– in the House of Commons at 12:26 pm on 14 July 2022.

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Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East 12:26, 14 July 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
notes that from 4 to 11 July 2022, the UK marked Srebrenica Memorial Week with commemorations taking place in hundreds of schools, local authorities, places of worship, community centres and police forces to name but a few to mark the 27th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica where over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces;
expresses concern about the current threat to Bosnia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty from secessionists who are operating with the support of Russia and the prospect of a return to conflict;
commends the invaluable work undertaken by Remembering Srebrenica in using the lessons of Srebrenica to tackle prejudice to help build a safer, stronger and more cohesive society in the UK;
and urges the Government to continue funding this vital work which since 2013 has educated nearly 200,000 young people on Srebrenica, enabled over 1,500 community actions to take place right across the country each year, and created 1,450 Community Champions who pledge to stand up to hatred and intolerance in their communities.

Before I go into the substance of the debate, I wish to say a number of thank yous. First, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting me and Alicia Kearns this debate to mark the commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide 27 years ago, and my hon. Friend Kate Green, who attended the Backbench Business Committee with me to support my application for the debate. Like your, Madam Deputy Speaker, she is stepping down as a Member of Parliament at the next election, and I am truly sad about that.

Secondly, I thank the Speaker for granting my application for a commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide. That commemoration took place at Speaker’s House, and I thank him and his staff for allowing us to host it. Thirdly, I thank the Administration Committee for allowing a book-signing commemoration in Portcullis House yesterday. I declare two interests: first, I have been the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Srebrenica since 2013, which I helped found with Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. Secondly, from 2000 to 2002, I worked for the United Nations mission in Kosovo.

Two genocides have taken place in Europe. One was the holocaust, in which over 6 million Jewish people were murdered. The other was the Bosnian genocide between 1992 and 1995, which involved the planned, systematic and industrialised murder of just under 100,000 Muslims, the displacement of 2 million people, and the genocidal rape of up to 50,000 women simply because they were Muslims. Many of us of a certain age will remember seeing images of the war in Bosnia on our television screens during the 1990s. We remember watching with horror the footage of Sarajevo under siege and people being held in concentration camps, and slowly learning about the reports of atrocities being committed across Bosnia, which culminated in a genocide taking place on European soil just 50 years after the world pledged “never again”.

This week marks the 27th anniversary of events in Srebrenica where, over a period of just a few days in July 1995, over 8,000 men and boys—Bosnian Muslims—were systematically murdered by Bosnian Serb forces. The victims’ bodies were dumped in mass graves as the Bosnian-Serb soldiers sought to cover up what they had done. Twenty-seven years on, the remains of a significant number of victims are still missing.

Although the anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide gives us an opportunity to commemorate and reflect on what happened, it is important that we understand the reason why commemorating the anniversary is so important. We commemorate it, first, so we can recognise the suffering of the victims, their loved ones and the survivors. In 2018, as a guest of the charity Remembering Srebrenica, I had the privilege of visiting Bosnia and meeting the survivors and some of the mothers. They are inspirational women who, despite experiencing the very worst of humanity, have shown great strength and determination to rebuild their lives and resist hatred. By commemorating the genocide, we help to ensure that the victims are not forgotten. I also visited the genocide memorial centre just outside Srebrenica. Thousands of simple white gravestones stretch across the hillside as far as the eye can see. Even today, the remains of the victims are still being found and identified.

Secondly, commemorating the genocide is made even more important by the continued denial of what happened. To be clear, the events of the Srebrenica genocide have been documented in forensic detail by the investigations of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Despite that, Bosnian-Serb political leaders in Republika Srpska, one of the two entities that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina today, in which Srebrenica is located, continue to deny and minimise the events that occurred. The Serbs refuse to allow the history of the genocide to be taught in schools.

Further afield, we know that the genocide has been an inspiration for far-right extremists and Islamophobes. The Christchurch mosque attacker played a song glorifying Karadžić just prior to the attack and, years earlier, Anders Breivik in Norway also sought inspiration in the Balkan wars and Serb ultra-nationalism. There have been other events around the world in the past few years that reinforce the importance of remembering what happened in Srebrenica.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I commend the hon. Lady on securing this debate, which is so important. I speak as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. The week before last, the Government held and sponsored an international conference for those who are persecuted across the world. The conference remembered all the genocide that has taken place across the world, so I commend her on bringing this issue to the House.

I am reminded of a verse from Ecclesiastes:

“Wisdom is better than weapons of war”.

Does the hon. Lady agree that the international community must have the wisdom to learn from its errors and finally put an end to repeating the same mistakes over and over? We always hope that this one will be the last, but it never seems to be.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and commend him on and thank him for all his work on religious freedom and preventing the persecution of people because of their religion.

There are worrying similarities between Srebrenica and the plight of the Rohingya in Burma, or the rise of Hindu nationalism in India—the Hindutva movement under Prime Minister Modi—and the growing tide of anti-Muslim violence. Indeed, there are numerous examples around the world of people being targeted and killed because of their identity or beliefs. That makes it critical that we continue to remember and reflect on Srebrenica.

Even here, the Srebrenica genocide and the events leading up to it contain important lessons for us. Low-level prejudice escalates to crime, violence and hatred. It creeps up on us in stages. It begins with differentiation and discrimination, fostering and fostered by a sense of grievance or perceived grievance, yet at every stage, as we watch hate unfold, we have the opportunity to break into and halt that journey. I hope that the Minister will take note of that for the Government’s strategy in tackling far-right extremism. We must actively promote tolerance in and between our communities; work with them and encourage them to educate and share with one another; support individuals bravely speaking out against hate speech; recognise and act on inequality and injustice; and intervene at the earliest possible stage.

I recognise that there are clear differences between Bosnia in the 1990s and the UK today. None the less, these events demonstrate where hatred and the dehumanisation of others can lead.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. I admit to not having been completely up to speed with the horror of the events in Srebrenica—many of us have perhaps been complacent—until I was asked to give a talk at my local mosque as part of a previous commemoration. The horror of just how recent it was— 27 years ago—and the blatant way in which those Muslim people were picked out and massacred under an international gaze was extraordinary. Therefore, does she agree that however historic genocides are—I have my Recognition of Armenian Genocide Bill; that genocide goes back 100 years—it is still so important to make sure that we educate current and future generations about the horrors that have happened so close, both in time and geographically? It is also important to ensure that we continue to call out contemporary genocides, such as the one that she and I know is going on in Xinjiang province by the Chinese Communist party against the Uyghurs. This House has voted to recognise that and I hope that the Government, in short order, will appreciate that and do the same thing.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we need to recognise genocide wherever it is happening. As he may know, I set up the all-party parliamentary group on Uyghurs, which deals with the genocide, and I know the enormous amount of work that he and other parliamentarians across the House have done on that. These are not party political issues; they are issues about humanity that affect us all.

