Bosnia genocide survivors: We have no hatred – but justice is critical for healing when perpetrators won’t acknowledge their crimes

Survivors of the Srebrenica genocide say they have managed to raise the next generation without hatred – but that justice has been critical for healing because the perpetrators have never asked for forgiveness.

Tuesday, 3rd March 2020, 4:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 3rd March 2020, 4:21 pm
L-R: Amil Khan, Director of Remembering Srebrenica; Elmia Kulašić; Belfast High Sherriff Nicola Verner; Munira Subašić and Peter Osbourne

Bosnian Serb forces killed 8,000 Muslim men in Srebrenica over three days in 1995 - the worst atrocity on European soil since the Holocaust.

Marking 25 years since the genocide, two survivors spoke at Belfast City Council today, accompanied by Remembering Srebrenica NI chairman Peter Osborne.

Munira Subašić, President of the Mothers of Srebrenica, lost 122 relatives. “It is very hard to live with the truth 25 years later, especially when a number of the perpetrators have not faced justice,” she told the BBC.

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She says over 20,000 women and girls were raped and 5,500 children left orphaned.

“And as mothers we have succeeded in raising those children and those children today are professors, engineers, doctors and they have not committed one act of revenge... that is the success of the mothers of Bosnia.”

Asked how they coped with hatred, anger and pain, she replied: “As mothers we tried to eliminate that kind of hatred from the genocide. We tried to have a dialogue with the others so we could create some sense of trust among each other. And we want the perpetrators to face justice so that other citizens can feel some sort of freedom and live normally in their communities.”

That is why, she said, they cooperated with the Hague and international war crime investigations. “We were witnesses at trials and we called the perpetrators out by their names.”

Concentration camp survivor Elmia Kulašić was asked how she approaches reconciliation and forgiveness.

“We have transitional justice, we have legal proceedings, but I think acknowledgement for survivors is a better word,” she said. “Because the first step in understanding what happened is to make the perpetrators on the other side acknowledge that those crimes were committed and that no denial should take place.”

She added: “We haven’t been asked for forgiveness – no one has asked us to forgive – so we sort of go through the process of forgiving ourselves... for not understanding what happened.”

Asked what they can learn from NI, she replied: “By sharing stories, especially personal stories, we can see.... we cry the same, we want to live in peace the same way and that hatred starts with words.”

Councillor John Kyle, Chair of Shared City Partnership also attended the event. He said: “I am inspired by the actions of survivors like Munira and the Mothers of Srebrenica. Despite everything they have been through, they have never sought vengeance and never acted with hatred. Instead, they have campaigned for justice. I hope their actions inspires young people around the world to turn their back on prejudice and embrace acceptance and tolerance.”