Srebrenica Memorial Week — [Sir Robert Syms in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall am ar 4 Gorffennaf 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

[Relevant documents: Third Report of the International Development Committee, From Srebrenica to a safer tomorrow: Preventing future mass atrocities around the world, HC 149, and the Government response, HC 992.]

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) 9:30, 4 Gorffennaf 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Srebrenica Memorial Week.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Robert. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us the opportunity to hold this debate in time to mark the commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide. I also thank Alicia Kearns and Ian Blackford, who are co-sponsors of this debate. Their support is a testament to the fact that this issue transcends all party divides in this House and across the country.

The Srebrenica genocide and the events leading up to it contain important lessons on which we must take this opportunity to reflect. The House is familiar with the story of the appalling atrocity. The Bosnian war from 1992 to 1995 saw the planned, systematic and industrialised murder of just under 100,000 Muslims, the displacement of 2 million people and the genocidal rape of about 50,000 women simply because of their Muslim identity.

In July 1995, the Bosnian Serb General Mladić and his forces seized the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which had been declared a UN safe area. Over just a few days, more than 8,000 people, mainly Bosnian Muslim men and boys, were systematically murdered by the Bosnian Serb forces. The bodies were dumped in mass graves and later moved to secondary and even tertiary mass graves as the Bosnian Serb soldiers sought to cover up what they had done. There are still some people missing.

I am sure that, like me, colleagues here today remember the harrowing scenes of the war in Bosnia on our television screens. We watched neighbours turn against neighbours, friends against friends, ethnicity against ethnicity. I will not forget seeing the images of the emaciated prisoners held in the concentration camp while looking on in disbelief that ethnic cleansing, systematic mass rape and genocide were all happening not in a faraway place, but in Europe.

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

I commend the hon. Lady for securing this debate. I apologise to you, Sir Robert, and to the hon. Lady for not being able to make a speech. I wish to do so, but I have to attend the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee—I have permission to leave it for a short time and then return.

The genocide convention places obligations on the UK Government not only to punish the perpetrators of such crimes, but to predict and prevent those atrocities from happening. Unfortunately, as Srebrenica showed, we keep forgetting that duty. The International Development Committee’s report, “From Srebrenica to a safer tomorrow”, challenged the UK Government to incorporate prevention at all stages of the policy cycle, including trade, education, supply chains and asylum policy. Does the hon. Member agree that that work needs to be done at pace to prevent an escalation because of not just what happened in Srebrenica, but what is happening now in Sudan and Nigeria?

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

I entirely agree and thank the hon. Member for his intervention. We need to continue to work on this and take action across the board, so that these things do not happen again.

Bosnia was a horrific reminder of the vulnerability of ordinary people. It made me question how that could happen on our doorstep when the world had pledged “Never again” after the second world war. I also questioned what chance ethnic minority communities have in Europe if the xenophobic claims of ethnic superiority could prevail among white indigenous people who have been assimilated, integrated and lived together for hundreds of years. For me, Srebrenica demonstrates where the hatred and the dehumanisation of others can lead. Only when we reflect on those lessons can we truly strengthen our resolve to stand up to hatred in our own society.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Paymaster General

I welcome the debate and commend all those who called for it. I worked in Bosnia during and after the war, and visited the site of the Srebrenica memorial to the genocide of more than 8,000 people in July 1995.

My hon. Friend refers to saying, “Never again”. Does she agree that when we say “Never again”, we must demonstrate the commitment to keeping peace in the region, opposing genocide denial and opposing the Serb separatism of Milorad Dodik and other politicians, and take pride in the work our embassy has done to support the Srebrenica memorial and to support local organisations working for peace in the region?

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to be vigilant. Especially in the western Balkans, as she has rightly said, issues of ethnic nationalism are arising, and the Serbians are trying to hide the fact that this event ever happened. I am grateful for the fact that the United Kingdom is the only European country to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide, although I will come later to the lack of resources and the funding cuts that have been made. I thank our Government and our country for recognising the event and for being the world leader in commemorating the Srebrenica genocide.

While much has been achieved in building a cohesive society in the UK, there is more work to be done. According to Home Office figures released last year, police recorded hate crime in England and Wales has risen consistently over the past several years. I know the Minister will agree that standing up to hatred and intolerance in the UK remains extremely necessary and should be a priority for Departments.

The Minister will be aware of the vital work done by the charity Remembering Srebrenica, which was set up 10 years ago with the support of the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. The charity has established 11 regions, as well as other bodies across the UK, and has gone from holding one memorial event at Lancaster House in 2013 to holding nearly 2,000 annual community actions in schools, town halls, mosques, synagogues, churches, community centres and police stations to bring communities together in a collective act of remembrance. Remembering Srebrenica has educated nearly 150,000 young people through its educational resource and teacher training programmes about Srebrenica, and has appointed community champions who work together to unite communities in order to work against hate and to build a safer, stronger community.

As part of the charity’s work to commemorate the genocide each year, it selects a theme that speaks to communities here in the UK. For 2023, the theme is “Together We Are One”, which is particularly potent when we remind ourselves that Bosnia and Herzegovina is well known for being a melting pot of cultures and identities in which Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived side by side for centuries. Many colleagues will know that the capital, Sarajevo, is known to have been the Jerusalem of Europe, and it is the only European city with a mosque, a Catholic church, an Orthodox church and a synagogue in the same neighbourhood.

However, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, nationalist leaders who played on identity politics rose to power across the region. Those ultra-nationalist forces promoted hatred and division with the agenda of creating a greater Serbia, but only with ethnically pure Serbs. One of the most well-known integrated societies in Europe imploded. The theme “Together We Are One” underlines why we have a responsibility to do everything we can to combat divisive rhetoric, by focusing on the things that unite us together as one.

This year’s theme also reminds us to remain vigilant against the forces of hatred that seek to “other” groups as being negatively different—the narrative of us and them, or where one group dehumanises and denies the humanity of another, and the dominant group is taught to see the target group as less than human and not belonging to their community or society.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Ceidwadwyr, Totnes

I thank the hon. Lady for securing this debate. It is less a debate and more a commemoration and recognition of the unity that we have in this Parliament never to forget what happened in Bosnia and Srebrenica. She makes the excellent point that there is a real danger of history repeating itself. Right now, our position towards the Balkans is not alert enough to the problems faced by Bosnian citizens.