Reflecting on what happened can strengthen our resolve to stand up to hatred in our society. The othering and scapegoating of marginalised groups is an everyday reality that has been perpetuated by parts of our media and, I am sad to say, by some politicians, whether that relates to refugees, immigrants or Muslims. That is why it is so important to remember this genocide. We cannot allow the suffering of the victims and survivors to be forgotten or denied.

Let us face it: when the persecution of Jews in Germany or what happened with the Bosnian Muslims took place, people did not just get up one day and say, “We are going to start killing our Jewish neighbour” or “our Muslim neighbour”. It was because of the perpetuation of hatred, which carried on over many years. A lot of that was carried out by the media, with their narrative about people. I am sad to say that quite a lot of that is happening with the media in our country, in terms of the othering and scapegoating of people who do not look like us. All of us as politicians should call that out and not—as I am afraid happens in some cases—join in with the othering and scapegoating of communities. We have to be vigilant against hatred and intolerance.

We say the words “Never again”, but we are seeing that same rise of hatred, division, sectarianism and the beast of nationalism rise again. We see fears rising and still-raw wounds being opened. Peace in Bosnia is under threat, and the Dayton peace agreement is under enormous strain. There have been warnings about the rise of the same army that was responsible for committing genocide at Srebrenica. The Army of Republika Srpska successfully co-opted civic society through a careful and systematic process of dehumanising Bosnian Muslims so that the agents of death and their collaborators found common and easier cause in achieving their goal of ethnic cleansing.

Perhaps the Minister can update the House today and set out his views on Serbian succession and what steps the Government are taking to ensure that Bosnian Serbs are not rewarded, in their goal of creating a “Greater Serbia”, by being handed the very territory in which they committed a four-year campaign consisting of forced deportations, torture and mass murder. Although the responsibility to prevent the gravest of crimes from occurring is shared by all states, we in the United Kingdom are uniquely positioned to bring essential global leadership to defuse the tension and support a safer and more unified Bosnia and Herzegovina. The UK must do its part to ensure that the violent, dark days of the 1990s do not return.

I am pleased that we have the opportunity today to commemorate in Parliament the atrocities suffered by the people of Srebrenica, but commemoration must be accompanied by action. I urge on Ministers the determination to learn the lessons of how intolerance takes root, be alert to the markers that identify its growth, and be resolute in working with our diverse communities to tackle it early and comprehensively.

I also call on the Minister to work with his counterparts in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to ensure that the escalating situation in Bosnia is closely monitored and that early diplomatic steps are taken to prevent violence from occurring. We know from what we are hearing and seeing in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia that there has been a rise in Serb nationalism and that the nationalists effectively want to take over Srebrenica as part of their territory. Sadly, they are getting a lot of support from the Russians; we know the steps that the Russians have taken in Ukraine. Hon. Members will remember that the second world war started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Bosnia. I think it is better to deal with the situation in its early stages than at the end, when it may be too late to do anything constructive. I really hope that the Minister will touch on that point in his response. That would be a fine memorial to those who died in the Srebrenica genocide 27 years ago, the hundreds of thousands of Muslims who were killed in that war, and others who were murdered.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee again for allowing this debate. If you will allow me to digress for just two sentences, Madam Deputy Speaker, I also want to thank my brother, Mazhar Hussain Qureshi, who passed away four days ago. One of the reasons I am here is that he always said that as elected representatives we must do our duty to make sure that evils like this do not happen. I really want to thank him—I do not know if he can hear me—for the support that he has always given me, as the most loving brother anybody could have.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

I am sure that the whole House will join me in giving the hon. Lady our sincere sympathy for the loss of her brother, who was obviously a great man. We all appreciate what she has just said about him.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton 12:44, 14 July 2022

I thank Yasmin Qureshi for coming to this place at such a difficult time. My heart goes out to her and her family and to all those for whom she cares so deeply. She is a true friend to Bosnia and Herzegovina; she has been since she came to this place, and I know that she will continue to be for a long time. I thank her for all her work on the issue and for working with me to secure the debate, which matters because what we say in this place is heard. What we say in this place changes things and can make people safer, so we have a duty to speak today.

I must declare an interest in this debate as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our debate takes place during Srebrenica Memorial Week; I thank the Backbench Business Committee for making sure that that could happen. Most of all, I am pleased to be able to speak today because we are joined in the Chamber by my constituent Karen Packwood and her family, who are observing the debate. I thank her for allowing me to tell the story of her late husband Amir, a victim of the Bosnian war—a proud, kind, and loving man.

Before I come to Amir’s story, I want to reflect on why today matters so much. We all know that the Srebrenica genocide represents the most extreme case of ethnic cleansing in the long and painful Bosnian war of 1992 to 1995. There are many other atrocities that we should reflect on, and we must take the time to do so, but that one has become symbolic of just how industrialised, appalling and truly evil were the acts that we saw taking place during that time. It was the barbarity in Srebrenica and the failure of the UN’s peacekeeping mission that forced the international community to finally put an end to the bloodshed and implement the Dayton agreement, which has prevented a bullet being fired in anger since then.

Back in March 1995, the so-called President of the self-declared Republika Srpska directed his military to remove Bosniaks from Srebrenica. He called for the creation of

“an unbearable situation of total insecurity, with no hope of further survival or life”.

This grim directive was followed on 11 July 1995 by the then leader of the Bosnian Serb military entering Srebrenica and boasting:

“We give this town to the Serb nation…The time has come to take revenge on the Muslims.”

Ten thousand Bosniaks had fled in advance, but many were captured or intimidated into surrendering by the use of terror, murder, torture and rape. The men and boys were rounded up and put into makeshift concentration camps, and then the killing began in earnest.

Over 8,000 Bosniak Muslim boys and men were killed in cold blood, often after mutilation or being blindfolded. Their bodies were not just hastily buried without respect or decency; they were buried and then, weeks later, in came the diggers to dig up their bodies and move them from site to site in what was an obvious attempt to hide a genocide. As a result, many have yet to be buried. Their bodies lie in small boxes in a dark, cold chamber that I have visited in Bosnia, where I could see the many bones that people are working tirelessly to put together so that families can bury their loved ones and finally find some semblance of closure. I remember seeing a funeral when I was in Bosnia. The heartache in that community, as people came together to finally bury one of their loved ones, is something that I will never forget.

