Published on
11 July 2019

Srebrenica Memorial Day: Bridging the Divide, Confronting Hate

Our CEO, Javed Khan, talks about the importance of remembrance on the 24th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.

Srebrenica memorial headstones in a green field
Photo: Srebrenica–Potočari Memorial by Jelle Visser (CC-BY 2.0) 

In the fast-paced, 24/7 world of social media, where information is digested and forgotten in minutes, the act of remembrance has a special significance. 

Thankfully, for most children growing up in the UK today, war, famine and genocide don’t feel like present or immediate threats. But for their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents these catastrophic events happened in living memory and close to home - in Europe. 

Today, the 11th of July, is Srebrenica Memorial Day. It marks the 24th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, during which more than 8,000 Muslim Bozniaks, mostly men and boys, were killed and another 30,000 were ‘expelled’. The genocide, which took place during the break-up of Yugoslavia, remains the most serious war crime in Europe since the Second World War.

Two years ago I visited the site of this atrocity with the Lessons From Srebrenica educational programme – run by the charity Remembering Srebrenica. It is hard to overstate the impact of seeing first-hand the site where so much senseless violence and suffering took place. Inevitably, the trauma was acutely felt by children, including those who lost parents, family and their home. 

Just as with the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda, the terrible events of Srebrenica are etched into the memories of families, communities and their descendants who survived. But for most others, over time the memory gradually fades into the history books. 

The danger of course with memories fading is that as a global society we risk forgetting not just the events and the horror but the lessons for the future too. 

This year the theme for Remembering Srebrenica is “Bridging the Divide, Confronting Hate”. It’s a reference to the Stari Most Bridge in Mostar, southern Bosnia Herzegovina, which stood for 400 years before being destroyed in the genocide. 

As parents, we hope that our children will inherit a safer world, and that starts with showing, as the late MP Jo Cox said, that there is more that unites us than divides us. Living in the UK it is easy to feel we are succeeding in building bridges and creating a safer world. But at Barnardo’s we are frequently reminded that for some children and families, danger is all too present. 

Barnardo’s has supported more than 1000 refugees from Syria. Arriving from war-torn countries, having survived unimaginable trauma and loss, refugees remind us how far there is to go in achieving the global peace and justice we hope for. 

Today is an opportunity to reflect on what we as individuals can do in our personal and professional lives to help build bridges. I’m proud that at Barnardo’s we take equality, diversity and inclusion so seriously that it’s embedded in our Corporate Strategy. Even from our earliest days under Thomas Barnardo, we supported black children when few others would. Today 25% of our service users are BAME. And as the first non-white, Muslim CEO of this great charity, I know we have made great strides towards embracing difference and uniting communities. 

But there is a long way to go. On Srebrenica Memorial Day I urge everyone to take a few moments, watch the information video below to learn more about the genocide, and reflect on what you can do to help build bridges to a safer, more inclusive world. 

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