Srebrenica Massacre: Motion

I move:

“That Seanad Éireann:

- remembers the 22nd anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre where more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995; and

- uses this opportunity to learn about the challenges that people in Srebrenica face in moving on from the genocide in a spirit of reconciliation to make a better future for all communities.”

I wish to share time with Senator Neale Richmond.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am very pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, is present. He follows in the footsteps of the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, who marked the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide two years ago. I also want to welcome the members of the Bosnian community who are in the Visitors Gallery along with Peter Osborne and Bronagh Catibusic from the Remembering Srebrenica charity. For those who are not aware, Remembering Srebrenica's work is targeted at tackling hatred and intolerance in order to build a better, safer and more cohesive society for everyone.

Today we solemnly mark the 22nd anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina. That horrific atrocity saw more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed. It is the single greatest atrocity in Europe since the Second World War and remains a brutal reminder of man's inhumanity to man. As we mark today's anniversary, we stand with members of the Bosnian community in Ireland in remembering those killed and acknowledge the loss of their family members and loved ones.

We applaud the work of those involved in the pursuit of justice for the victims and their surviving relatives, including the International Commission on Missing Persons and the Mothers of Srebrenica, the courage and humility of which in the face of unthinkable horror are an inspiration to us all.

On behalf of all Senators, I commend the work of the charity Remembering Srebrenica. Through learning the lessons of Srebrenica, the UK charity teaches current and future generations about the consequences of hatred and intolerance in all communities. Through raising awareness of this tragic and preventable genocide and working in communities, including in Ireland, North and South, the charity continues to help communities to learn the lessons of Srebrenica. In 2016, for example, it worked with volunteers throughout the United Kingdom to honour the memory of the victims, survivors and families at more than 400 memorial events involving 50,000 people. Its educational initiatives have reached 32,000 children since their launch in 2015.

We all support the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider region in their efforts to build a sustainable peace and achieve economic and social progress. In this context, I acknowledge Ireland's commitment to a European perspective on Bosnia and Herzegovina, with other countries of the western Balkans. From speaking closely to members of the Bosnian community in Ireland, I am very aware of their deep appreciation of Seanad Éireann and its Members for commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. The Bosnian community here wants to fully recognise the wider contribution Ireland has made in commemorating that awful event. As a concerted response to the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, Ireland accepted more than 1,000 Bosnian refugees through a resettlement programme, many of whom had been ethnically cleansed from parts of eastern Bosnia, including Srebrenica, while some of them had survived the horrors of the Srebrenica genocide. The Bosnian community in Ireland has been active for many years in commemorating the massacre and seeking justice for the victims of the genocide and other atrocities which occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. I am also aware that the Bosnian community deeply appreciates the cross-party political support it has received in Ireland, including in 2015, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the massacre.

This year the theme of the Srebrenica commemoration is "gender and genocide", recognising the courage and strength of Bosnian women who have been at the forefront of efforts to ensure the world will absolutely remember what happened in Srebrenica. We must remember that among the victims were 15,000 to 20,000 Bosnian women and girls, some as young as 12 years, who were subjected to sexual violence. The exact number of victims is not known because the majority have remained silent because of stigma, shame and fear. In Ireland Bosnian women have played a key role in raising awareness of what happened in Bosnia through organising memorial events, informing Irish people of their country and fostering an intercultural understanding. Yesterday in Belfast, for example, Remembering Srebrenica held a special commemoration at Belfast City Hall. As part of the event Munira Subaši, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica, spoke about her experience of the atrocity. Members of the Bosnian community in Ireland are very grateful for the welcome they have received in this country in rebuilding their lives. They have contributed significantly to Irish society in the past 20 years. Their experience of surviving conflict, overcoming trauma and successful integration is an inspiration, as Ireland again accepts refugees from wartorn countries such as Syria.

The motion reflects the European Parliament's resolution of 9 July 2015 which agreed that 11 July should be recognised throughout the European Union as a day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide. We do not just honour the victims of the genocide; we all want to send a powerful message that such horrendous crimes must never happen again. I will return to some of the remarks made by the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, two years ago in a statement in which he noted the genocide had taken place in living memory and should serve as a stark reminder of the need to learn the lessons of the past.

Whatever the political discourse, it is the duty of every country in Europe to work hard to promote peace, tolerance and mutual understanding. We must ensure that what happened in Srebrenica 22 years ago never happens again.