This was a deliberate genocide to eradicate the Bosniak population and replace them with a Serbian community that was somehow suggested to be superior to another. Today, we remember the victims. We remember what led to this, and we draw and learn lessons to prevent it from happening again.

I also want to remember all the victims of the Bosnian war, which saw more than 100,000 deaths and 2 million people displaced. Whether they were in Banja Luka, Sarajevo or Brčko, those who faced expulsion, terror and death in the name of ethnic cleansing must always be remembered. That is why I will use their names and the stories of people like Amir, rather than naming those who sought glory in the death of others. Each of those victims is an individual whose story was distorted, tortured and eradicated, cut short by the brutality of ethnic cleansing. We must always keep that truth close to our hearts and remember it, because hearing individual stories matters, no matter how difficult it might be. That is why I want to share the story of Amir, who was only 11 when the war began in 1992.

Amir was a happy boy who lived with his family, played football in the park and enjoyed toy cars and comics, but then the militia came and Amir was evicted. He lost everything: his toys, his comics—everything he loved—and his innocence. As Amir, aged 13, walked down the infamous Sniper Alley in Sarajevo, a Serb soldier took aim and shot him. I am not ashamed of my tears today, Madam Deputy Speaker, because every time we shed a tear we show that we care and that we will not stand for these people being forgotten and silenced. When he was shot, Amir cried out to the soldier: “I’m just a boy, I’m not a soldier. Why are you shooting me?” Sadly, Amir knew the answer: he was a male and he was a Bosniak. This made him a target for annihilation, because according to the Serbs he was not human, did not deserve to live, did not deserve a family, and did not deserve a future. That day, they tried to take everything from him—but they failed. As Amir lay struggling, he noticed a nearby United Nations tank and a peacekeeping soldier. He cried out for help and the soldier did nothing. The soldier ignored his screams of agony and the cries for help of an innocent 13-year-old boy.

We know the international community failed in Bosnia, but there are also many who served with distinction at that time, including British soldiers who were in this place, and those who saved thousands. I particularly commend my right hon. Friend Bob Stewart—now known as Bosnia Bob, for exactly the right reasons—who helped to evacuate thousands by helicopter from around Srebrenica, despite being told not to. That is the kind of heroism that we need more of around the world—people who step up, step through bureaucracy and refuse to be told no, because they will save lives and protect those who deserve it.

Despite such actions of heroism, the international community did not do enough. It did not stop the war, it did not prevent the genocide, and it did not do enough for Amir. We have to work harder in this place, within our Government and internationally to help those struggling against hatred and violence, some of whom have been mentioned. The voices of the Uyghur people should have been heard two decades ago, because the genocide is not new, and yet somehow it is only since 2019 that anyone in this place has wanted to talk about it. We have an obligation to do better and to be the voices for those who others seek to silence.

As Amir lay bleeding on the floor, a passing civilian grabbed him and carried him to a car, saving him. In the car, he fainted. He awoke in a Sarajevo hospital, where he was subjected to attempts to save his life that no 13-year-old child should ever have to endure: blood transfusions and operations lasting up to nine hours. Amir had a heart attack and barely survived. But finally he began to recover, only to awaken to discover that parts of his body would never truly be the same again. His colon was attached to a colostomy bag, and he had to see his body in a state that no child should.

After three months in hospital, Amir was barely hanging on. Malnutrition caused his teeth to fall out and his weight to drop to 3½ stone. Then holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel saw him on the news, and, unbeknown to Amir, someone decided that goodness had to win and began to organise his rescue. Elie ensured that Amir was taken to Paris, where, away from the war, he received the first-class care that he deserved and was given the food that his body needed to recover and survive. But he took no joy in being able to eat; he thought only of his family in Sarajevo who still starved under the Serb blockade.

Amir survived, and he learned to thrive and to find joy again. He found love with Karen and he lived a full life. Many of the boys of Srebrenica, and across Bosnia, did not receive this second chance. But the agony of war stretches far into the future, and it was not the bullet that was shot in hatred but the transfusions that had saved his life that ultimately killed him, because they were of contaminated blood. His liver failed him 25 years later, and he became another victim of the Bosnian war. Today, we pay tribute in this place to Amir and his family, and we remember all the victims and all the survivors, whoever and wherever they are.

I have been and remain deeply moved by the strength of those who survived those terrible events, particularly the mothers of Srebrenica, whom the hon. Member for Bolton South East mentioned. These women fight so hard for justice, and for their loved ones and communities, and they have seen the worst of humanity yet demonstrate the best of it. I met them again most recently a few months ago, and they gave me this flower—a memorial of Srebrenica, and one of only 8,000 made—so that I could carry their strength in my heart at all times. Their lack of vengefulness or desire for revenge in the face of such evil, and their drive for justice, is the story of Bosnia and Herzegovina now. From the pain, the people of Bosnia have built a culturally rich, vibrant and beautiful place that is a forward-looking European nation. Positivity out of pain is one of the greatest strengths of the Bosnian people.

But the ability to move forward and heal is reliant on one thing—the truth. Through dialogue and through truth we heal, and we help those who are still searching and still healing. The whole foundation of modem Bosnia relies on truth—the truth that what occurred in the war was a deliberate genocide. That is why genocide denial is not a difference of opinion. No, genocide denial is a deliberate and calculated attack on survivors. It is a weapon that seeks to hurt the people and institutions that have grown out of the ashes, against everything that has been thrown at them. Denial is a continuation of the genocide itself. What begins with violence and killing is continued through the falsification of history. We see this today. I have sat opposite Dodik as he used the word “Muslim” as a weapon. I have sat opposite people who glorify these murders, deny they took place, and still go and intimidate Muslims in Bosnia, lighting up flames and saying that they will drive them out of that country. Language is a weapons system, and there are foreign Governments facilitating secessionist and divisive narratives.

I am pleased that since we last debated this, there has been enormous progress, driven by the all-party parliamentary group. We demanded that the Government raise Bosnia and Herzegovina at the NATO meeting of Ministers, and as a result we were the only country to do so. We demanded sanctions, which have now been put in place and which the President of Bosnia thanked us for again last night. We demanded that disinformation experts be delivered to Bosnia, and they have been. All this is thanks in large part to the amazing Bosnian ambassador, Vanja, and to our ambassador, Matthew Field, who has sadly now moved on to another role.

