Graham Stuart – 2022 Speech on Srebrenica

The speech made by Graham Stuart, the Minister of State at the Department for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, in the House of Commons on 14 July 2022.

It is a great, albeit sobering, pleasure to follow so many powerful speeches from Members on both sides of the House, showing the unity to which so many referred. There is real-world power in standing up for the principles and values that are shared on both sides of the House, and that all of us, including the UK Government, wish to back and reinforce.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) and the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) for securing this debate and, of course, the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. It is fantastic to have Members on both sides of the House who not only speak with passion on this issue but have deep personal knowledge and engagement from their previous professional career. I pay tribute to them for their work as the respective chairs of the all-party parliamentary groups on Bosnia and Herzegovina and on Srebrenica. The professional career of my right hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) also involved him in that part of the world.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)

I am very much involved in Bosnia, so I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, which is terribly important because it is widely viewed in Bosnia. People pay huge attention to what is happening, because they do not get this sort of debate in their own country. The young people, by the way, do not want another war, and people in Bosnia are watching what we say and do very carefully.

Graham Stuart

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention.

Colleagues on both sides of the Chamber are right to continue drawing attention to the fragile situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to the lessons we must all learn from the Srebrenica genocide. I am grateful for the contributions made by hon. and right hon. Members, and I will try to respond to the points they have raised.

This debate comes just after the 27th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica. As colleagues have said, it was the worst atrocity on European soil since the end of the second world war. Today, as we did on Monday, we remember the victims of those terrible events and stand with the families in their ongoing fight for justice so many years on.

There is no question but that what happened in Srebrenica was genocide. That was the conclusion of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and of the International Court of Justice after extensive legal processes, yet some individuals and groups continue to deny these events. We have seen this over the past few days in and around Srebrenica, and we utterly condemn this behaviour. Glorifying the perpetrators and instigators of such heinous acts takes us further away from reconciliation and hinders the country’s ability to move forward and come together, so it is vital that we deliver justice and challenge the lies and false narratives, as successive speakers have said.

To date, a total of 57 individuals have been tried at the state court of Bosnia and Herzegovina for crimes committed in and around Srebrenica in July 1995. A further 20 individuals have been tried at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and its successor, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, for crimes related to Srebrenica. We are proud to have supported this work.

Of course, we house Radovan Karadžić in a UK cell as he serves his whole-of-life prison sentence following his conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and for the genocide at Srebrenica. Last month, the UK helped to pass a UN Security Council resolution on the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, extending the term of the current prosecutor. We will continue to fight to end impunity for war criminals, and to see that they are held to account.

As others have said, Bosnia and Herzegovina faces new challenges today. Threats are on the rise, from the knock-on effects of Putin’s war to the destabilising actions of Russian-backed secessionists, about which the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) spoke so powerfully.

Alicia Kearns

My hon. Friend is making a very good speech. He is talking about the prosecutions we have achieved, but there have been very few prosecutions for sexual violence. Will he commit to meeting me to discuss whether we can create an international organisation with the sole job of going in at the start of a conflict to collect evidence of sexual violence so that we are able to prosecute and get justice? Waiting until the end of a conflict is too late because, unfortunately, the evidence will have gone.

Graham Stuart

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. She will be aware that, on 16 November 2021, the Government launched a major global initiative to stop sexual violence against women and girls in conflict, which included a £20 million fund. We are alive to this issue, and I would be delighted to meet her to discuss how it is not enough to have effective mechanisms afterwards, and how we need to get in early to try to make sure it does not happen in the first place.

The leaders of Republika Srpska have been emboldened by Russia’s actions. With Moscow’s support, as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate mentioned, they are using divisive and dangerous nationalist rhetoric. They are encouraging ethnic hatred and genocide denial, and they are pushing for the de facto secession of Republika Srpska, in direct contravention of their country’s constitution.

The situation is serious, and we must learn the lessons of the region’s history and the consequences of inaction. The west took too long to act in the 1990s, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary argued when she visited Bosnia and Herzegovina just two months ago. Sarajevo suffered under siege for 1,425 days. We were not bold enough to prevent terrible events such as the genocide at Srebrenica. If the Government and I, and everyone who has spoken today, are serious when we say “never again,” and if it is not just empty rhetoric, we must act today to preserve security and stability. That is why we are deploying a wide range of diplomatic, economic and defence support to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

First, we are working to protect the hard-won Dayton peace agreement. In April, in response to their unacceptable nationalist rhetoric and denial of the genocide, we sanctioned Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s state-level presidency, and Željka Cvijanović, the President of Republika Srpska. These designations include travel bans and asset freezes, and they were the first under the UK’s Bosnia and Herzegovina sanctions regime. We will keep the situation under review, and we will apply further designations if necessary. We will continue to support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and we will continue to back the work of the High Representative, Christian Schmidt.