Does the hon. Lady agree that we need to take three steps? First, we need to upgrade our resources in Bosnia, with more British troops available and on the ground, and through NATO. Secondly, we need to use Magnitsky sanctions on those perpetrating crimes in the area. Thirdly, we need to ensure that we do not cut funding to the Remembering Srebrenica group, which we have by 50%. After all, is an ounce of prevention not worth a pound of cure?

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

I entirely agree. I know that the Minister does listen, so I hope she will take back to others in the Foreign Office the point about more spending and more resources in the western Balkans to ensure that we do not have any further eruptions there. I say gently that both the first world war and second world war started in that part of the world. That is important.

Remembering Srebrenica is the charity doing the most work on this matter, but, year on year, it has had funding cuts. I wrote to the Foreign Office and to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ask for funding, but that was sadly rejected. They—especially DLUHC—have responded by saying they are not going to make any change, which is a shame because this is an important cause. The only way in which so many people are finding out about this is because of the work done by Remembering Srebrenica on the memorial, through volunteers and others across the United Kingdom. It is very much volunteer-led, but it needs resources. After this debate, I hope that the Foreign Office will consider putting in some money and that, hopefully, it will talk to DLUHC to ask it to consider funding as well.

We know that polarisation and propaganda drive groups further apart, through deepening division. We saw that played out in the years leading up to the Srebrenica genocide in 1995. Non-Serbs had to mark their houses with white flags or wear an armband. There was a systematic and careful process of dehumanising Bosnian Muslims. Anti-Muslim propaganda was instrumental in Bosnian Serbs turning against their Bosnian Muslim neighbours, who were constantly referred to as “Islamic fundamentalists”.

That is why commemorating Srebrenica is so important, so that we can stop to reflect on our own society as well and help people in our country better understand the behaviours and influences around them, which can either build or damage the cohesion of communities. We need to help equip them with skills and confidence to challenge such behaviours, and dismantle the foundations that allow intolerance to survive. We must do more to encourage people to reflect on how we can create an environment that helps find common ground with people from different backgrounds, instead of focusing on a single facet of their identity.

The work that Remembering Srebrenica does across the country in Srebrenica Memorial Week, and throughout the whole year, empowers communities to actively challenge stereotypes, the scapegoating, hate speech and dehumanising language, and to counter that by working towards creating a society that is characterised by embracing our common humanity. It is a reminder of the role that each of us, irrespective of our background, has in us all coming together as one community against hatred and division. I look forward to hearing the Minister acknowledge some of the importance of that work in her remarks and I hope that DLUHC and the Foreign Office will consider funding the charity.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Justice)

Every year when we reflect on the horrors of the Srebrenica genocide, we all reiterate our commitment to stamping out the Islamophobia, prejudice and intolerance that led to the murder of the 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995, yet we are witnessing the ethnic cleansing of Uyghur Muslims at the hands of the Chinese Government in Xinjiang, and the persecution of Muslims in Kashmir by the Indian Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that to avoid another Srebrenica happening in Xinjiang, Myanmar, Kashmir or elsewhere, the very real threat of Islamophobia must be taken seriously and tackled on a global scale?

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

I thank my hon. Friend and I entirely agree. I do not normally criticise colleagues, but comments were made recently by a certain Home Secretary and she needs to reflect on what she says. Those kinds of things do not help in the situation we are facing.

The events in Srebrenica have stayed with me. Indeed, they have shaped me. A few years after the genocide, I worked for the United Nations mission in Kosovo to help to rebuild the justice system and department after the war. That region of the world is personal to me. I saw the after-effects 23 years ago, when I worked in Kosovo. That is part of the reason why I have dedicated so much of my work to challenge hate and division, and that is why I set up the all-party parliamentary group on Srebrenica, with the help of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

After the holocaust, we said “Never again”, yet what happened in Srebrenica proved that words are not enough—they must be met with action. As we approach the 28th anniversary of this harrowing tragedy, we must all come together to unite and reaffirm our commitment to challenging hate, wherever and whenever it arises, and to take actions so that things like Srebrenica never happen again.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 9:48, 4 Gorffennaf 2023

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Robert. I thank Yasmin Qureshi and Ian Blackford for sponsoring and securing this important debate with me. It is particularly fitting that we are having this debate as the President of Bosnia is here in the UK today. I very much hope that the Prime Minister will meet him later this afternoon to show the UK’s steadfast commitment to Bosnia.

As my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall said, we are here to commemorate; this is not a debate, but an occasion for us all to share our words of continued support for our friends. We remember the Srebrenica genocide and we pay our respects to the 8,000 men and boys who were murdered in cold blood by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995. They were massacred because of the ruthless ambition of Milošević and his cronies, men’s dreams of a greater Serbia and the hatred that lived in their hearts.

The memory of those who were stolen will never be forgotten, but the trauma of what women and those who survived went through remains today. That trauma reminds us why the region matters to us. It is not a region where people have forgotten and moved on. It is a region where people live, on a daily basis, waking up and knowing that they are not saying good morning to 27 or 28 members of their family.

The United Kingdom is the only country outside Bosnia and Herzegovina that commemorates this and has an official remembrance service, and I am so proud of that. This is the second year running that we have held this debate. That demonstrates our eternal commitment to remembering the victims, but I share the concerns of my hon. Friend’s concerns about the lack of funding for Remembering Srebrenica. We would never consider cutting funding to the organisations that commemorate the holocaust. Srebrenica is a genocide that took place in Europe, and people still live with it and remember it. It is a shame that a DLUHC Minister is not here to hear those comments, because that decision is absolutely wrong.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Ceidwadwyr, Totnes

It is worth putting on the record the fact that funding has been cut from £200,000 to £100,000, so we are not asking for a great deal to ensure we debate this issue. It should come as a bit of a surprise that the funding cut has come at the same time as the Secretary of State’s office is being done up at the cost of £1 million.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

My hon. Friend’s point stands for itself. He has my wholehearted support.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

I am delighted that so many people across the House are making the case for appropriately funding Remembering Srebrenica, but it is slightly worse than has been indicated: the funding was not just cut but did not materialise for a long time. I want to thank Greg Clark, who, in the brief period in which he was a Secretary of State, intervened to make the payment this time last year. The charity was relying on its reserves at that point. On a cross-party basis, we need to keep this story alive, support the charity and make sure its funding is not cut again. We need to be able to tell the stories, so the funding has to be increased to the previous level, and it needs to be provided in a timely manner.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I agree entirely. Remembering Srebrenica does not just commemorate; as the right hon. Gentleman said, it tells stories to educate, and there has never been a more important time to educate people about what happened to the Balkans. I will come on to that point shortly.