I thank Senator Feighan for drafting the motion and for allowing me to add my name to it. I echo his comment that it is important that we continue to challenge and condemn all attempts to minimise or deny this genocide and that we remember this tragic atrocity and use it as a tool to promote tolerance and remembrance. I, too, encourage and support the people of Bosnia Herzegovina on their continued path towards accession to the European Union.

I, too, welcome all of the people from Bosnia and related areas to the House today.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I congratulate him on his appointment. Creating an unbearable situation of total insecurity and no hope for the future was the aim of the self-declared President of the Bosnian Serb community in March 1995, a few months prior to the massacre. When the Bosnian Serbs took over Srebrenica on 11 July it was declared by the military leader that they would extract revenge on the Muslim community, and they did. Over 80 sites were used for the execution and burial of almost 8,000 members of the Muslim community. While there were 8,000 victims, there were 19,783 members of the Bosnian Serb community and Serbian nation involved in the massacre and only a handful of them were imprisoned. Very few people will see justice served upon them and very few will see justice for the thousands who were massacred. This, I suppose, is the tragic legacy of Srebrenica.

I commend Senators Feighan and Richmond on bringing forth this motion. In regard to the comments of the UN and EU on ensuring this does not happen again, the greatest insurance that it would never happen again is if those who perpetrated crimes that happened in Europe, within the reach of the EU, faced justice. The fact that merely a handful of those involved were imprisoned tells us, taking into account what is happening in Aleppo and in regard to other atrocities and crimes against humanity, that tragically those who carried out these crimes will not face justice. Worse than this, many of the 19,000 involved are high ranking officials who work in the public service. Where have we seen this before? We saw it in Germany in terms of the tens of thousands who served in the Auschwitz concentration camp and were officials and bureaucrats within the Nazi regime, who ended up working in the Government of East Germany, with the full knowledge of the allied powers and the German Government. The policy in Germany into the 1970s and 1980s was such that the German state turned a blind eye towards the actions of its own citizens against the Jews, minorities and other people, including Slavs, Serbians and the Muslims of Yugoslavia. The irony of this cannot be lost on us - that a democratic country like Germany would turn a blind eye to the actions of people who perpetrated horrendous crimes, genocide on an industrial scale. The Serbian Government, while recognising the mass killings would not recognise it, and barely passed that resolution in its own Parliament, not because it was sorry about the crimes but because not doing so would block its accession to the European Union.

That was its only reason for barely passing that vote. That so many current government officials were actually involved in the genocide and crimes against humanity and that the EU does not wish to see them go to jail because it is not worth the bother is telling. As our great poet, Seamus Heaney, once said, history does not repeat itself as much as it rhymes. In his poem on Troy, he said that hope and history rhyme. Our only hope is that they will rhyme again. We have noted the lack of justice for the victims of the Holocaust, during which the Germans turned a blind eye to the actions of the perpetrators, and we now see a similar response regarding the 19,000 who were involved in the genocide in Srebrenica. It tells us about the reality of politics that, on the motion put down the foreign affairs committee to recognise the Armenian genocide, the Government and Fine Gael voted against it. Two million people died in the middle of the First World War, observed, ironically, by the Germans, who were allies of the Turks at the time and who used the events as the basis for their own operations in the Second World War. Despite this, Turkey, along with our own Government, continues to deny that what occurred was genocide. Two million people were wiped off the face of the earth. There have been no consequences for Turkey 100 years on. There is another example in Aleppo in Syria.

The only way we can ensure such events do not happen again is by bringing to justice those who commit the crimes and having them serve appropriate sentences. Time and again, unfortunately, it has been only the history that has been rhyming and not the hope that justice would be served for the people who suffered on the day in question. The UN and Dutch peacekeeping troops failed to fire one single shot to prevent the arrest and capture of the thousands of Muslim men, women and children who were led to their fate. There was a failure by the UN and Dutch peacekeeping forces, and also a failure by humanity itself.

I welcome our friends from Bosnia to the Chamber today. I had the pleasure of meeting them just before this debate. It was so instructive to listen to the personal testimony of somebody like Alen Osmanovio, who described his two-week march from Srebrenica to relative safety in Tuzla and the horrors those on the march endured. He was 17 at the time and his younger brother was just 11. It is absolutely telling. I remember being shocked by what was on our television screens at the time and struggling to comprehend how the world could watch and let these horrors happen.

This July marks the 22nd anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. The date 11 July is designated as a memorial day. I welcome that we are marking it with statements in the Seanad. I recognise the work of Senator Feighan, in particular, in this regard. I hope this will happen every year. I call on the Government to create a national Srebrenica memorial day.