It is fantastic to see total co-operation and agreement, from what I can tell from every word of the speech by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, between Her Majesty’s Opposition and Her Majesty’s Government on almost every aspect of this.

Secondly, as has been said, we have to give hope and show that Bosnia and Herzegovina can succeed. We are investing to boost the country’s economic security. We are extending our offer of honest and reliable infrastructure investment to the western Balkans, and we aim to mobilise $100 million of UK-backed investment by 2025. Across the western Balkans there is a nearly £13 billion facility at UK Export Finance, our credit agency, to support and encourage British involvement in such activity, which will help to provide the resilience and capability to counter Russian interference.

Thirdly, we are boosting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ability to counter security threats and malign influences—again, I am directly answering a point made today. That includes training its cadets in world-class British military academies such as Sandhurst. That support, like our support for Ukraine, is about our belief in a simple principle: the right of people to decide their democratic future and to protect themselves. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future lies on that path—it must do—and in greater partnership with NATO and countries such as the UK.

Finally, we are ensuring that the truth about Srebrenica will endure. We have built a strong partnership with the Srebrenica memorial centre, to develop its operational capacity and establish a centre for genocide research, prevention and reconciliation. We are also supporting Remembering Srebrenica, which just yesterday hosted its national commemoration event in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. We have provided £200,000 to that organisation to ensure that it can continue to do its highly valuable work.

Yasmin Qureshi

I am glad that £200,000 has been given to Remembering Srebrenica. I do not know whether the Minister is aware that that charity, which has been in existence for some time, has always struggled to get sufficient funding. Every year, it has to beg for money from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities or the Foreign Office, and the situation has been very difficult for it. In the light of what is happening, should there not be a proper system in place to fund this charity, on a yearly basis, with a decent amount of money to allow it to carry out the work it does across the country?

Graham Stuart

I hear what the hon. Lady says. I think most Members in the Chamber would recognise that £200,000 is a substantial sum and that we in the UK are unusual in having that kind of Government backing. She and I, and the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate and others, attended the events this week, and it is important to see the power they have and their ability to bring people together. Like her, I hope that the charity can succeed and we can ensure that it has a viable future.

Let me have a look at some of the other issues raised and make sure that I am dealing with them all as best I can, given that there is the opportunity to do so. On tackling the destabilisation efforts, I have already mentioned the sanctions on Bosnian Serb presidency member Dodik. On the military aspect, the UK supports EUFOR and wants to see its mandate renewed at the UN Security Council in November. We cannot allow a security vacuum in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we will work with allies on a NATO alternative should Russia choose to use its veto—the House should be aware of that, as that threat could be there. But if Russia tries to stop EUFOR, we would look to provide a NATO alternative, which the Russians might find less satisfactory. I have stated on the record the importance we attribute to the need for a speedy response.

On Amir and the powerful tale told about him, I thought the most memorable line from a powerful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton was that

“denial is fought through remembrance.”

That is why it is so important that we continue to do this, so that Amir’s story is heard and his family feel that it is, and so that it positively contributes to ensuring that there is not a repetition in this part of the world or somewhere else.

On the support for reconciliation, my predecessor as Minister for Europe visited Bosnia and Herzegovina on 16 June, where he met young politicians, Foreign Minister Turković and the Central Election Commission. We are trying to ensure that we have those kinds of ministerial ties. I have also already mentioned that the Foreign Secretary visited Sarajevo on 26 May, when she reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to peace and stability in the western Balkans in the face of Russia’s malign influence. I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate for his support for the role of Sir Stuart Peach, which is really important.

On work with the Department for Education, I have not yet had that opportunity, but I hope that, given the general tenor of my speech and the unanimity strongly felt in this place, we have shown that we are determined to ensure that we remember the past but do not see this act of remembrance as somehow separated from current circumstances, as it is anything but. It is part of dealing with the current threats and destabilisation and taking them seriously. On various fronts, diplomatic, civil society and defence, we are trying to make sure that we are an active player. At the heart of what a lot of colleagues have raised is that we must stay focused on this, and that we do not find ourselves asleep at the wheel and failing to respond, alongside allies, when circumstances demand action. I am delighted to conclude the debate, and I hope that I have answered colleagues’ questions.