We know that violence must be combated with strength, but we must also remember that denial is fought through remembrance. That is why this debate matters. The theme for this year’s Srebrenica Memorial Week is combating denial and challenging hatred. So let us be very clear today that the British Parliament and the British people will never forget Srebrenica, and we will never forget our Bosnian friends. We will remember the past, reject hatred and division, and build upon a foundation of truth, and in so doing we can only build a better future. We will be a voice for those whom others seek to silence. We will aspire to adopt in our own lives even a shred of the dignity, compassion and strength that the survivors of Srebrenica and their loved ones show. They are the best of us, and as the spectre of hatred and division is weaponised again in Bosnia, we cannot let them down.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston 12:57, 14 July 2022

It is a great honour to speak in this debate, and particularly to speak after the contributions of my hon. Friends—if I may say that of both ladies—Yasmin Qureshi and Alicia Kearns, who has done an enormous amount in her short time in this House to ensure that Bosnia is indeed not forgotten here.

Some years ago, I visited Bosnia with the charity Remembering Srebrenica, and I am very proud to be its ambassador in the north-west. I pay tribute to all who contributed to our commemorative event in Manchester cathedral last Thursday. I was very sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East could not be with us because of her brother’s illness, and I give her my deep condolences on his death. I pay particular tribute—I know my hon. Friend will join me in this—to Elinor Chohan MBE, the chair of Remembering Srebrenica in the north-west. She does exceptional work to educate and raise awareness of the genocide and of the need to bring peace to the Balkan region, and to make sure that young people in this country, in particular, understand the horror of genocide and why it must not happen again.

No one who has visited Srebrenica can come away anything other than appalled at the massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys on European soil 27 years ago. As we have heard, 27 years is not long; many of us still clearly remember those events. We remember, too, that a reason for our exceptional horror was that we had believed in the vow made after the holocaust—never again. Yet Srebrenica showed us how easily and quickly that pledge could be forgotten, and is still in danger of being forgotten, or ignored, today. The actions of Republika Srpska, and the rise of a Serbian nationalist narrative that seeks to rewrite history—to deny the fact of the Srebrenica genocide, despite Srebrenica being one of the most well-documented and scientifically verified atrocity sites in recent history—is a powerful lesson on the importance of the theme of this year’s Remembering Srebrenica commemoration: “Combating Denial: Challenging Hatred”.

We know that denial is the final step on the road to genocide, and we know today that it is happening all over again. We think of Milorad Dodik’s unspeakable claim that the killing of 8,372 Bosnian Muslims was a justified reprisal for the killing of 3,500 Serbs by Muslim forces. We think of the boycott of state institutions by Bosnian Serb politicians in direct retaliation for the decision of the UN High Representative to impose a genocide denial ban—a boycott that is now being used as a Trojan horse for Republika Srpska’s ambition for the effective dismemberment of, and its secession from, Bosnia. We think of the charging of a Montenegro mayor for denying the Srebrenica genocide; and we think of Russia’s veto, in 2015, of a UN resolution to recognise Srebrenica as a genocide.

In the face of this ongoing pattern of denial, I want particularly to raise the UK’s role in supporting reconciliation and peace building. That is hard, but the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton was absolutely right to say that peace building must be founded on truth. We remain an active member of the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board, and in that context I hope that the Minister will describe this afternoon how the UK is working with international partners to use our influence to support credible democratic and liberal reforms in Bosnia, and to challenge any genocide denial and nationalist rhetoric. Both the Royal United Services Institute and the Aegis Trust have suggested the need for UK peace- keepers on the ground, in partnership with international allies. I should be grateful if the Minister explained how he sees the UK’s peacekeeping role evolving even as tensions increase.

Ultimately, of course, peace must come from within rather than outside the region, with the different communities, civil society organisations and civic leaders working together to challenge denial and hate. That will not be easy, but we should not forget that one of the reasons for the horror of the 1990s war in Bosnia was the fact that people who only days earlier had been neighbours and friends found themselves taking arms in brutal opposition to one another. That is horror, but it also shows the capacity for people from different communities to live side by side in peace. Non-governmental organisations and faith groups must be supported and enabled to work together, and with the Bosnian authorities, to bring people together to help rebuild the lives of families and survivors. That work remains sorely needed even today, as families continue to mourn the loss of loved ones, and—as we have heard—as body parts continue to be discovered and identified.

We have also heard this afternoon of the Mothers of Srebrenica, women whom many of us in the Chamber will have had the great honour of meeting. I believe that we should particularly recognise the important role of women in peace building. In every community in every country where I have ever known of conflict, it is women who have been important and instrumental in helping to rebuild the peace. Let me also emphasise the importance of young people in peace building, and their importance to Bosnia’s future success. If future generations, from different communities, are to live harmoniously side by side, we must invest in them now. We must invest in jobs in Bosnia, invest in the economy, and invest in education. These too will be vital drivers of peace. Today, the lack of hope for a peaceful future means that Bosnia’s economic potential is being harmed by a brain drain of its talented young people. May I ask the Minister what priority the UK Government are giving to investment in the western Balkans to support the region’s economy, to support vital sectors such as tourism, and to encourage trade, sharing training and business expertise?

A peaceful and prosperous Bosnia is, of course, in the interests of Bosnians, but peace in the region is in the interests of everyone. The UK has a vital role to play in leading that endeavour, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for giving us the chance to reaffirm our commitment to that in this Parliament this afternoon.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West 1:05, 14 July 2022

I thank the hon. Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) for securing a debate in memory of the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 during this official week of remembrance. Let me also welcome the Minister to his new position. It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, and it is a real privilege to wear this beautifully crafted flower of Srebrenica.

In January we marked Holocaust Memorial Day in this Chamber, as we do almost every year. In those debates we promise never to forget past genocides and atrocities, and the contributions are always moving and insightful. We all pledge to do our part so that never again will something so terrible happen on our watch. 1995 was only 27 years ago: what happened in Srebrenica occurred within our lifetimes, for some of us within our children’s lifetimes, or even our grandchildren’s. What we in the UK were experiencing during that summer was similar to what we are experiencing now: we were going through a record-breaking heatwave, and a Conservative leadership competition was coming to a head. My point is that history repeats itself. Throughout history we see cycles—sometimes coincidental, like those examples.

