On the 9th of July, Oliver McTernan was invited to speak at an event organised by the London Muslim Centre and East London Mosque, commemorating the 23rd Anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica. A copy of Oliver’s remarks are outlined below:

Thank you for this opportunity to be reminded of the Srebrenica Genocide, we should never forget Srebrenica stands for the worst single incident of mass murder on European soil since the end of the Second World War, a massacre inflicted on Europeans by fellow Europeans simply because they were perceived to be different – they were Muslims.

We should also remember that in addition to the cold blooded execution of more than eight thousand men and boys an additional 20,000 civilians were expelled from the area for the same reason.

Sadly it took these horrendous events to shame the Western powers to press for a ceasefire that ended three years of bloody and divisive conflict.

The primary blame for the massacre rests with those senior officers in the Bosnian Serb army who carried out the crime. But the UN and the Western powers must share that blame for having failed to protect the Bosniak men, women, and children in Srebrenica, which in 1993 the UN Security Council had formally designated a “safe area.”

In 1999, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recognized this when he wrote, “Through error, misjudgment and an inability to recognize the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the [Bosnian] Serb campaign of mass murder.”

The failure of the Dutch command to act decisively to protect those who relied on them will always remain a shameful episode in modern European history. It represents a moral as well as legal failure to act upon what is right and just.

In March 1995 Radovan Karadžić, directed his military forces to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica.” This is a shocking statement in whatever human context. It becomes even more disturbing if Karadzic’s claim that “not a single important decision was made without the Church” is true.

Tonight is not the time or occasion to give a lecture on the religious fault lines and rivalries that developed in that region over the centuries, but I believe Paul Mojzes is right when he accused the Orthodox leadership of failing to protest when they were aware of the threat to other faiths. They had come to see themselves as “the self proclaimed guardians of national interests”. I think the same could be said of the Catholic leadership in Croatia.

Srebrenica represents, therefore, not only a failure in local and global political leadership but it also exposed the moral failure of the religious leadership to protect the right of others to be different and their lack of moral courage to act accordingly. It exposes the dangers when religious interests are intertwined with ethnic or political identities. This is a lesson we should never forget when we look at the challenges we face in different parts of the world today.

The threats of genocide and ethnic cleansing will always lurk in the shadows when people feel their own identity is threatened, real or perceived, by the presence of the other. Religious and political leaders must never overlook the need for the moral courage to protect and defend, at whatever cost, the right of others to be different. We will not , and should not, forget Srebrenica.