We cannot discuss Srebrenica without discussing the Mothers of Srebrenica, who went through the most unimaginable loss. Their dignity and humanity are frankly astonishing, and their bravery and forgiveness are an example to us all, although when I meet them I struggle to understand the forgiveness they embrace in their daily lives. I wish I could take with me some of the power that they have in the way they express themselves.

After the Srebrenica genocide, two words were spoken around the world: never again. That was a sacred promise never again to allow innocent civilians to be displaced, raped, tortured and murdered, yet that is what we see in Xinjiang and Ukraine, and that is what I fear for the Balkans again. We secured international peace through the Dayton agreement, which was not easy or perfect—it locked in many of the ethnic divisions that we wish we could have eradicated—but it was preferable to war. For the past 28 years, it has represented peace.

Now Dayton and, by extension, peace are once again at risk in the Balkans. We once again see the cynical ambitions of Milošević’s cronies, dreams of greater Serbia and hatred in the hearts of leaders in that region. If we allow Dayton to be broken, we risk breaking that sacred promise. When we say, “Never again”, we mean it. That is what we need to see, but I fear the Government are repeating some of the mistakes of the 1990s, when our foreign policy was centred on Belgrade. A Belgrade-centric foreign policy will not work in the Balkans. An obsession with keeping Serbia on side, no matter what it does and regardless of its actions, intentions and words, does not work.

Regardless of our failure, we must stand strong. Not only did Serbia recently not stand with us on Ukraine, but it signed a foreign policy agreement with Putin in September. Why are we desperately running around behind somebody who embraces autocracy day after day? It is our democratic partners living up to the commitments we set that are vulnerable. We asked Bosnia and Kosovo to be democratic, follow EU accession and move towards NATO accession. They are doing that, yet we punish them with no punishment for Serbia. I will come on to that shortly, but we are currently being found wanting in deterrence diplomacy.

Milorad Dodik—I hesitate to call him the President of Republika Srpska—has made clear his intention to break the Dayton agreement and threaten the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although he has always been prone to exaggeration and theatre, his recent actions have unfortunately demonstrated meaningful intent. In the last two weeks, he has rejected the Office of the High Representative and the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, saying that their judgments do not apply to all of Bosnia. Dodik is issuing the first direct challenge to almost 30 years of peace, and he plans to test the Dayton agreement over the coming year. We must make sure that he is not able to do that and that we stand firm.

Part of the reason why Dodik is lashing out is because he is desperate. The sanctions placed on him by the UK and the United States are biting, and I thank the Government for listening and putting in place a sanctions regime when we asked for it. Public servants and Republika Srpska will soon be protesting outside his office, because he promised pay rises five months ago that have not come. The fact that he can no longer raise money on the London stock exchange—another important UK diplomatic effort—means that he is getting desperate, but now I want the EU to withhold funds from Dodik. I want the EU to join us in sanctioning Dodik and fellow secessionists. France and Germany have taken some moderate, unilateral steps, but we need to take action together.

Dodik has shouted to anyone who would listen over the last few years about his relationships with Putin and Xi Jinping, which is why it is important that the Prime Minister meets the President of Bosnia today to show that we stand with democratic allies. What has happened in Ukraine, combined with Russia’s weakness and clear lack of strategy and foreign ability, has made Dodik more dangerous. Russia may seek to open a separate front in Europe, and the reality is that Dodik acts as a stooge to give Putin a chance of distraction. A war in Bosnia and Herzegovina would serve no one but Putin, and Dodik should know that if he dances to Putin’s tune, he is likely to end up in The Hague, just as Radovan Karadžić and others did.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Ceidwadwyr, Totnes

I apologise for intervening, because my hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, using her expertise as the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. We must be absolutely unequivocal in Parliament and within the UK Government that we will not tolerate the undermining of Dayton or the redrawing of any part of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s borders. Can she make sure that, in her role as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, she makes that point to the Government and, indeed, to the Prime Minister when she is in the Liaison Committee this afternoon?

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

It is so important that if I make that point, I do so with the whole support of the House, so I thank hon. Members for attending today’s debate, because it gives me the ability to speak up and say that it is not just me saying this; the whole House wants to see this.

It is our job to make sure that we create the circumstances in which reckless decisions cannot be taken by Dodik and others. We must wrap Bosnia and Herzegovina in a protective blanket to make sure that the Balkans do not experience war again. The Government must rejoin the European Union force. Chile, Turkey and other countries that are not in Europe are part of EUFOR, and we must rejoin it. As a signatory to the Dayton peace agreement, a member of the Peace Implementation Council and a UN Security Council permanent member, we have a responsibility to stand by Bosnia, but that is not enough to guarantee peace.

We know that Russia holds a veto over EUFOR. Every single year, we in this place wait and see whether Putin will decide to act in the interests of peace or to support the idea of sovereignty through violence. So far, he has renewed the mandate, but this is not sustainable. Putin could refuse to renew it at any time, and we do not have the UN mandate in place to block him militarily. The Government need to work with allies to commit to a NATO military presence in key areas across Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly the Brčko district, which Dodik has plainly said in the last weeks that he will take by force if he has the opportunity. That is a legally mandated right in the Dayton agreement, and it would send a firm message that Bosnia’s territorial sovereignty is not up for debate and will not be taken by force. By joining EUFOR now and transitioning to a NATO-led peacekeeping mission, we can play our role in maintaining peace in Bosnia. We cannot afford to be reactive when peace is at stake.

I want to place on the record my personal commitment to the Office of the High Representative, which is the ultimate arbiter of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Attacks against the office and role are designed to weaken the foundations of peace. This does not mean that we cannot criticise or critique individual decisions by the High Representative, but we must protect the institution itself, and I fear that Russian and secessionist propaganda are succeeding in undermining its role in Parliaments across Europe. As a House, we must stand behind that vital institution, because if the worst were to happen and we fail to live up to our sacred promise of “Never again”, there will be violence, not just in Bosnia, but across the Balkans.

Kosovo is critical, and the United Kingdom has a unique responsibility there. We need to call a spade a spade. What is currently happening in Kosovo is a result of foreign interference by Belgrade 18 months ago, when it committed foreign interference in Kosovo’s domestic elections. Belgrade told Kosovo Serbs not to participate in the elections. The elections were fair and free but did not have the attendance or participation that we wanted because Vučić told Kosovo Serbs not to take part.