The appalling massacres have been recognised as genocide by the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY. It is very welcome that the Seanad is today remembering the more than 8,000 Muslim Bosnians, or Bosniaks, who were brutally executed by paramilitaries and units of the Bosnian Serb Army under the command of General Ratko Mladi. Most of this happened in the full glare of television news reports and observers from the UN and EU. In addition to the killings, thousands of women, children and elderly people were forcibly deported, and a large number of women were raped. We must remember them also. It was a failure on the part of the EU and other institutions that a large Muslim population, long established in Europe, was targeted in such a way.

This year also marks the closing of the doors of the ICTY. It was established by the UN to prosecute those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. At the tribunal, a total of 38 former members of the Bosnian-Serb police force and army have been sentenced to a total of more than 400 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity in Srebrenica. The acts of genocide in Srebrenica and other crimes have been laid out in the trial of General Mladi at the tribunal. A verdict is expected in November. This all underlines the importance of truth recovery to the process of national reconciliation. We should recognise that from the history of our own country. Many more perpetrators of mass killings of Bosniaks in the area have not been prosecuted, however. These mass killings include those of people desperately fleeing Srebrenica to safety in Tuzla, a town that was under the control of the Bosnian army in July 1995.

The UN has called the Srebrenica genocide "the greatest atrocity on European soil since the Second World War". After the Holocaust and genocide carried out by the Nazis, Europe said, "Never again", yet, just 22 years ago, this act of genocide occurred on European soil and we failed the people of Srebrenica. When we say "Never again" now, we must mean it. While we remember this appalling act of genocide, we must also commit to continuing to challenge and condemn any attempts to minimise or deny the genocide that took place at Srebrenica. We must also confront the fact that this genocide took place in the UN-designated safe area and that Dutch soldiers acting as UN peacekeepers failed to stop the capture of the town and the resulting genocide, underscoring the failure of the international community in preventing the massacre. A civil court judgment in the Netherlands in 2014 found that the Dutch state was partially liable for the murder of 300 Bosniaks in Srebrenica who were expelled from a Dutch UN base and turned over to Bosnian Serb troops. Just last month, a higher appeals court in The Hague upheld this judgment. I understand, however, that relatives of the victims are very unhappy with this ruling as it does not go far enough.

Today, we remember the victims and survivors of the Srebrenica genocide and we must use this day to learn the lessons of history in order to tackle hatred, racism and intolerance wherever it occurs.

On behalf of all my colleagues in the Civil Engagement group, I welcome the motion and congratulate Senators Feighan and Richmond for introducing it to the House. It is in the best spirit of the internationalism of this House that we use this space to acknowledge these issues in this way. I welcome the visitors in the Visitors Gallery, as others have done.

The genocide at Srebrenica is without doubt one of the worst crimes committed on European soil, certainly since the end of the Second World War. It is important that we remember this today, the 22nd anniversary of the mass murder of 8,373 boys and men and the rape, beating and murder of an unknown number of women. The number of victims who starved, suffered, took their own lives or had their lives taken during the siege and its aftermath during the summer of 1995 is still unknown.

When the siege, battle and genocide were taking place, the world's attention was focused largely on the siege in Sarajevo. Srebrenica was largely out of sight and mind and the UN has now admitted that the distance and isolation of Srebrenica contributed to the poverty of the international community's response and actions. Speaking on the tenth anniversary, Mr. Kofi Annan said blame lies first and foremost with those who planned and carried out the massacre and those who assisted them, harboured them, or harbour them still. He said we cannot evade our own share of responsibility. Moreover, he stated, "We can say - and it is true - that great nations failed to respond adequately." The inadequate response of the international community in the summer of 1995 is one we must bear in mind. We must learn from it and move forward with a greater sense of responsibility as we face new crises and challenges in the years ahead.

The international community, under the guise of NATO and the EU, did eventually stand up to the mark to bring an end to the atrocities of the Bosnian war but they have been showing less and inadequate interest since the Dayton accord was implemented in 1997.

I pay tribute to the members of our own Defence Forces who served with distinction in the peacekeeping efforts as military police since the Dayton Agreement. Seven Irish peacekeepers are still stationed in the region today, and there is still work for them to do.

