Remembering Srebrenica

this article was originally posted on University of Essex News on 5th July

 

25 years ago this month, a genocide unfolded in Srebrenica.  To mark Srebrenica Memorial Week, Essex Human Rights Centre has issued a statement and Members of the Centre have offered reflections.

 

***Trigger Warning: this report contains descriptions of sexual violence and genocide.

The Srebrenica genocide

Between late 1992 and the spring of 1995, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia led to thousands of Bosnian Muslims seeking refuge in the area around Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

To protect this group, on 16 April 1993 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 819, demanding all parties treat “Srebrenica and its surroundings as a safe area which should be free from any armed attacks or any other hostile act.”

Despite this – and the presence of United Nations peacekeepers in the area – on 6 July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces attacked Srebrenica.

Following a decree from the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic that the Bosnian Serb Army should make life “unbearable” for those living in Srebrenica, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were detained, abused, tortured and executed.

The International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia established that the ethnic cleansing that took place in Srebrenica amounted to genocide.

 

A statement from Essex Human Rights Centre to mark Srebrenica Memorial Week 2020

In the worst mass atrocity on European soil since 1945, over 8,000 Muslims, including children, were massacred, in July 25 years ago. Today, we honour the memory of those who were slain in Srebrenica, express solidarity with the survivors and reflect on the lessons of that savagery.

The important lesson that we draw from this and other genocides is that they do not happen spontaneously. Such atrocities begin with attitudes of intolerance and unchecked expressions of hostility towards others based on their identity. They are led by entrepreneurs of hate, catalyzed by discrimination and powered by impunity. They tell a tragic tale of numerous missed opportunities and are an indictment of our collective failure to stop the escalation of intolerant attitudes to mass slaughter at every stage of that collapse. The Srebrenica genocide was the tragic outcome of a sustained campaign over several years that drew on discrimination, exclusion, forced deportation, torture, systematic sexual violence and mass murder.

All of us can and should act to combat such horrors. We must challenge the exclusion, scapegoating and stigmatisation that fray social capital and destroy the pillars of trust amongst various communities resulting in devastation for all. This is all the more important in our interconnected world where every one of us can contribute online and offline to build trust and promote inclusion.

 

 

Reflections

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief said: “Today, as we remember Srebrenica, we join the surviving friends and families in paying tribute to the victims of this genocide. We call on all to be clear-eyed about the lessons of the past and reject discourses of denial, and to work collectively to strengthen the societal foundations of peace and trust. ‘Never again’ must well and truly mean ‘never again’.”

Dr Carla Ferstman, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and Human Rights Centre, and formerly the Executive Legal Advisor of the Commission for Real Property Claims of Refugees and Displaced Persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the international institutions established as part of the peace process to address the consequences of ethnic cleansing, noted that: “The genocide in Srebrenica occurred within a context of ethnic cleansing involving mass expulsions of the civilian population, unlawful confinements, enforced disappearances, mass rape, sexual assault, torture, as well as the destruction of mosques and community centres. It has left massive scars on the local population. There have been vital efforts to secure accountability, which have resulted in important convictions of senior military leaders for the genocide. But it is also important to recognise the need to secure justice for victims, to recognise the suffering they have endured, and to ensure their right to a remedy and reparations. That fight continues.”

Dr Andrew Fagan, Director of the Human Rights Centre, said: “One of the main reasons for the establishment of the modern human rights movement was the Holocaust: a European genocide. Despite the development of a vast body of international human rights law and the growth of a global human rights movement, the world witnessed another European genocide barely half a century later.

“Srbrenica bears many lessons for us today. One of the most important is that the human rights community must never assume that our work is complete, particularly in those parts of the world where it is wrongly assumed that human rights are largely secure.

“The vital need to never become complacent is fundamental to the Human Rights Centre’s approach to supporting the human rights project and hence the importance of remembering the genocide suffered by Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995.”

Our thanks to Amnesty International for the image used on this page.

 

 

 

Reflections on India…. A democracy in peril

Gautam Singh reflects on the transformation of his home country of India, the recent riots in Delhi and the impact on his own village 

My India

I grew up in the small village of Jharkhand, India.  My village has a population of almost 1200 people, half of them being Muslim, the other half Hindu, divided into several casts.  This has been the demographic of my village for centuries.  Until the early 1990’s, every festival, whether it was Eid, Holi or Diwali, was celebrated by everyone, Muslims and Hindus alike.  Muslim villagers often led the Hindu Holi procession and Hindus often led the prayers and sweet distribution for Eid.  There were three places of worship in the village and everyone could worship in any of these places.  In this remote and isolated village, we all co-existed like members of a large extended family, maintaining a unique way of life; mellow and harmonious, celebratory and united.

All of this changed overnight on the 6th December 1992, when Babri Mosque in Ayodhya was demolished by a large group of Hindu nationalist activists.  We started receiving new visitors to our village.  Some came with ‘brick-in-hand’ to collect funds for a new Hindu temple in Ayodhya, while others preached that Islam was in danger in India. Some were wearing saffron robes with a sectorial mark on their forehead and others wore white robes and skull caps.  They divided our places of worship, converting two of them into temples and one into a mosque.  My village entered a transformatory phase.  Villagers began to disengage from people from other communities, growing religiously private, limiting interaction, and keeping to themselves and their respective religious communities.  We no longer celebrated festivals together.  We stopped inviting villagers from other religious communities to family functions.

However, with the passage of time, villagers overcame the polarization, rejecting what they saw as a dividing tactic of some extreme religious groups.  By the beginning of the 2000s, the community spirit of my village had returned.  Although, the tradition of a Muslim man leading the Holi procession and Hindus distributing sweets in Eid were never revived, members of both religions began again to celebrate festivals and family functions together.