We are seeing the resurgence of radicalised far-right extremism across the developed world, despite these memories of recent atrocities being so painfully close. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, that harmful rhetoric is spreading, and has been for a long time. We saw it in Trump’s America, the so called free world; France has grappled with the same growing sentiments, and the UK has seen an uptick in right-wing extremism too. It still exists, it is still prevalent, and it is still incredibly dangerous.

Between 1992 and 1995, during the Bosnian war, just under 100,000 Muslims were murdered there, 50,000 women were subjected to rape, and 2 million people were displaced. This was a campaign of terror that was thoroughly planned, and executed with terrifying determination. It was July 1995, though, that saw one of the worst atrocities in post-war Europe. Over the course of just a few days, more than 8,000 people were murdered in this genocide by Bosnian Serb forces. Most of them were Muslim men and boys, separated from their families and taken away to be killed, and buried in mass, unmarked graves. As the Bosnian Serb forces began to panic and try to cover up their crimes, bodies were dug up, moved and reburied, sometimes more than once. Some are yet to be found. Mothers will have passed away in the intervening years, without the closure of knowing their child’s final resting place.

1995 was also, by chance, the United Nations Year for Tolerance, and the world year of people’s commemoration of the victims of the second world war. That is in direct contrast to the events we are here to remember today, for today in Bosnia and Herzegovina tensions are high once again, and there is a very real possibility of renewed conflict. While it is not the root cause of the tensions, the amendment of the country’s criminal code to include acts of genocide denial certainly triggered a reaction from Milorad Dodik. A series of actions and threats that could tear the country apart followed. Secession and upheaval in that part of the world would have a devastating impact on stability in the region, and that in turn would have an impact on stability in Europe more widely.

There is someone else whose influence cannot be overlooked. President Putin has deliberately emboldened Dodik, offering support and courses of action he knows would be deeply damaging because he is focusing on what he personally has to gain. Dodik in turn has emboldened his supporters. Dangerous and divisive rhetoric is rife in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Hatred left unchecked spreads like wildfire. It has to be controlled or it will consume everything it touches and burn faster and hotter until all that is left is destruction and the charred remains of surroundings that were once warm and familiar, now warped forever. What Putin has done in Ukraine is a frightening preview of his plans. Right now he is testing the waters, seeing how far his power extends. It is a hard reality that some, like Dodik, will have been inspired by his actions and his perceived dominance. Hatred, prejudice and racism dehumanise their targets, and we have to restore dignity to the 8,000 people needlessly murdered at Srebrenica. These were people with lives, families, friends and colleagues; people with faith.

Remembering Srebrenica was set up in 2013 and it has a crucial mission. It leads the yearly commemoration of Srebrenica in the UK and educates on the significance of the events in July 1995. It holds over 2,000 commemorative events each year across the UK in schools, prisons, town halls and places of worship. Its work and support mean that the UK is the only country to mark this anniversary on a national level outside Bosnia and Herzegovina. Internationally, we have a moral duty to play our part in preventing future atrocities. At home, we must focus on eradicating division and hatred in our society and communities. We cannot afford to take our eye off the ball.

Politics is often, by its nature, divisive. What it should do, though, is unite. We all come into it for the same reason: because we care about our communities and our country. When we are elected, we are given a platform, and if we make it into government we are presented with a unique opportunity to push forward a legislative agenda and shape the future of our country. That is why this Government must ensure that they are not feeding into hatred and right-wing extremism. Policy making is important, and this Government have shown that they are willing to tolerate certain forms of discrimination. It is time for that to be corrected. This year’s memorial week has the dual themes of combating denial and challenging hatred. I have spoken a lot about the hatred aspect, but combating denial is just as, if not more, important. If we do not learn from history, unfortunately we are destined to repeat it.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 1:13, 14 July 2022

It is a privilege to sum up for the SNP in this debate. I warmly praise Yasmin Qureshi for her powerful and moving speech and I extend my condolences to her. This is an important thing for us to take account of today. I am also glad to see Alicia Kearns in her place and I commend her for her deeply powerful speech. She organised a trip to Bosnia for a number of colleagues across the House a few weeks ago and I was glad to be part of it. We visited Tuzla, Sarajevo and Srebrenica, and it was a deeply moving experience. I suspect I will remember the smell of the Tuzla morgue forever. I pay tribute to the work that it does in reconciling the human remains with the still grieving relatives. The truth and reconciliation process is still necessary across Bosnia; it is ongoing and it needs wider support. I was also glad to briefly see Bob Stewart in his place today. He was on that trip, and he has a deep connection to Bosnia, having served there during the dreadful situation. It was a privilege to spend time with him and hear his stories of the events.

All of us across the House can unite around the fact that genocide denial is an act of aggression. I pay tribute to Remembering Srebrenica, an important charity that does leading work not only to ensure remembrance but to challenge and remind us that the world has not learned the lessons of Srebrenica and other genocides. Sadly, I see the ingredients of what brought us to the dreadful events at Srebrenica present in other places around the world: Syria, Ukraine, Xinjiang, Yemen and other places besides. It is easy for us to say that we need to remember and learn the lessons, but the challenge to all of us in this House is: what are we going to do to prevent other genocides from occurring?

As we see a more unstable world, with resource scarcity, climate instability and all sorts of other pressures, I regret to say that we are going to see more pressure on decency, democracy and international law. We can unite around the need for action, and I extend a hand to the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Graham Stuart, whom I welcome to his place, to work together on this. There is a variety of world views and perspectives across the House, but surely we can all agree that more needs to be done to protect civilians, to protect and uphold international law and to protect decency.

I have some concrete questions for the Minister. The peace in Bosnia remains fragile and I would be grateful for an update on just how the UK is supporting the institutions of Bosnia to make sure that peace is maintained. It is under pressure from external forces and also from internal forces that remain dangerous. I have called long since for the adoption by the UK Government of a specific atrocity prevention strategy. There is good work going on, and I pay tribute to that, but crystalising that into a unified document and a unified policy to work across the embassy network would be beneficial for all of us, and for the UK efforts as well.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton

When I was elected, I fought for the creation of a genocide prevention centre, and the Government did indeed create it, although they called it the conflict centre. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the conflict centre would be ideally placed to do this work? It is a place of excellence and expertise that could identify very early the markers of a genocide and have experts who could deploy to the FCDO team to advise on the programmes, the social and community group interventions and the sanctions that would work to prevent genocide. Does he agree that that would be the best way to ensure that atrocity prevention was at the heart of the Government’s efforts?