If we then fast forward, we see mayors trying to take up their electoral positions, and the response is that western countries—the EU and the US worst of all—attack Kosovo for wanting to uphold the rights of mayors to go into their offices to do their job. We then saw a brutal attack by a Belgrade-backed, funded and armed militia on KFOR, with 26 military officers being severely wounded or hospitalised. The response was to criticise Kosovo: “How dare Kosovo have created this situation!” We know, however, that it was Belgrade-funded militias, and the situation was ultimately created by Belgrade when it said, “Do not participate in the elections.”

Worse still, we then saw Serbian counter-terrorism police go on to Kosovan territory and illegally kidnap—kidnap is always illegal under international law, yet apparently our allies did not recognise that—three Kosovan police officers, who were taken to Serbia. That is not allowed; it breaches all international law and specific agreements reached between Serbia and Kosovo. Finally, there was a response and we saw some balance: “Belgrade and Pristina must work to normalise, calm down and de-escalate.” However, Serbia was at fault, and there was no calling-out of the fact that it was arbitrary and illegal detention.

When Kosovo called on its mayors to take up their positions in the mayoral offices there was a great deal of response by the US Government. The US Government said, “Right, Kosovo, you are no longer allowed to participate in a scheduled military exercise We will no longer help you to be recognised by other countries. Good luck to you—you are not welcome in DC.” When Serbia kidnapped three Kosovan police officers, there was no punishment. In fact, Serbia took part in a military exercise with the US only a week later while the Kosovan police officers were still being held illegally. What message does that send to Kosovo, a democratic ally that has stood with and supported us on Ukraine, and done everything that we have asked of it? There were significant punishments from the US and the EU, which have now introduced sanctions against Kosovo, but nothing for Serbia.

When Serbia finally released the three police officers, it told Viktor Orbán in Hungary first and allowed him to announce it. I say to the EU, what message does it send when Victor Orbán is the person chosen by Serbia to send those messages? It is a failure of deterrence diplomacy and it is a disproportionate and unbalanced approach. The UK has an independent voice within the quint and the international arena to say no to the EU and the US. We can say to them, “You will allow us to take part in the peace talks in Kosovo, and you will not continue to take the approach that you currently are, because all you are doing is enabling the autocrats and, frankly, hitting our democratic allies with a stick.”

That is why the security picture is so severe. For too long we have failed to call out the armed Serb militias operating in the north of Kosovo. The Government are well aware, with the Fusiliers having only just returned from serving in KFOR, that there are weapons being smuggled across the border from Serbia into Orthodox churches in ambulances. When our troops become aware of that, and try to get permission to go and get them, the permissions take too long. By the time there is permission—quelle surprise—an ambulance has turned up at the church and taken all the weapons out again.

I will touch briefly on our export policies towards Serbia. I am gravely concerned about the fact that we are selling small ammunitions to Serbia. Given that the counter-terrorism police there carried out attacks and kidnapped three Kosovan police officers, how do we know that nothing we have sold to Serbia is being used in that context? I urge that a handbrake be put on all export sales to Serbia.

I call on the Government to make it clear that the United Kingdom stands by Kosovo’s territorial sovereignty and democracy. To do that, we need to expand KFOR’s mandate to ensure a more proactive approach to countering weapon smuggling and militias north of Kosovo. We need to ensure fairness and take the action required to operate a meaningful policy of deterrence diplomacy.

It is a critical moment in the Balkans. As we watched the cold-blooded murders of innocent Bosnians in 1995 we made a promise: never again. The Government must now wake up, take the initiative and ensure that sacred promise is honoured. They must recognise that the power to deter sits in this House and at King Charles Street. We can do this. I therefore urge the Government: let us rejoin EUFOR, let us commit NATO peacekeepers to Brčko district, let us transition to a NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, let us allow KFOR to take the front foot in anti-militia and anti-weapons smuggling operations in the north of Kosovo and finally, let us implement a more even-handed approach to Kosovo that prioritises the protection of Kosovan sovereignty and democracy.

I thank everyone who has spoken today, and I am grateful for being given the time to make those points. I will conclude by returning to the commemoration of all those who were massacred during the Srebrenica genocide. Their memory can never be forgotten, because this was a genocide in Europe and on European soil. It is a genocide that still marks our future, and my children’s future could still potentially be shaped by the actions that took place at that time. It is important we do everything we can in Parliament to take more people to Bosnia and Herzegovina. When you go, that country gets into your heart and your soul. I do not know how to describe it; I do not how to find the words. I will take another delegation of the Bosnia APPG next year, so I encourage all hon. Members to tell me who to reach out to.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

On the hon. Lady’s point about visiting the Srebrenica genocide memorial and how that affects people, I went there with a couple of my members of staff, and I have to say that they were so impacted by it. My office manager does not travel much and she started crying when she was there. She is a quite a hardened soul and I could see how much of an impact it had on her. I just wanted to confirm how going there impacts people.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I thank the hon. Lady. I remember that my first visit to Srebrenica was with former British serving members of special forces who had not returned there since they had served in Bosnia. I saw the trauma in their faces, the pain and the knowing in them that there is a risk that violence could once more return to the places where they had hidden in a dugout for 10 days and seen children shot in the street by those who had hatred in their hearts. I took away from that experience that we could never ever allow that.

I thank the Mothers of Srebrenica and Remembering Srebrenica for all they do. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving us the time to discuss this matter. When we say “Never again”, we must mean it. The risk, if we do not, is far too great.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber 10:07, 4 Gorffennaf 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Robert. It is also a pleasure to follow the Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns. I thank her for her passion and wisdom on these matters. I also thank Yasmin Qureshi for making sure that we secured this important commemoration. This is the first time I have been in Westminster Hall since 2017; while I was leader of the SNP, I was not permitted to be here. It is nice to be back, and to participate in something this important.

For many years, there has been a strong tradition of the third party in the House giving particular focus and priority to international causes and campaigns. In my years as the SNP’s Westminster leader, I was proud to follow that tradition, and my office continues to make an effort to engage with and reach out to international organisations and individuals who need and deserve the attention of the House of Commons. With all my experience of those organisations, though, I have no hesitation in saying that Remembering Srebrenica has been one of the most impressive and inspiring. That is why we need to take responsibility for funding the organisation appropriately.

Ever since I was elected as an MP, I have been lucky to enjoy a close working relationship with the dedicated volunteers involved in organising educational events, and events that commemorate the massacre. We must never forget, and never again should the events that we witnessed in 1995 happen on European soil. We Members of Parliament have an obligation to keep this alive, educate people and, yes, take action, as we need to now, to support our friends—our comrades—in that part of Europe.