Holi_1

By this time, I had moved to Mumbai and subsequently to Qatar.  But I never missed a single Eid, Holi or Diwali in my village and would always talk with great pride about how Hindus and Muslims of my village lived and celebrated life together for centuries.

Sadly, last year, this pride was totally shattered, when I returned to take part in the Holi procession in my village.  Since the early 2000s, during a Hindu festival, Muslim men would walk along with the procession and women would stand outside their homes with water and sweets.  But this time, the door of every Muslim house was shut.  Not a single person from the Muslim community came out in the street to join the festival.  As I went to knock on the door of some of my Muslim friends who lived near the village mosque, the procession loudspeaker started broadcasting loud Hindu nationalist slogans:

“Jai shree Ram” (Hail Lord Ram)

“Mandir wahi banayenge” (We will build the temple there only)

“Goli maro salon ko…desh ke gaddaron ko” (Kill the traitors)

“Kheer mango kheer denge…Kashmir mango cheer denge” (We will slaughter you if you ask for Kashmir)

These slogans referred to the site of the destroyed Mosque at Ayodhya, claiming it to be the birthplace of the Hindu God, Rama and pledging to rebuild a Hindu temple there.  I then realised why my friends weren’t joining the parade and why the majority of the houses in my village were shut, as the Holi procession continued on through the ghostly streets.

But this story of my village of Jharkhand is not simply the story of one village.  It is a story that has played out in villages, towns and cities across India over the last half century.

 

Modi’s India

India is a country of 1.30 billion people, including 965 million Hindus and 170 million Muslims and despite differences, a long tradition of tolerance has pulled this huge nation together.  However, since 2014, when the Hindu majoritarian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), lead by Narendra Modi, came to power, tensions between Muslims and Hindus have increased in many parts of the country.

Modi has been an activist for the Hindu far-right paramilitary RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and its affiliates for the entirety of his political life.  He remains committed to the supremacist ideology of Hindutva which says that India should be an exclusive Hindu nation-state in which minorities are treated as second-class citizens.  Muslims, in the last 6 years have faced regular attacks after being accused of eating beef or killing a cow, an animal considered sacred in Hinduism.

Modi_BJP

After being re-elected in 2019, Modi and his deputy Amit Shah pushed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) through Indian parliament.  The Act prohibits ‘illegal migrants’ from becoming Indian Citizens, allowing for exceptions for six religious minorities, but not for Muslims.   The creation of a National Register of Citizens (NRC), couched in the language of ‘national security’ and ‘muslim-only’ detention centres has caused an atmosphere of extreme mistrust among a large section of Indian Muslims.  Anti-CAA protests have spread around the country and have been met with brutal force by authorities.

A Hindu-Muslim divide is growing.  Even the visit of US President, Donald Trump to India did not prevent communal passions from taking a violent turn in the national capital, Delhi.  Parts of Delhi were literally burning and rioters rampaged the streets as the US President was being welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a well-orchestrated “Namaste Trump” ceremony.  Delhi cried for 72 hours while Lutyen’s Delhi (the political heart of New Delhi) left not a single stone unturned to blow Trump’s Trumpet.  While images of the Delhi riots spread around the globe, the two leaders were busy exhibiting showmanship and sycophancy.

Trump_Modi_India

The violence erupted following the ‘rabble-rousing’ of a local politician named Kapil Mishra whose speech provoked the targeting of Muslims protesting against the CAA.  A mob went on the rampage in minority-dominated neighborhoods, and in some specific areas, Hindu-owned properties including schools, shops and homes were also attacked and burnt. 50 died and hundreds were injured.  Instead of controlling the violence, the police became active participants in many areas.  This was symbolized by a video which went viral, showing uniformed officers beating five young men, all of them injured, telling them to sing the national anthem.  One of the men, Faizan, died of his injuries days later.

For three days the Prime Minister of India remained silent and the Home Minister was absent.  When the state not only fails to provide the same protection of law to all sections of society but  emboldens the rioters, one cannot put it down simply to the incompetency of state machinery to protect its citizens.  Instead it exposes the reality of a more sinister wholescale discrimination against one religious minority, and deeply troubling signs for the future of the world’s biggest democracy.

GAUTAM SINGH

Gautam_SinghAbout the author: Gautam Singh is an independent film-maker, cinematographer, writer, director and a program-maker at Al Jazeera Media Network.  His films include  ‘Gaon – The Village No More’, ‘Daughters of Brothel’, ‘The Burning City’, ‘Indian Hospital’, and ‘My Sister Laxmi’.  Currently, he lives in Doha, Qatar along with his family. 

The Aftermath of Charleston: the Confederate Flag and a Right to Being Dixie?

In their response to the utterly premediated and brutal murder of nine African-Americans at prayer in Charleston, South Carolina gun lobby spokesmen repeated the formulaic mantra that the best way to avoid such catastrophes is not to restrict homicidal racists’ legal right to bear arms, but to ensure that their victims have unrestricted access to guns also: the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, after all, had the temerity to ban guns amongst the congregation. The massacre of the nine Christians in Charleston will not, I fear, serve as the catalyst for establishing some form of sanity within US gun culture and the constitutional protection it enjoys. It has, however, provoked a surprising and potentially highly significant campaign, which is singling out the confederate flag as a symbol of racism and hatred. People from across different political, racial and social groupings are openly calling upon the removal of the flag from various public sites; from outside the state capitol building of South Carolina to car registration plates across several Southern states. Items bearing the flag’s distinctive image have even been removed from the shelves of large retailers.  The confederate flag is being culturally and politically re-branded. Not everyone thinks that this is a good thing. Some even argue that the campaign to render the flag socially and culturally taboo amounts to a violation of their rights.

By Dr. Andrew Fagan, University of Essex.

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