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention and I warmly agree. There is no shortage of good ideas around and I appeal to the Government and the Minister to take advantage of them, and of the opportunity for cross-party working across the House right now on this sort of issue.

I acknowledge that the UK has done much on ensuring accountability. We discussed this just yesterday in the case of Sri Lanka. We are seeing it in China as well. We are seeing it particularly in Ukraine. I acknowledge that the UK has done work to support the International Criminal Court and the special prosecutor on Ukraine, but again, crystalising that into a specific strategy would be helpful for all of us in punching up the efforts to increase prominence and clarity across the world.

In closing, I want to make a plea for Remembering Srebrenica and its funding. It does incredibly important work not just for Srebrenica and Bosnia but for these issues as a whole, and it needs a much more certain financial future than it has had, because it has had funding issues. So I hope that an update will be forthcoming from the Minister on ensuring that Remembering Srebrenica is safe to do its work to help all of us in the efforts we want to unite around. It has been a privilege to sum up in this debate.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs) 1:18, 14 July 2022

I thank my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi and Alicia Kearns for securing this immensely important debate today, and Members across the House who have made moving, thoughtful and measured contributions. I also welcome the Minister to his place.

This House is at its very best where we speak with one voice and in defence of the core values that, despite our political differences, we all share: democracy, a commitment to conflict prevention and the defence of human rights. Peace in the western Balkans is a priority for me and our team, and would be for a Labour Government. The shadow Europe Minister is currently in the region and continues to engage with officials to build consensus on achieving lasting stability, and my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy made a moving speech alongside the President of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday at the Speaker’s House.

It must be recognised that the UK and its armed forces have played a powerful and lasting role in ensuring peace and stability in Bosnia and across the western Balkans. Labour recognises that the UK must continue to provide that critical support during these deeply concerning times. The horrors of the 1990s are ingrained in the minds of so many people across the country, including our armed forces personnel.

I put on record our thanks to and continuing support for Remembering Srebrenica, whose work has been so important in paying tribute to those who lost their lives and in warning us that we can never allow this to happen again. I echo the sentiments of the Leader of the Opposition: let us use this day and the memory of Srebrenica not only to remember those we lost, but to educate future generations and bring communities together. That is why Remembering Srebrenica has done so wonderfully. It has done the necessary and critical work of keeping the memory of the tragedy alive, and educating more than 180,000 young people about the evil that took place. That is integral to building stronger and more cohesive communities into the future, and developing an awareness of contemporary challenges.

This debate, marking the 27th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, comes at a particularly salient time for our continent. During Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we have seen some of the most shocking and harrowing war crimes committed on this continent in decades. We must ensure that our collective resolve remains unwavering as the conflict across the east and the south continues to intensify. Labour continues to support the Government’s humanitarian, military and diplomatic efforts to support Ukrainians, who face enormous challenges in Putin’s barbaric and egregious war.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

A theme seen in Ukraine and in Srebrenica has been not only the killing of civilians and the genocide, but the sexual violence used as a tool of war. As well as those who have lost loved ones, many people are still living with the scars of the events that happened to them—not just in Srebrenica, but in pretty much every conflict across the world. Does the hon. Member agree that we must do more to support the victims of sexual violence in conflict?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

The hon. Member makes an excellent point. Sexual violence is one of the most heinous war crimes that can be committed, and it has a lasting effect. It is unspeakably dreadful. As she says, we need to do so much more to ensure that the victims are supported. I am sure that the Minister will make reference to that in his speech.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton

It strikes me that there is much that we can learn from Bosnia regarding what is happening in Ukraine at the moment. I fear greatly that all the women, men and children who have been raped in Ukraine will be silenced by shame, because Ukraine has not seen anything like this for a long time. Does the hon. Member agree that the Government could facilitate meetings between the Mothers of Srebrenica and women’s groups in Bosnia, which could send a delegation to Ukraine or a nearby safe country to provide advice on supporting women and the mothers of children who are the result of rape to get through the situation, to recover and to rebuild?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

Once again, the hon. Member makes an excellent point. I am sure that the Government will consider that and, if they do, they will have the full support of the Opposition.

For so many reasons, it is crucial to reflect on and commemorate the genocidal crimes committed against more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in July 1995. More than 1,000 victims’ remains are still unaccounted for, and for the families still mourning those lost, every effort must be made to recover them. The massacre at Srebrenica was one of the most heinous and appalling atrocities committed against innocent people since the second world war, and no matter how long it takes, those responsible must face justice. The war in Bosnia resulted in close to 100,000 civilians being killed, 2 million forced displacements and, as colleagues have just mentioned, the systematic rape of more than 20,000 women—all due to ethnic and religious identity. Indeed, the graves at Potočari are a harrowing reminder of what we must work tirelessly to avoid.

When today we see forces across Europe and the Balkans seeking to sow disharmony, spread acrimony and stir up tensions, it is critical that we remember Srebrenica and how we got there. I pay tribute to the unrelenting work of High Representative Christian Schmidt, who continues to warn of the very real prospect of a return to conflict in the region, given the behaviour of Milorad Dodik and Russian attempts to aggravate the situation further. The task of the High Representative is an enormous responsibility, and it is critical that the Government work with our European allies to support his efforts in preventing a return to the dark days of the past. I also put on record my support for the work of Sir Stuart Peach, the Government’s special envoy to the western Balkans, whose experience will be integral to efforts for long-term stability.

Ivana Stradner from the Foundation for Defence of Democracies pointed out just this week that,

“Russia is undermining Bosnia’s stability by working with Serbia to exacerbate ethnic divisions between Croats, Bosniaks, and Serbs…What we see in the Balkans is the same playbook Putin is using in Georgia and Moldova, weaponizing secessionist movements”.

In these efforts, Putin has a conduit in Dodik to undermine the hard-won peace and stability across the Balkans. Those seeking to undermine stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, from Dodik to Cvijanović, must face consequences, and Labour will continue to support the targeted measures that the Government brought in in April this year. To that end, I would be grateful if the Minister could set out what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the sanctions, and what discussions he has had with officials across the western Balkans on how we can apply further diplomatic pressure on Dodik and Republika Srpska.

Dodik and Putin share the same goals when it comes to Bosnia; they want to strengthen the Serbian-Russian alliance, block Bosnia from securing membership of the European Union and NATO, and undermine the legitimacy of state institutions that have preserved the delicate balance of peace since the 1990s. Russia’s clear intention to undo the authority of the High Representative is a testament to the Kremlin’s nefarious intentions for the Balkans. It has become yet another arena to incite conflict and maximise Putin’s influence. There are also serious concerns about Russian disinformation operations in the region, including in Bosnia and Serbia. Will the Minister explain whether he shares those concerns, and assure the House that serious efforts are being made to support local partners to tackle fake news and rebut the constant tide of provocations that could further drive tensions?