At present seven Irish peacekeepers are still stationed there today. There is still work for them to do because Bosnia and Herzegovina remains a troubled country. The unanimous commitment to ensure a lasting peace was short-lived. Now, unfortunately, the country is in danger of going down a tragic path of separatism and division once again. The three communities in today's Bosnia and Herzegovina face contemporary challenges to hold their country together. The Government of the Serb region is calling for full independence and perhaps eventual unity with Serbia. Some Croats seek to pull away from the federation with the Bosnians and call for an entity of their own. Unfortunately, all too often children of one ethnicity are not always encouraged to play and socialise together. This division is seen now in the education system, whereby parts of history are vanishing from education books, including parts of the common history that all children in Bosnia and Herzegovina need to learn from. From local to national level we have seen the election in some cases of nationalists and those who would seek to deny or diminish the genocide.

I commend Bosnia and Herzegovina on producing a national action plan on women, peace and security. This relates to the UN Security Council resolution 1325 obligation, one that Ireland takes seriously as well. I hope that more of these plans will continue to be developed. Those of us on this island understand that the involvement of women at all levels of peacekeeping and reconciliation is key to the long-term viability of such processes. It is a key commitment in our action plan and something that we have always sought to support in other countries.

In 2007 the International Court of Justice definitively declared that the massacre in Srebrenica was genocide. The leaders of the Serb entity accepted that judgment and issued an apology. However, we have since seen a roll-back from that apology as the current generation of leaders look to position themselves differently. The trend has been to label such events as crimes and to shy away from the use of the word genocide, a denial that is even appearing in the education system. We know that Russia has exercised its veto within the UN Security Council to move away from resolutions that recognise the genocide. It is important that we are part of an international commitment to hold history to account and to maintain the clear memories. This is why I wish to commend Senator Feighan. This is a collective history not only for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina but for those of us in Europe and throughout the world. If we cannot name the past, then we cannot learn from it. It is a crucial commitment. Again, I commend Senator Feighan in that regard. Even in the media we have seen a growing denial and disappearance of these terms.

As members of the European Union we have a clear responsibility. The EU is a crucial guarantor of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The offer or potential for eventual membership of the EU is a crucial incentive to the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina as they seek to build peace. However, it is disappointing that the EU has led itself to be criticised – I believe rightly – by Bosnian civil society for focusing exclusively on economic targets and economic development while failing to recognise the crucial work of peace building, community development and reconciliation that must be supported. Economic development is essential for the building of peace, but economic development alone will not automatically lead to peace. We need constructive and positive engagement in the work of peace building.

Another point is important for everyone in Europe. Securitisation is not the same as peace building. The work of peace building and reconciliation are entirely different to the project of securitisation that we have seen building across Europe. Ireland has a unique history and contribution to make in terms of peace building. Ireland can play a constructive and proactive role that is not about rowing behind any common military policing or security agenda, but around offering narratives of hope inclusion and reconciliation that allow societies to come together. I commend the motion and I encourage the Government and The European Union to play a more proactive role in the year ahead.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to the House. I commend our colleagues, Senators Feighan and Richmond, on proposing this important motion. Most important, I welcome the members of the Bosnian Irish community in the Gallery, in particular Mirza and Bronagh Catibusic. It is good to have them here.

It is vital that we involve ourselves in formal events to commemorate the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. Many colleagues will recall that two years ago, on the 20th anniversary, we had several events at Leinster House. I was involved in some of those events in July 2015 to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide. I hope that we might see in future a formally instituted national Srebrenica memorial day declared for 11 July each year. The European Parliament has recommended that EU member states would recognise this day as the day of the commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide. I am unsure whether Senator Feighan had envisaged that we would have a minute's silence. Perhaps we might do that today in the Chamber at the conclusion of the debate, if colleagues are in agreement. It could be a formal way of marking our respect for the victims of the massacre.

I am grateful to Mirza Catibusic for some text pointing out that the Bosnian community in Ireland warmly welcomes the event in the Seanad to mark the 22nd anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. The Bosnian community ask us to remember that over 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were brutally killed on 11 July 1995 when the UN safe area of Srebrenica fell to Serbian forces led by Ratko Mladi. Indeed, the European Parliament resolution of 9 July 2015 on the Srebrenica commemoration sets out in stark terms exactly what happened. The resolution includes the following recitals:

whereas on 11 July 1995 the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which had been proclaimed a safe area by UN Security Council Resolution 819 of 16 April 1993, was captured by Bosnian Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladi, acting under the authority of the then President of the Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadži;

and

whereas, during several days of carnage after the fall of Srebrenica, more than 8 000 Muslim men and boys, who had sought safety in this area under the protection of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), were summarily executed by Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Mladi and by paramilitary units, including irregular police units; whereas nearly 30 000 women, children and elderly people were forcibly expelled in a massive-scale ethnic cleansing campaign, making this event the biggest war crime to take place in Europe since the end of the Second World War;

This text sets out in stark terms not only the true horror of the massacre itself but the linked ethnic cleansing that took place at the same time. As we have heard, and as other colleagues have said, the Srebrenica massacre has been recognised subsequently as genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.

