SOAPBOX – Bosnia-Herzegovina and the importance of accountable structures that deliver

The ink on Columbia’s peace deal with the FARC rebels is barely dry and no doubt like other regions their odyssey as a post-conflict society will not be totally smooth. Peter Osborne chairs the Community Relations Council and reflects on a recent visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina 21 years after its conflict ended.

Peter Osborne Bosnia-Herzegovina 2I had both the pleasure and sobering shock to the system of a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina with Remembering Srebrenica last week. Bosnia-Herzegovina is remarkably beautiful and diverse; but more than 20 years after the conflict, it is still a divided country with uncertainty surrounding the future.

More than 8,300 Bosnian Muslims were killed in the genocide at Srebrenica-Potocari. The white markers of the victims in the memorial park seem to go on endlessly to the horizon; victims still bearing witness to the extent of the savagery that week in European history – in Europe, a three hour flight away from Britain and Ireland.

The sense of grief at the genocide is evident amongst those most directly affected. Families are traumatised still, 21 years on. People will be traumatised for the rest of their lives; the society will be traumatised for generations.

Peter Osborne Bosnia-Herzegovina 3It seems clear and obvious that at Srebrenica in 1995 the United Nations and international community let down thousands of Bosnian Muslims.

What is still not clear in 2016, though, is whether the international community will let Bosnia-Herzegovina down again as it continues to come to terms with its divisions and competing identities.

That is one of the reasons why it is important to keep remembering the events at Srebrenica in 1995. It is a reminder to a new generation of decision-makers that neglect and poor understanding of circumstances can encourage wrong-doing and thereby help create more victims.

The visit left me valuing even more the peace process in Northern Ireland. While Bosnia-Herzegovina was in conflict 1992-1995, while Sarajevo was under siege and the Srebrenica genocide was occurring, Northern Ireland was experiencing ceasefires and embryonic peace negotiations that eventually culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Northern Ireland now has a relatively stable power-sharing government between very different political outlooks with contrasting national aspirations. It has a system of local and central government that works, albeit at times slowly with some issues still not resolved.

Britain and Ireland are engaged positively (if not always getting things right) with the most constructive East-West relationship in decades, if not ever. There should be no neglect in understanding local circumstances.

Peter Osborne Bosnia-Herzegovina 1Northern Ireland still has much to learn from elsewhere but we also have much to give to others; much to share and significant learning to provide. More than most others we should appreciate the value of outside support, and be ready to offer that support to places like Srebrenica and Bosnia-Herzegovina in whatever way is appropriate.

The international community needs to take the uncertainties in Bosnia-Herzegovina seriously and help the country work through those issues. Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland can help even if only to remember the events of 21 years ago in Srebrenica and to remind a new generation of what caused them.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina it seems to me that people need to see the structures throughout the country in all regions working, being accountable and delivering for the whole country and its citizens; fairly, for the greater good, for all.

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