Russian proxies are integral to secessionist efforts across the western Balkans, and we must heed the warnings of the High Representative, who said last year that a lack of response to the current situation would endanger the Dayton agreement and that instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina would have profound wider regional implications. He has also said that the conflict in Ukraine—not so far away—is a sobering reminder that even in the 21st century another war on European soil is not an impossibility. This would be Putin’s dream come true for the Balkans. If we are to honour the lives lost in Srebrenica and the lives being lost in Ukraine today, Britain must be a force for unity, co-operation and democracy on the global stage, as a foil to Russia’s ambitions to subvert them.

Today, let us reflect on Srebrenica, the lives lost and how the aggravation of ethnic tensions can lead to appalling evil that should never be forgotten and never be repeated. There are those who would still deny the scale of the atrocities that occurred in the war in Bosnia and those who have avoided justice. One of the most powerful ways to hold those individuals to account is to remember Srebrenica, to pay tribute to the lives lost, to tell victims’ stories and to ensure that the future does not replicate the past. Will the Minister therefore commit to keeping the House informed of developments in Bosnia and the wider region through written and oral statements? What assurances can he provide today regarding countering Russian influence in the region? I appreciate that he has only been in post for just over a week, but what conversations has he had with officials at the Department for Education to ensure that as many young people as possible benefit from the resources and expertise of Remembering Srebrenica?

I reiterate my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton for securing today’s debate, as well as reiterating Labour’s commitment to supporting efforts to hold to account those who would see peace in the region break down for their own secessionist ambitions. We must continue to stand firm against both internal and external forces that we know are seeking to destabilise Bosnia and Herzegovina. The collective resolve the House has shown today is critical. The lives lost needlessly and tragically in Srebrenica must be remembered, and their story must be continually told. I am pleased that today we have reflected, remembered and resolved to continue our efforts against division, conflict and hatred.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 1:30, 14 July 2022

It is a great, albeit sobering, pleasure to follow so many powerful speeches from Members on both sides of the House, showing the unity to which so many referred. There is real-world power in standing up for the principles and values that are shared on both sides of the House, and that all of us, including the UK Government, wish to back and reinforce.

I thank my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns and Yasmin Qureshi for securing this debate and, of course, the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. It is fantastic to have Members on both sides of the House who not only speak with passion on this issue but have deep personal knowledge and engagement from their previous professional career. I pay tribute to them for their work as the respective chairs of the all-party parliamentary groups on Bosnia and Herzegovina and on Srebrenica. The professional career of my right hon. Friend Bob Stewart also involved him in that part of the world.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I am very much involved in Bosnia, so I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, which is terribly important because it is widely viewed in Bosnia. People pay huge attention to what is happening, because they do not get this sort of debate in their own country. The young people, by the way, do not want another war, and people in Bosnia are watching what we say and do very carefully.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention.

Colleagues on both sides of the Chamber are right to continue drawing attention to the fragile situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to the lessons we must all learn from the Srebrenica genocide. I am grateful for the contributions made by hon. and right hon. Members, and I will try to respond to the points they have raised.

This debate comes just after the 27th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica. As colleagues have said, it was the worst atrocity on European soil since the end of the second world war. Today, as we did on Monday, we remember the victims of those terrible events and stand with the families in their ongoing fight for justice so many years on.

There is no question but that what happened in Srebrenica was genocide. That was the conclusion of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and of the International Court of Justice after extensive legal processes, yet some individuals and groups continue to deny these events. We have seen this over the past few days in and around Srebrenica, and we utterly condemn this behaviour. Glorifying the perpetrators and instigators of such heinous acts takes us further away from reconciliation and hinders the country’s ability to move forward and come together, so it is vital that we deliver justice and challenge the lies and false narratives, as successive speakers have said.

To date, a total of 57 individuals have been tried at the state court of Bosnia and Herzegovina for crimes committed in and around Srebrenica in July 1995. A further 20 individuals have been tried at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and its successor, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, for crimes related to Srebrenica. We are proud to have supported this work.

Of course, we house Radovan Karadžić in a UK cell as he serves his whole-of-life prison sentence following his conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and for the genocide at Srebrenica. Last month, the UK helped to pass a UN Security Council resolution on the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, extending the term of the current prosecutor. We will continue to fight to end impunity for war criminals, and to see that they are held to account.

As others have said, Bosnia and Herzegovina faces new challenges today. Threats are on the rise, from the knock-on effects of Putin’s war to the destabilising actions of Russian-backed secessionists, about which Bambos Charalambous spoke so powerfully.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton

My hon. Friend is making a very good speech. He is talking about the prosecutions we have achieved, but there have been very few prosecutions for sexual violence. Will he commit to meeting me to discuss whether we can create an international organisation with the sole job of going in at the start of a conflict to collect evidence of sexual violence so that we are able to prosecute and get justice? Waiting until the end of a conflict is too late because, unfortunately, the evidence will have gone.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. She will be aware that, on 16 November 2021, the Government launched a major global initiative to stop sexual violence against women and girls in conflict, which included a £20 million fund. We are alive to this issue, and I would be delighted to meet her to discuss how it is not enough to have effective mechanisms afterwards, and how we need to get in early to try to make sure it does not happen in the first place.

The leaders of Republika Srpska have been emboldened by Russia’s actions. With Moscow’s support, as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate mentioned, they are using divisive and dangerous nationalist rhetoric. They are encouraging ethnic hatred and genocide denial, and they are pushing for the de facto secession of Republika Srpska, in direct contravention of their country’s constitution.

The situation is serious, and we must learn the lessons of the region’s history and the consequences of inaction. The west took too long to act in the 1990s, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary argued when she visited Bosnia and Herzegovina just two months ago. Sarajevo suffered under siege for 1,425 days. We were not bold enough to prevent terrible events such as the genocide at Srebrenica. If the Government and I, and everyone who has spoken today, are serious when we say “never again,” and if it is not just empty rhetoric, we must act today to preserve security and stability. That is why we are deploying a wide range of diplomatic, economic and defence support to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

First, we are working to protect the hard-won Dayton peace agreement. In April, in response to their unacceptable nationalist rhetoric and denial of the genocide, we sanctioned Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s state-level presidency, and Željka Cvijanović, the President of Republika Srpska. These designations include travel bans and asset freezes, and they were the first under the UK’s Bosnia and Herzegovina sanctions regime. We will keep the situation under review, and we will apply further designations if necessary. We will continue to support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and we will continue to back the work of the High Representative, Christian Schmidt.