The theme of the commemoration this year is on gender in genocide. We note the courage and strength of Bosnian women who have been at the forefront in the past 22 years of seeking to ensure that the world remembers the Srebrenica genocide. In reflecting on the events of 22 years ago it is important to look at a number of ways in which we should commemorate this massacre. First, we need to ensure that it is named as genocide. That has been done through the decisions of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It has also been done through the European Parliament resolution. That is important. We need to keep stating that and reminding ourselves of it. As the European Parliament pointed out in 2015, it is important to counter any attempts to deny the genocide. Indeed, the European Parliament stated that it should do everything in its power to prevent such acts from recurring and to reject any denial, relativist interpretation or misinterpretation of the genocide.

One issue linked to the commemoration, especially at the distance of 22 years, is the need to reflect on the need for justice. Others have spoken of some of the developments in recent years, in particular developments in terms of international justice and the perpetrators being brought to justice. We know that only last year Radovan Karadži was found guilty of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and that this year the Hague Court of Appeal found the Netherlands partially liable for the death of over 300 Muslim men who died in the massacre in 1995.

Clearly, there is a lot more still to be done in terms of bringing the perpetrators of genocide to justice and in terms of ensuring accountability, in particular for poor decisions at international level that contributed to the carrying out of the massacre.

When we reflect on this particular genocide, as the motion calls on us to do, we must look also at how we support people in Srebrenica, and in other places where we have seen genocide occur, with the challenges they face in moving on from genocide in a spirit of reconciliation in order to make a better future for all communities. The European Parliament resolution of two years ago offers a way forward, emphasising the need for political representatives to acknowledge the past in order to work successfully together towards a better future and calling on the EU at a more general level to commit to a European perspective and to develop support for civil society organisations, such as the association, the Movement of Mothers of Srebrenica and Žepa Enclaves, for its pivotal role in raising awareness and building a broader basis for reconciliation. All of us have a duty to take on board those recommendations.

I want to finish with some strong words marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide from a statement made in New York by Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. He spoke of the immense tragedy of Srebrenica, and said:

All of us must accept that in July 1995, thousands of men and boys were killed. That tens of thousands of women, children and elderly were terrorized, abused and forced from their homes. All of us must accept that there was a deliberate plan to commit genocide. [.] To respect the past, we must call Srebrenica by its name, genocide. To build the future, we must speak out with one voice when it is denied. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia established these facts and delivered justice for Srebrenica, as well as for many other crimes.

He goes on to say that while there have been convictions for crimes in Srebrenica, we must reflect again on the need for prevention of genocide as a first priority, but when prevention fails, justice is essential. I think that is a poignant and timely reminder for us all in marking this 22nd anniversary.

I am pleased to support the motion put down by Senators Frank Feighan and Neale Richmond, whom I congratulate. I am grateful to the House for the opportunity to address it this evening. I offer the apologies of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who cannot be here due to prior travel commitments.

I would like to acknowledge the presence of members of the Remembering Srebrenica organisation, including those who have travelled from Northern Ireland to be with us today. I also welcome representatives of the Bosnian community in Ireland, many of whom arrived to this country in the wake of the appalling massacre at Srebrenica and who have gone on to make their homes in Ireland.

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the horrendous genocide at Srebrenica and it is fitting that both Houses of the Oireachtas take time to reflect on the lasting impact of those events. Most of us in this House will recall learning with horror of the methodical murder of 8,000 men and boys in the village of Srebrenica, a place little known to the world before July 1995. The unimaginable suffering of the people of this small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina is matched only by the other darkest atrocities in history - except that this event took place in our living memory and in the lifetime of almost everyone in this Chamber. Throughout Europe, and within the European Union, the appalling events of 11 July 1995 are remembered with solemnity and dignity. The massacre at Srebrenica will forever be a stain on the history of Europe. We remember the victims and think today of their families and loved ones and the other survivors of that atrocity. We also acknowledge the tremendous legacy this event has had on the people of the region and the ongoing impact of that time of war in the Balkans.

