Ladies and gentlemen,
One of the darkest moments of humanity and modern European history took place twenty-five years ago in July 1995 when over 8,372 Muslim men and boys were deliberately and methodically killed by the Bosnian Serb forces in the UN “safe area” of Srebrenica, a town in which they thought to be safe. Their bodies were then hidden in mass graves. It was the climax of the war that had swept across Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995.
Today, as the last victims are buried in dignity, our hearts and thoughts are once again with them and with the survivors, their families and friends whose lives have been changed forever by the tragic events. We honour the victims and we extend our sympathies to all those who are grieving. May they find healing for their enduring pain.
The Srebrenica genocide, the most tragic event perpetrated on the European soil since the Second World War, is still an open wound at the heart of Europe. It continues to haunt us and reminds us of our shared responsibility to prevent genocide from ever happening again.
Srebrenica calls for accountability. Justice must be served, and all those responsible for the massacre must face the consequences of their actions. 25 years on, it is more urgent than ever to end impunity for the perpetrators of war crimes.
The massacre was recognised as an act of genocide by two different international courts: the International Criminal Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia in 2004 and the International Court of Justice in 2006. These established facts about what happened in Srebrenica should today be clear to all.
This part of European history must be upheld against any attempt at denial and revisionism, which contradicts the most fundamental European values. Attempts to rewrite history in Bosnia and Herzegovina or anywhere else are unacceptable. Political leaders have a responsibility to foster reconciliation rather than fuelling nationalist narratives, which will only deepen mistrust, increase fear and perpetuate hate. Civil society also has a fundamental role to nurture a democratic culture in the Western Balkans and throughout Europe, especially for the benefit of the young generation. The acknowledgement of the past is a necessary step to overcome this tragic legacy and build a peaceful and prosperous future, based on truth and justice.
It is up to all of us in Europe to learn the lesson of Srebrenica. The values so dramatically violated 25 years ago – the right to life and the respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality – are now at the core of our engagement with Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens as well as all of the Western Balkans on their EU integration path.
The European Commission continues to uphold these values in its relations with the Western Balkans. All countries concerned are called upon to fully accept and implement the rulings and decisions of international tribunals. Bosnia and Herzegovina is called upon to promote an environment conducive to reconciliation in order to overcome the legacies of the war. This entails providing redress to victims of wartime rape and torture, supporting the return of refugees and displaced persons, and allowing families of missing persons to achieve closure to their grief.
The European Union will continue to support Bosnia and Herzegovina to advance on its European path, establishing a society where pluralism, justice and human dignity prevail. Through the accession process the EU will continue to accompany the Western Balkans towards reconciliation and regional cooperation, to build a peaceful and prosperous future for all the people of the region!