Year after year, the work of the charity in Parliament and in communities right across these islands has made a real difference. Its work has never been more relevant. The long association that I have been lucky to have with the charity is why I am genuinely honoured to be one of its patrons. Over the past number of years, it has given me the opportunity to meet survivors of the genocide. I come away with paradoxical feelings from those very poignant meetings. On the one had, you are faced with the raw reality of man’s inhumanity, and an awareness of how it once again showed its terrible face in the acts of genocide in the Bosnian conflict, and most especially in Srebrenica. However, the other end of the human experience is equally on show in those meetings, as these survivors are the perfect demonstration of resilience, healing and, ultimately, hope. That is because despite all that they have suffered, they are still prepared to believe in and work for a world beyond the horrors that they were born into. That spirit is the essence of what makes the charity so powerful.

There can be few better examples of the grassroots movement than Remembering Srebrenica. A brief look at what it has achieved tells its own story. Since 2013, it has created a vibrant network in every part of these islands, helped by eight regional English boards, and by national boards in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. During that time, with its modest resources, it has educated no fewer than 180,000 young people about Srebrenica. It has also enabled more than 10,000 community actions to take place right across these islands each year, and created 1,450 community champions, each of them pledging to stand up to hatred and intolerance in their community.

The charity is not alone in its work, which is about a necessary and respectful remembrance of the past. It is making a positive contribution to shaping all our futures, which is why we should support it. Through its remembrance work, it ensures that prejudice does not take root in any of our communities. I am delighted that that ongoing mission is reflected in its theme for this year, which is “Together we are one”. That is a powerful message, but it is also a mission for building peace and reconciliation.

Of course, that theme is perfect for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, as we heard, is renowned for being a melting pot of cultures and identities—a place where Muslims, Christians and Jews, among others, have lived side by side for centuries. Sarajevo is rightly known as the Jerusalem of Europe, being the only European city to have a mosque, a Catholic church, an Orthodox church and a synagogue in the same neighbourhood. We all know just how badly this theme, and a focus on genuine community building, nation building and peacebuilding, is needed right now. More than anything else, this charity understands that remembrance and commemoration is not a passive act. Instead, it is a determination that the horrors of the past will never be repeated. There is so much that we need to remember; if we fail to remember it, it can be, and sadly will be, repeated.

Of course, we remember the 100,000 Muslims who were murdered in Bosnia. I repeat: 100,000 Muslims were murdered in Europe in living memory. We also remember the displacement of 2 million people, and the genocidal rape of up to 50,000 women, simply because of their Muslim identity. That happened in Europe in living memory, and 28 years on, the horror remains as raw as ever. That rawness is exactly why we must remember. In this commemoration, we are all very conscious that we are remembering those horrific events of 28 years ago. Sadly, violence, repression and war have returned to Europe. We had hoped that we would never see such things again in our lifetime, but sadly they are here again. War is again scarring our continent and our people. As we remember Srebrenica, our thoughts are ever with the people of Ukraine and the suffering that has been inflicted on them.

I want especially to say this: after the horrors of Srebrenica, the International Criminal Court was rightly the forum where those who inflicted the genocide were prosecuted and sentenced. All of us need to ensure that the war crimes in Ukraine, and the war criminal in the Kremlin who is sanctioning them, are brought before The Hague too. That is the justice that needs to be done, and the justice that the Ukrainian people deserve.

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab Ceidwadwyr, Esher and Walton

The right hon. Gentleman is giving a very good speech. He is talking really about the modern-day relevance to us of having staying power in Ukraine. I remember, as a young Foreign Office lawyer, negotiating the UN-UK sentence enforcement agreement for the Balkans in 2004. We had to wait until 2021 for Radovan Karadžić to be sentenced and transferred to a UK jail. Does he agree that we will need to show the same strategic patience in Ukraine and the other areas of the world still haunted by genocide?

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

I am saddened to say that the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The lesson from Bosnia for what we are witnessing in Ukraine, and the message to us and every one of our allies, is that we have to be in this for the long haul. We must leave no stone unturned in our support for the Ukrainian people, so that they can defeat the aggressor on their shore. That message about the lessons, and the sense of responsibility that we all have, must go out. I rue the fact that we cannot do more. And yes, my God, those responsible must be held to account for their crimes against humanity.

I thank the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton, for shining a light on what is going on in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There has been an increase in tensions there since 2021, and we must remain vigilant to preserve peace and stability. There must be no return to conflict. The EU has doubled its peacekeeping forces since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I regret that, the UK having left the EU, we are not part of that peacekeeping effort. There must be a UK-EU security pact, so that we can work together and assist in negotiations.

I will conclude on this point. Despite all the lessons of history, we still far too often forget what we need to remember. Grassroots charities such as Remembering Srebrenica can help political leaders to do so much better. They can keep at the forefront of our mind the consequences of conflict, and stop us ever again going down the path that leads to the inhumanities and outrages that were inflicted on the people of Srebrenica. Those charities not only deserve but need our support. The UK Government have to go the extra mile in fully funding Remembering Srebrenica. I hope that all of us live up to the need to provide that support in the coming months and years.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member) 10:18, 4 Gorffennaf 2023

It is a humbling experience to listen to colleagues’ contributions, and to speak in this debate. I was 12 when Srebrenica happened. One of my earliest memories of the news is of watching the news about Srebrenica with my mum, who was completely glued to it, and who tried to explain the horrors of what was happening to us children. Not long after that, I visited the fields of world war two in France on a school trip, and the graves of my ancestors—my gran’s uncles—who were killed in that conflict.

I would very much like to take up the offer made by Alicia Kearns. Bearing witness is one of the most important things that we can do, not just as parliamentarians, but as human beings. I thank the Backbench Business Committee and particularly Yasmin Qureshi, as well as the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton, and my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford, for supporting this debate and bringing to life the importance of not just bearing witness and remembering, but taking those lessons forward. As many have said, given the war crimes that Russia is visiting on the people of Ukraine, and what is being done in Myanmar, China and Ethiopia, the sad reality is that we do not appear to be learning the lessons of Srebrenica, and of the past.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East made a number of points about the genocide that hit home. It was neighbours against neighbours, and friends against friends. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber spoke, as did others, about the melting pot of cultures in Bosnia and Herzegovina—Muslims, Christians and Jews, among others, were working and living together in peace. That is the kind of society that we should all aspire to live in. The hon. Member for Bolton South East spoke about the dangers of othering minority groups. I have to say that in the UK Parliament, in 2023, we see some of that, directed against minority groups across the UK and beyond. Sadly, we see imported bigotry and hatred coming across the pond from the US, and seeping into the media in the UK. We must draw the line, and understand that what is happening today is potentially a repeat of what has happened in the past. We must all be alive to that. She also spoke about the diversity of the communities involved.