It is fantastic to see total co-operation and agreement, from what I can tell from every word of the speech by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, between Her Majesty’s Opposition and Her Majesty’s Government on almost every aspect of this.

Secondly, as has been said, we have to give hope and show that Bosnia and Herzegovina can succeed. We are investing to boost the country’s economic security. We are extending our offer of honest and reliable infrastructure investment to the western Balkans, and we aim to mobilise $100 million of UK-backed investment by 2025. Across the western Balkans there is a nearly £13 billion facility at UK Export Finance, our credit agency, to support and encourage British involvement in such activity, which will help to provide the resilience and capability to counter Russian interference.

Thirdly, we are boosting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ability to counter security threats and malign influences—again, I am directly answering a point made today. That includes training its cadets in world-class British military academies such as Sandhurst. That support, like our support for Ukraine, is about our belief in a simple principle: the right of people to decide their democratic future and to protect themselves. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future lies on that path—it must do—and in greater partnership with NATO and countries such as the UK.

Finally, we are ensuring that the truth about Srebrenica will endure. We have built a strong partnership with the Srebrenica memorial centre, to develop its operational capacity and establish a centre for genocide research, prevention and reconciliation. We are also supporting Remembering Srebrenica, which just yesterday hosted its national commemoration event in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. We have provided £200,000 to that organisation to ensure that it can continue to do its highly valuable work.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

I am glad that £200,000 has been given to Remembering Srebrenica. I do not know whether the Minister is aware that that charity, which has been in existence for some time, has always struggled to get sufficient funding. Every year, it has to beg for money from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities or the Foreign Office, and the situation has been very difficult for it. In the light of what is happening, should there not be a proper system in place to fund this charity, on a yearly basis, with a decent amount of money to allow it to carry out the work it does across the country?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I hear what the hon. Lady says. I think most Members in the Chamber would recognise that £200,000 is a substantial sum and that we in the UK are unusual in having that kind of Government backing. She and I, and the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate and others, attended the events this week, and it is important to see the power they have and their ability to bring people together. Like her, I hope that the charity can succeed and we can ensure that it has a viable future.

Let me have a look at some of the other issues raised and make sure that I am dealing with them all as best I can, given that there is the opportunity to do so. On tackling the destabilisation efforts, I have already mentioned the sanctions on Bosnian Serb presidency member Dodik. On the military aspect, the UK supports EUFOR and wants to see its mandate renewed at the UN Security Council in November. We cannot allow a security vacuum in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we will work with allies on a NATO alternative should Russia choose to use its veto—the House should be aware of that, as that threat could be there. But if Russia tries to stop EUFOR, we would look to provide a NATO alternative, which the Russians might find less satisfactory. I have stated on the record the importance we attribute to the need for a speedy response.

On Amir and the powerful tale told about him, I thought the most memorable line from a powerful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton was that

“denial is fought through remembrance.”

That is why it is so important that we continue to do this, so that Amir’s story is heard and his family feel that it is, and so that it positively contributes to ensuring that there is not a repetition in this part of the world or somewhere else.

On the support for reconciliation, my predecessor as Minister for Europe visited Bosnia and Herzegovina on 16 June, where he met young politicians, Foreign Minister Turković and the Central Election Commission. We are trying to ensure that we have those kinds of ministerial ties. I have also already mentioned that the Foreign Secretary visited Sarajevo on 26 May, when she reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to peace and stability in the western Balkans in the face of Russia’s malign influence. I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate for his support for the role of Sir Stuart Peach, which is really important.

On work with the Department for Education, I have not yet had that opportunity, but I hope that, given the general tenor of my speech and the unanimity strongly felt in this place, we have shown that we are determined to ensure that we remember the past but do not see this act of remembrance as somehow separated from current circumstances, as it is anything but. It is part of dealing with the current threats and destabilisation and taking them seriously. On various fronts, diplomatic, civil society and defence, we are trying to make sure that we are an active player. At the heart of what a lot of colleagues have raised is that we must stay focused on this, and that we do not find ourselves asleep at the wheel and failing to respond, alongside allies, when circumstances demand action. I am delighted to conclude the debate, and I hope that I have answered colleagues’ questions.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East 1:45, 14 July 2022

I thank all my parliamentary colleagues for attending today’s debate. I reiterate my thanks to Mr Speaker for allowing the Speaker’s House to be used on Monday for the commemoration, with my request having been accepted. I see the Chair of the Administration Committee, Sir Charles Walker, is in his place, and I thank him for the fact that the Committee allowed for the commemoration and book signing in Portcullis House. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to take place.

I wish to make a correction, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think I said in my speech earlier that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand caused the second world war—I meant to say the first world war. That was just a slip on my part.

I am glad that the Foreign Office is recognising that the situation in Bosnia is delicate and that it is aware of it. That is important, because one act can lead to a horrendous situation; the first world war came from one assassination, and the second world war also led to millions of people dying. Sometimes strong action at the early stages, when the problem arises, is probably the best way forward. I thank the Government and the Minister for acknowledging that this is a genuine, pressing issue at this moment in time.

Again, I thank Remembering Srebrenica for all the work it has been carrying out, and I thank the UK for being the country in the whole of Europe that has been commemorating the Srebrenica genocide. As always, in so many things, we in the UK lead on these things. I thank everyone in our country, and all my political parliamentary colleagues, not for what they have done today, but for all the assistance, advice, help and working together we have done over the years.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
notes that from 4 to 11 July 2022, the UK marked Srebrenica Memorial Week with commemorations taking place in hundreds of schools, local authorities, places of worship, community centres and police forces to name but a few to mark the 27th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica where over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces;
expresses concern about the current threat to Bosnia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty from secessionists who are operating with the support of Russia and the prospect of a return to conflict;
commends the invaluable work undertaken by Remembering Srebrenica in using the lessons of Srebrenica to tackle prejudice to help build a safer, stronger and more cohesive society in the UK;
and urges the Government to continue funding this vital work which since 2013 has educated nearly 200,000 young people on Srebrenica, enabled over 1,500 community actions to take place right across the country each year, and created 1,450 Community Champions who pledge to stand up to hatred and intolerance in their communities.