7pm 12 July 2017
St James’s Church Piccadilly
Speech by Paddy Ashdown
A few days after the fall of Srebrenica, while the killing was going on, I was driving through the battle of Igman in a battered old Renault 5 with some Bosnian friends. We were heading for the secret tunnel dug under the airfield by which we hoped to arrive in besieged Sarajevo. By the time we arrived in city, the whole place was abuzz with some terrible event – even more terrible than the other horrors of the Bosnian war – which had happened in the Srebrenica “safe haven”.
The story finally came to be revealed in all its unspeakable horror, little by little over the following days. Even to those of us used to the medievalism of the Bosnian wars, it seemed unbelievable.
But it wasn’t
Later, as International High Representative in Bosnia, it became my job to go and see the mass graves and the broken shards of bodies in the Tuzla caves. Here they were trying to identify those who had been murdered, so that they could receive a burial in dignity in the Srebrenica memorial graveyard, where more than 8 thousand white stones, row on row point their stark finger at heaven, in accusation of man’s inhumanity to man.
And we all said “It must never happen again”.
But it has. In Rwanda in Iraq and in Syria before our very eyes – today.
And we all said that those who committed these atrocities should be brought to justice.
But they haven’t – not all of them.
The main architects of the killing have been dealt with, true enough. But many of the lower level killers still walk free in Bosnia today – some not far from the Golgotha they helped to create.
It was not part of my job as International High Representative to create the extraordinary memorial ground at Potocari. Yet it was one of the proudest moments of my life to work with Munira Subasic and the Majke Srebrenica and play a small part in creating this iconic memorial to those who died – and to our commitment to remember them all our days
It is no good pointing at religions as the cause of this. Ungodly people of every religion have committed these horrors – and Godly people of every religion have sought to stop them.
It is not the religions we must blame. It is the extremists of all religions who are the curse of our age and of every age before us.
My friend Mustafa Ceric, the Reis ul Ulema of Bosnia and Herzegovina wrote this;
“Isn’t it true then that our life is nothing but sharing the fears and hopes of our times.
We share the clay from which we all came and to which we will, once again return.
We share the belief in One God who created us from a single soul and then scattered us like seeds into countless human beings
We share the same father Adam and the same mother Eve.
We shear the air we breathe and the rise of the sun we see every day.
We share Abrahams faith and Noah’s Ark of salvation
We share the love of the Virgin Mary (Maryam) and respect for her son Jesus (Yasue).
We share the true stories of Moses and his divine leadership of his people in Sinai.
We share the clear word of the Holy Qur’an and the exemplary life of the Messenger Muhammad.
We share the joy of good tidings and the sorrow of horrors
We share the pleasures of our successes and the pain of our failures.
We share the humanity of our hearts and minds”
In a trouble and turbulent world, it is in this principle alone that our salvation lies – that we remember above those things that divide us, those things that we share as part of our common humanity and our common heritage.
It is to that principle that we rededicate ourselves as we remember the murdered of Srebrenica today.