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Remembering Srebrenica

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Srebrenica Memorial Week, Remember Srebrenica, Bosnian conflict, rape, mass murder, Breaking the SilenceAnd we must always be vigilant against hatred and intolerance in our communities.

In the course of just one week in July 1995, 8372 mostly Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces – the majority of whom were adherents of the Serbian Orthodox Church – at a small town called Srebrenica.

What happened at Srebrenica during the Balkans conflict of 1992-1995 was the final act in a genocidal plan aimed at Bosnian Muslims.

Among the victims of this plan were the 20,000 to 50,000 Bosniak women and girls, who were subjected to sexual violence.

The exact number of victims is not known, because many have remained silent, silenced by stigma, shame and fear.

But some Bosnian women did break the silence around the sexual violence, the rapes, used against them as a weapon of war.

And because of the courage of the women who decided to speak out about their experiences and fight for justice, rape was prosecuted for the first time under international criminal law.

Remembering Srebrenica is a UK-based charitable initiative that promotes Srebrenica Memorial Day, which is held on 11 July, and aims to educate people about the consequences of hate.

The commemorative events in July this year is exploring three sub-themes:

Gender and Genocide: Exploring how genocide in Bosnia was gendered and remembering hidden victims of the genocide, particularly victims of sexual violence;

Women’s Courage: Exploring the untold stories of women’s acts of courage during and after the war and the genocide; and

Seeking Truth and Justice: Exploring the contributions of women to seeking truth and justice for the genocide, and challenging denial.

In 2016, over 400 events were organised by Community Champions in different parts the UK, and were attended by over 50,000 people.

In 2017, Remember Srebrenica are calling upon UK communities to remember the victims and survivors of the Srebrenica genocide and learn the lessons from Srebrenica; particularly that we must always be vigilant against hatred and intolerance in our communities.

Throughout Srebrenica Memorial Week, from 9 – 16 July, Rape Crisis England and Wales and its member Rape Crisis Centres will be showing solidarity with the survivors of sexual violence who are still struggling to get the support they need and still fighting for the perpetrators to be held to account.

In keeping with this year’s theme of ‘Breaking the Silence: Gender and Genocide’ and to mark International Women’s Day, Remembering Srebrenica organised an all-women’s delegation to Srebrenica that focused on the experiences of women in conflict and more specifically on sexual violence.

Rape Crisis England and Wales Trustee Jane Gregory was the Rape Crisis England and Wales representative on this delegation.

The group met with the Mothers of Srebrenica and met staff from Medica Zenica and Snaga žene, organisations which have supported survivors of sexual violence during and after genocide.

On the final day of their visit, the delegation met Bakira Hasečić, President of Women Victims of War Association, who has fought tirelessly to bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice in both international and domestic courts.

As a survivor of wartime sexual violence herself, she is vocal about the need to fight for justice, and the need to break the silence and stigma surrounding sexual violence.

Bakira Hasečić and ‘Mirsada’, two women who were both subjected to horrific ordeals at the hands of Bosnian Serb forces during the brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing, feature in a short film called ‘Breaking the silence – The women of Bosnia’ and have bravely spoken out in an attempt to prevent anything similar from happening again.

Di Whitfield, co-chair of Rape Crisis England and Wales, said: “The systematic and widespread use of rape as a weapon of war was one of the brutal legacies of the Bosnian conflict.

“We at Rape Crisis England and Wales know very well the devastation that sexual violence causes to individuals, families and communities.

“As in Bosnia, all too often the perpetrators are walking free and the survivors do not get the support they deserve.

“We work with survivors who often struggle to talk about their experiences due to shame, stigma, being blamed and not believed.

“While there are important differences to recognise between sexual violence as part of a strategic policy of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the ongoing prevalence experienced by women and girls in so-called peacetime, the root causes are the same – attitudes of stereotyping, discrimination and dehumanisation.

“The case of Bosnia, where women and girls were targeted both because of their religion and their sex shows that gender-based violence often does not exist in isolation – it intersects with other forms of hatred.

“This absolutely resonates with our work here in England and Wales where 27 per cent of our clients are from BME backgrounds and 23 per cent are disabled women and girls.

“We commend Remembering Srebrenica’s important work, and agree that we cannot truly stand up to hatred unless we stand up to misogyny in our society.

“Violence against women and girls is a serious problem here in the UK.

“Last year, our member Rape Crisis Centres answered 171,000 helpline calls.

“1 in 5 women between 16 and 59 have experienced some form of sexual violence since turning 16.

“A recent government report showed the shocking extent of sexual harassment and sexual violence in our school system.

“We must address these issues – by speaking out, by understanding the consequences if any form of hatred is left unchecked, and by working together as a community to challenge the attitudes that contribute to sexual violence.”

Louise Williams, South West Regional Trustee for Rape Crisis England and Wales, visited Srebrenica in October 2016, along with the University of Gloucestershire, Gloucester Action for Refuge and Asylum Seekers and A Call To Men UK.

Bosnia today is a beautiful country. Our first stop in Sarajevo could in no way prepare the group for the horrors and atrocities that we were to learn about during our trip,” she said.

“A country once living in harmony with different religions and ethnicities living side by side, ripped apart overnight by war.

“Our lessons from the Bosnian genocide are too important to ignore in the UK today – especially now.

“What bubbles under the surface of a society through propaganda in newspapers or age old resentments  is used by those in power to tear whole communities apart, to hate one another, to murder one another and to rape.

“By calling out misogyny today, by continuing to campaign about our right to be free of violence, by challenging fake news and propaganda, by being kind to any neighbour and showing solidarity towards another human being, each of us can make these small changes, and as a whole, prevent against the dehumanisation that war brings.”

You can follow Remembering Srebrenica on Twitter under @SrebrenicaUK and on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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