I am pleased to open statements remembering the 22nd anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica this evening. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, regrets that he cannot be here due to prior travel commitments in the Middle East.
I have just come from the Seanad where we discussed the issues raised by the Srebrenica genocide, including the appalling nature of the atrocity that took place, its lasting impact on individual human beings and on a country, and the road to reconciliation and to building a future based on tolerance, inclusivity, justice and peace.
I welcome to the Visitors Gallery members of the Remembering Srebrenica organisation, including those who have travelled from Northern Ireland and representatives from the Bosnian community in Ireland, many of whom arrived to this country in the wake of the appalling massacre at Srebrenica.
We remember the 8,000 men and boys who were murdered and think of their families and loved ones and the other survivors of that atrocity. We also acknowledge the tremendous legacy of this event and its effect on the people of the region as they work towards reconciliation in the wake of that time of war in the Balkans. Today, Srebrenica is synonymous with one of the worst atrocities of history. This took place in living memory and in Europe
We know well the shadows of conflict in Ireland and have been reminded of a sometimes uncomfortable past during this Decade of Commemorations. As we look at our own past, 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.
As we commemorate the 8,000 men and boys who lost their lives, we remember also the impact this atrocity had on those left behind, in particular, the women, many of whom suffered sexual violence and mental trauma as well as bereavement. They were the mothers, 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, admire their courage and resilience and support their contribution to the rebuilding of a country still living with the consequences of hatred, just as we support the work they do to ensure that the lessons of Srebrenica will not be forgotten.
We all have a responsibility to ensure that every community within our society feels safe and protected. We cannot allow racial or ethnic discrimination to fester and we must be continually vigilant to ensure that our society is an open and inclusive one. 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 with the EU mission, Operation Althea, and we are also active within the European Union in encouraging progress across the enlargement dossier, in particular on fundamental freedoms and human rights, and in offering bilateral assistance where possible.
The entire western Balkans region continues to face enormous challenges, including a rise in inter-ethnic tensions and an increase in extreme nationalism. The international community is committed to working with the people of Bosnia to ensure that current tensions are not allowed to spill over. In this context, the reaffirmation by the EU of its commitment to the western Balkans is very welcome. Tomorrow, regional leaders will meet at the Trieste summit to discuss enhanced regional co-operation. 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, peaceful future.
As I conclude, I ask the 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.