Knowing that I would be speaking here this evening, I was very struck on Sunday by our own national day of commemoration, where we remember all Irish men and women who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations. We are also nearly midway through the decade of centenaries as we mark significant moments in Ireland’s history, confront what is sometimes an uncomfortable past and commit to working together for a better future. As a people, we attach a great importance to our history and it is right that we remember the events elsewhere that have helped to shape our collective consciousness. Twenty years ago, Ireland welcomed some 500 people from Bosnia, and I am very pleased that those who made their home here will be part of our shared future.

The theme chosen for this year’s commemoration by the Remembering Srebrenica group is "Breaking the Silence: Gender and Genocide". It is important that, as we commemorate the 8,000 men and boys who lost their lives, we remember with compassion the impact this atrocity had on those left behind, in particular women, many of whom suffered sexual violence as well as bereavement - the mothers, the grandmothers, sisters, girlfriends, neighbours and friends who picked up their own lives after such devastation and who, by their testimony, remind us of the human cost of Srebrenica and the need to ensure that diversity and ethnic difference are celebrated rather than dismissed or, worse, persecuted. We honour those women, we admire their courage and resilience and we support their contribution to the rebuilding of a country still living with the consequences of hatred.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that minorities in our societies are respected and afforded dignity, and that every community within our society feels safe and protected. We have seen the consequences of allowing racial or ethnic discrimination and hatred to fester and we must be continually vigilant to ensure that our society is an open and inclusive one. I believe that we must redouble our efforts to promote tolerance and respect as fundamental values. The European Union was founded on the principles of peace and justice, and Ireland remains committed to supporting a peaceful, secure and prosperous future for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider region. We continue to encourage them on their European path and to help them overcome the legacy of recent conflicts.

We firmly believe that the accession process is a transformative driver for peace and stability, and that by choosing to follow the path towards EU integration, Bosnia is making a positive and active choice about her future as a single, united and sovereign country. We, for our part, will assist in any way we can. Our peacekeepers are serving in the EU mission, Operation ALTHEA, and have been for many years. We are also active within the EU in encouraging progress on the wide range of areas in the enlargement dossier, in particular on fundamental freedoms, human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law, and in offering bilateral assistance, wherever possible.

The whole western Balkans region continues to face enormous challenges, and it is important to note that we are seeing a rise in inter-ethnic tension in the region and an increase in extreme nationalism. The international community is committed to working with the authorities and the people of Bosnia in a spirit of vigilance to ensure that current tensions are not allowed to spill over. In this context, the renewed focus on the western Balkans, as expressed at the European Council in March and confirmed by the intense engagement of the EU’s High Representative, Frederica Mogherini, in the region, is very welcome. Tomorrow will see the leaders of the region gather at the Trieste summit, an initiative designed to enhance regional co-operation and good neighbourly relations. This spirit of collaboration can only serve to bring tangible benefits to all of the citizens of the region, and to shape a more prosperous and peaceful future.

As I conclude, I ask this House to commemorate and honour the victims of Srebrenica and to remember the victims and survivors of all wars. Srebrenica will always serve as a reminder of a dark period in Europe’s past. By learning the lessons of the past and by working together, I believe we will secure a more peaceful Bosnia, working in friendship with her neighbours and as a partner in the European Union.

I thank the Minister of State and all the Senators for their contributions today. It is a very special day of commemoration. I agree with Senator Gavan that it is perhaps time to have an international Srebrenica memorial day.

The UN, of which we are part, failed to protect Bosnian men, women and children in that enclave. I feel that many errors, misjudgments and mistakes were made. I would hope that would never happen again. This happened when the Bosnian Serb troops wanted a racially pure statelet. They ethnically cleansed and genocide was part of that routine. I also believe that Ireland is in a unique situation in which we can be impartial, independent brokers of peace, not just in Bosnia but across the world. With the Good Friday Agreement and what we have done - though the challenges that we have faced are much less than what exists in many other countries - sometimes we have to be very careful to try to be independent and also impartial in all aspects, because there is a role for this State.

The Minister of State has said that Bosnia and Herzegovina is on the path to EU integration. We are also mindful that the minorities in our societies must be protected, and we must ensure that they are respected and listened to. I will take on board Senator Bacik's proposal that we should, in my last minute, have a minute's silence, if that is okay with the Acting Chairman.

We might put the motion to a vote first and once that is agreed, we will have a minute's silence at the end, if that is agreeable to Members. I thank Senator Feighan.

Question put and agreed to.
Members rose.
Sitting suspended at 5.33 p.m. and resumed at 5.45 p.m.