Anthony Mangnall, who is not in his place any more, intervened to point out how vital preventive funding is, and how important the full implementation of the Magnitsky principles is, as many of us said, to quell money laundering, which fuels dictators. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton made the important point that there are murderous dictators across the world. We must be alive to that, and take real action on it.

We should provide proper funding. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber spoke about the importance of the grassroots charity Remembering Srebrenica, and about the work that he has done with it. That will strike a chord with many. If we pull funding from such organisations, we run the risk of not properly educating the next generation, who will not remember the images on the television; for them, the events will not be real. He talked about the 180,000 people who have been educated through Remembering Srebrenica. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton was reminded, in an intervention, of the cut in funding from £200,000 to £100,000. I hope that the Minister hears that.

We have a proud history of this kind of work, not just in Scotland but across the UK. Between 1992 and 1996, during the conflict in Bosnia, the Scottish Refugee Council evacuated around 400 Bosnian refugees, and opened a reception centre in Scotland; the refugees were welcomed into our communities, and across the UK. I say gently to the Minister that we must reflect on the work done then, and why that work must continue for those fleeing conflict who seek refuge.

The SNP would like the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to publish a new cross-departmental strategy on preventing mass atrocities. That new strategy should be implemented in consultation with civil society and relevant experts. I pay tribute to all those who briefed us for this debate, and who work in this area, but they can do that work only if they are properly funded, and if we engage with them fully. We should also clarify what training tools and methods can be used to prevent atrocities, including the UK’s new sanctions regime. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton talked about that; she speaks with authority as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. We need to demonstrate and formalise how the UK will act in concert with like-minded international partners, particularly the United States.

We want the introduction of a new atrocity prevention toolkit that provides day-to-day guidance for those at UK posts and desks. It would support them in raising the alarm in a crisis. From my work on deaths abroad, I know about the challenges that our consular and embassy staff face. I have worked in a foreign mission for the US, and have seen the importance of the work that foreign missions do. We need to make sure that our staff on the ground are fully funded and trained, so that they can raise the alarm and can work with international partners.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

Before my election. I lobbied the Government to create an atrocity prevention centre. They have now done so, and we have the conflict centre—I do not mind the different name, as long as it does the work. It is doing some really interesting work, particularly on Ukraine. The point is that the desk officer for Mongolia has no training on what to do if they start to see the signs of genocide or ethnic cleansing—for example, if they see controls that could escalate put on ways of life or on language. It is really important that the centre is fully activated, so that when an officer anywhere in the world has the slightest inkling that something is happening, they can go to the centre, which can say, “This is how we bring in the multilaterals, and how we produce sanctions. This is the conflict, stability and security fund programme that we can put in place.” That is not happening yet, so we need to make sure that the centre is fully embraced.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

That is an incredibly powerful point. It is easy for Opposition Members to criticise, and to say, “This needs to be done better, and we need more money.” The truth is that we have a genuine desire to get into the detail of how consular officers are trained and funded, how the work is done, and how we ensure that the centre and its resources are available, as the hon. Member says, because that is the first line of defence in many situations.

I will not detain the Chamber any longer, because we have important Front-Bench speeches to come. I simply say: together we are one, and working on that is incredibly important. We must make sure that this generation and the next not only learn the lessons but put them into action, so that we can change the narrative. As I said at the beginning of my contribution, a tide of increased funding for the right wing is seeping into our media. If we want to be international leaders and set an international example, we must get our house in order.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 10:27, 4 Gorffennaf 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Sir Robert. I thank my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi for securing this important debate, and I thank Members from across the House for this thoughtful and considered debate, in which important views have been expressed. There has been unity in remembering the genocide and wanting to learn its lessons for today. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson), and for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), for their interventions.

We heard strong speeches from the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns, and from Ian Blackford. They talked about not only what happened, but what is needed today across the western Balkans. This House is at its best when we speak with one voice and in defence of core values. Despite political differences, we all share the values of democracy and stability, a commitment to preventing conflict and atrocities, and the defence of fundamental human rights.

I want to re-emphasise the words of the Leader of the Opposition, who said that we need to use Srebrenica Memorial Day

“and the memory of Srebrenica to not only remember those we have lost but to educate…future generations, bring our communities together and renew our efforts to tackle hatred and prejudice wherever they lie.”

Heeding those words is integral to forging a lasting peace in the western Balkans. I want to emphasise that that is a priority for me and our team, and would be for a future Labour Government. So too would be resolutely standing up for Dayton, and standing against those who would seek to undermine it.

I have visited the region extensively in the past and continue to engage with the views and perspectives of people across Bosnia to understand how we better promote dialogue and ensure regional security. We will be taking part in meetings this week. The shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, is meeting the President of Bosnia today to listen directly to him.

I recognise the significance of the historic role that the UK and its armed forces played in working to secure a stable Bosnia and stability across the western Balkans more generally. The horrors of the 1990s are ingrained in the mind of many people across the country and across the House, particularly our armed forces personnel who served, such as members of my own family. I have visited Srebrenica, and I have met Remembering Srebrenica and Mothers of Srebrenica, which was one of the most profound experiences I have had while a Member of the House. Owing to my past career, I have engaged with many people who suffered in war and conflict and in horrific situations, but visiting the factory at Potočari, visiting the memorial, and in particular meeting a survivor of my own age, was a profound experience.

I remember the week the massacres happened. I was on a beach in west Wales with my friends, having a wonderful time during a holiday from school—my first trip away from home. The survivor of my own age whom I met told me that he was loaded into the back of a truck, and that all the other men in the truck were shot; he survived among a pile of bodies, rolled into a ditch and, heavily wounded, managed to escape into the forest. He has never forgotten not only the tragic loss of his family and friends, but the terrible experience he had. For me, there was such a stark contrast between my holiday and the war and the atrocities that were happening just over a thousand miles away in our own continent. Today, I think of the horrors we are seeing in Ukraine. I will never forget my visit, and I thank Remembering Srebrenica, Mothers of Srebrenica and all those who seek to educate us and warn us of those experiences.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that incredibly powerful contribution. I have been a member of the Council of Europe for nearly six years, and one of the Council’s most powerful events was Mothers of Srebrenica talking to us and sharing their experiences. I am proud that we continue to be members of the Council of Europe and proud that the Council continues to support that work.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

I absolutely agree, and we should reflect not only on those who were murdered during the atrocities, but on those who suffered terrible sexual violence and rape, who have rightly been mentioned. We must remember that utterly horrific history.

