8,000 boys and men who were murdered 28 years ago. What happened to them is something we cannot forget or lay to rest. Especially now, as war rages once again in another part of the European continent, and the bodies of murdered civilians again lie in the streets.

We in the Netherlands have a duty to keep alive the memory of Srebrenica. To find words for what happened. And to continue telling the story of the lives that were extinguished because of a hateful and deluded ideology. Because that is the lesson of Srebrenica. Stirring up intolerance is playing with fire. And failing to take a timely stand means giving acts of unimaginable evil yet another chance to thrive.

That is why we say now: Srebrenica never again.

Nikada više.

Thank you.