This year’s campaign theme for Remembering Srebrenica is “Together We Are One”, and we need to highlight the fact that the conditions for genocide are built on a climate and a culture that allow hatred and extremism to breed, resulting in the dividing and fracturing of communities in this country, across Europe and across the world. We know that flourishing hatred and extremism can escalate from inflammatory rhetoric to attacks, persecution and, indeed, extermination, as we have seen in Bosnia, Rwanda, Ukraine and so many other conflicts around the world. We must combat that divisive rhetoric by focusing on the things that unite us as one.

I think of our dear friend and much missed colleague, Jo Cox, whom we have remembered in recent weeks. In our past careers with Oxfam, Jo and I worked on issues related to the terrible atrocities in Darfur, and here in Parliament we worked on issues related to Syria. The message that we have more in common and that we must work together is critical, and we must reflect on it.

The remains of more than 1,000 victims of Srebrenica are still unaccounted for. We must support families and others achieve a lasting closure, so I welcome the important identification work that is being done.

The war in Bosnia resulted in close to 100,000 civilians being killed, 2 million forced displacements and, as many colleagues have mentioned, the systematic rape of up to 50,000 women because of their ethnic and religious identity. If we fail to learn the lessons of atrocity prevention and, indeed, of investigating, prosecuting and bringing to justice those responsible, we will have made a grave mistake. Again, I think of Ukraine and what we need to learn in relation to that terrible situation.

Today, we see forces across Europe, and indeed across the western Balkans, seeking to sow disharmony, spread acrimony and stir up tensions. I pay tribute to the work of our envoy, Lord Peach, and of the EU’s High Representative in Bosnia, Christian Schmidt, who worked to prevent a return to the atrocities of the past. The work of the High Representative continues to warn of the real prospect of a return to conflict in the region. We have heard about the behaviour of Milorad Dodik, and indeed Russian attempts to aggravate already tense political circumstances.

On Saturday, we saw the High Representative annul two laws that the Bosnian Serb Parliament had adopted but that defied the constitution and the terms of the peace deal that ended the war in the 1990s. The High Representative concluded that:

“Recent decisions by the National Assembly of Republika Srpska directly violate the constitutional order of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Dayton peace agreement”.

It is crucial that the Government work with the High Representative and, through Lord Peach, support his efforts to prevent a return to the darkness of the past. Will the Minister outline what support we are giving the High Representative and what recent meetings Lord Peach has had with him, given the importance of maintaining the integrity of Bosnia’s institutions, particularly after recent events?

Let me be clear that those seeking to undermine stability in Bosnia must face consequences. We will continue to support the targeted measures that the Government have introduced, including sanctions. I would be grateful if the Minister set out her assessment of the effectiveness of the sanctions levelled to date. What discussions has she had with officials across the western Balkans on how we can exert further diplomatic pressure on those who are attempting to undermine the Dayton agreement and the constitutional settlement in Bosnia?

Will the Minister also say a little about outside attempts to influence the situation? We know that Dodik and Putin, and many of their aiders and abetters, share the same goals: they want to strengthen the Serbian-Russian alliances, extend Russian influence in the Balkans, 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. We see huge Russian disinformation operations in the region, including in Bosnia and Serbia, and of course Kosovo and elsewhere, which the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, mentioned. Does the Minister share those concerns? What are we doing to support local partners to combat disinformation and all those seeking to undermine stability and peace? Will she respond to the comments that were made about military support in the region, where that is from NATO, the EU forces, or directly from UK armed forces, and say what steps we are taking both to ensure stability now and to prepare for the situation worsening?

Today, let us reflect on Srebrenica, the lives lost and how the aggravation of ethnic tensions led to appalling evil that should never be forgotten or repeated. There are those who 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, pay tribute to the lives lost, tell victims’ stories and ensure that the future does not come to replicate the past.

Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East for bringing forward this debate, and all hon. Members for their thoughtful and powerful contributions.

Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 10:37, 4 Gorffennaf 2023

I thank Yasmin Qureshi for securing this debate. I pay tribute to her work as the co-chair of the APPG for Srebrenica.

What happened in Srebrenica was one of the worst atrocities to take place in Europe since the end of the second world war. As all hon. Members have said, we must never forget it, and we must continue to learn the lessons from it. I know that the Minister for Europe would have been pleased to be here to reply to this debate, but he is travelling abroad. I am conscious that I can never do these appalling events justice by setting out our perspectives and the efforts we make in response to, but it is an honour to reply on this debate on behalf of the Government and to reiterate our collective horror at genocide and all that we will continue to do to keep that front and centre.

I am very grateful to all the hon. Members who have contributed to today’s discussion and will do my best to respond to the points raised. Hon. Members have highlighted the continuing educational work of the charity Remembering Srebrenica, which does incredibly important and effective work. I can confirm to hon. Members that FCDO officials are in contact with DLUHC on the questions of funding, so I will ask the Minister for Europe to update colleagues when he is able to do so. My hon. Friend Alicia Kearns raised a number of important questions on the issues of export controls to Serbia and whether the UK should provide support to EUFOR. I assure hon. Members again that we will respond in a timely manner on those issues.

Stephen Doughty asked a number of questions about Lord Peach’s activities and meetings. I do not have the answers to those questions, but I will ensure that we provide full answers to him and other Members in due course.

This week is the commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide, in which, as colleagues have said, more than 8,000 people were murdered and more than 20,000 were driven from their homes. We honour the memory of those killed and we pay tribute to the extraordinary courage and resilience shown by their families and by survivors. We stand with those families in their ongoing fight for justice. I am proud that the UK is one of the few countries that commemorate the genocide at national level, due to the commendable work of Remembering Srebrenica UK. I confirm that the Minister for the Armed Forces will be hosting the national Srebrenica Memorial Day ceremony this evening at Lancaster House.

As we consider the events of 28 years ago, our thoughts must turn to the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have seen real progress since 1995 and many years of reform. Politicians across the country, including those from Republika Srpska, have worked together to create important institutions, including the armed forces and the tax authorities. The new state-level Council of Ministers has demonstrated energy and commitment to making further progress, recognising that reforms are required to strengthen democratic processes, to tackle corruption and to bring economic benefits to all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The European Union’s decision to award candidate status in December 2022 has given important impetus to those efforts. The UK stands behind the Council of Ministers. We will use all the diplomatic, defence and economic tools at our disposal to support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress towards the strong, stable and prosperous future to which its people aspire and which they deserve.

It is regrettable that we continue to see divisive and dangerous nationalist rhetoric, threats of secession and open challenges to the constitutional order established by the Dayton peace agreement. The UK is committed to a single sovereign Bosnia and Herzegovina and we will continue to take action in support of that. We welcome and fully support the High Representative’s actions on 1 July, including his decision to prevent the Republika Srpska legislation that represented a flagrant attack on Dayton and the constitutional order that it created. The High Representative’s executive powers remain a crucial tool for protecting the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina, strengthening the rule of law and advancing stability and judicial independence. Those people who perpetrate instability and undermine peace do not speak for the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are many Bosnians who want to build a more inclusive and cohesive society, one that leaves the divisions of the past behind. The UK supports them and will continue to those efforts.

We work in partnership with the Srebrenica Memorial Centre to develop its operational capacities. With our support, it is establishing itself as a world-leading centre for research into preventing genocide and a hub for reconciliation and inter-ethnic dialogue across the region. The British ambassador to Sarajevo will represent the Government at the annual commemoration at Srebrenica on 11 July.

We are supporting organisations in Mostar to bring citizens together and to create public spaces that are accessible and welcoming to all. We are helping the city to develop sustainably so that all its citizens can prosper in the long term. As well as helping to create inclusive, physical spaces, we are also assisting the creation of a safer and more pluralistic online and media environment; we are empowering people to recognise and object to the lies and divisive narratives that can foster hatred, and supporting independent media to create new material that challenges those insidious stories. We are bolstering the capacity of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Press Council, helping local media to lead the fight against disinformation by developing fact-checking procedures that spot it and limit its publication.

Furthermore, we are working with political parties, media and civil society organisations to decrease the use of hate speech in political discourse. When politicians seek to exploit existing divisions or drive in deeper wedges for their own gain, they are moving Bosnia and Herzegovina further away from being the safe place its citizens deserve. They are making it less stable and creating a climate of fear and instability.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton will be pleased to know that the Prime Minister hopes to meet the President later today to reiterate the sentiments and continuing commitment of the UK to these important stages of progress. Rejecting hate speech and demonstrating that commitment is only one part of building a brighter, more united Bosnia and Herzegovina and healing the fractures caused by conflict. We also continue to urge political leaders to condemn any glorification of the perpetrators of war crimes and to take action against genocide denial.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I thank my right hon. Friend for setting out some of the areas in which the UK is investing to help Bosnia and Herzegovina to build its resistance—I recognise that that is in her brief. I remember writing the conflict, stability and security fund programme for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2017. Unfortunately, the challenges remain, which suggests that either I did a very bad job, or the challenges were more significant than we realised.

In the list of programmes, there was very little about what we are doing to deter Belgrade. I know that that is not the Minister’s area, so I cannot ask her to answer the question directly, but this goes back again to the fact that we have a Belgrade-centred western Balkans policy. When we talk about Bosnia and Kosovo, we should also talk about what we are doing to deter Belgrade. It would be helpful to understand what we are doing on that point.

Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

If I may, I will ask my colleague the Minister for Europe to meet the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss that in more detail. In all foreign policy and diplomacy, there is a continuum, not a fixed point. I shall ensure that that meeting is set up.

What happened at Srebrenica was unequivocally a genocide. Two international courts—the UN international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the International Court of Justice—have both ruled that Srebrenica was a genocide, after exhaustive legal processes. Denial of that fact only punishes the survivors and the families of the victims and keeps them from finding justice and solace. Moreover, if there is to be true and lasting reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and if Bosnians are to build a society in which everyone feels safe, welcome and able to succeed, there needs to be acknowledgment of the facts of the conflict, and willingness to accept the wounds that have been caused.

Jim Shannon and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton raised the question of UK efforts on atrocity prevention more widely, in Sudan and Nigeria. I can tell the House that the mass atrocity prevention hub was launched in September, and has been developing into a central co-ordination point for Government on atrocity prevention. It has now established a number of relationships with thematic and geographic teams across the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The hub is also working with partners to understand what best practice in atrocity prevention looks like, in order to develop centralised guidance and tools to support those teams, to build capacity and to embed atrocity prevention work. My hon. Friend raised how that can reach those working in every country, so that they have the chance to feed in, spot and be supported in the work they do across our embassies. I know the team will take that away to consider more fully.

As we reflect on a crime of the horror and magnitude of Srebrenica and the deep scars it continues to leave 28 years later, we can come to only one conclusion: we must do all we can to ensure something so terrible is never allowed to happen again. We owe it to the victims to create societies that are stable, inclusive and cohesive, and to fight against prejudice, hatred, fear and division, wherever we find them. That is how we will show that Srebrenica will never be forgotten.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) 10:48, 4 Gorffennaf 2023

I thank all right hon. and hon. colleagues for taking part in the debate, including those who had to go because of other parliamentary business. I also thank Alicia Kearns, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, for sharing my efforts to get this debate.

I also want to put on record my particular thanks to Ian Blackford, because he might not be here for next year’s commemoration, as he is stepping down. From the beginning, when he because the leader of the SNP at Westminster and I approached him about this subject, he has been an absolutely tremendous supporter. It is fair to say that he was initially the only leader at Prime Minister’s Questions who would commemorate or refer to the Srebrenica genocide. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for all the support and everything he has given to the all-party parliamentary group on Srebrenica.

Ever since the fantastic Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee has been in that role, we have worked very well together. Hannah Bardell and I worked closely on another campaigning APPG—the all-party parliamentary group on hormone pregnancy tests, which dealt with Primodos. I have also worked well with my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty. When I approached the Minister for another campaign, her response was absolutely sterling and fantastic, and I thank her for replying to the debate today. I take heart from what she said about what the Government will do about what is happening in the Balkans. She also said she is looking at the funding. Remembering Srebrenica does work throughout the country, and we would not be here if its funding had not been cut over a number of years, so I hope the Minister will help it.

I am grateful to all Members for their support. As we say, it must never happen again.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered Srebrenica Memorial Week.

Sitting suspended.