On Friday 15 July 2022, the East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre marked the 27th memorial of the Srebrenica Genocide. Earlier in the week, a banner was unfurled at the front of the Mosque depicting the ‘Srebrenica flower’, which represents the day on which the genocide began (11 July 1995). On Monday 11th July, coinciding with the funeral and memorial taking place in Srebrenica, a special address by the Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr Husein Kavazović, was published and shared with English-speaking audiences in the UK and Europe.

The memorial event took place at the London Muslim Centre with guests from the community, which also included a survivor from a Bosnian-Serb-run concentration camp.

The memorial opened with a recitation of the Qur’an by Shakyh Mohammed Mahmoud, Senior Imam of the East London Mosque. A video was played to honour 50 victims who were recently buried, having been identified after years of painstaking forensic process piecing together the remains of the deceased.

Never Forget

Hussain Shefaar, Trustee of the East London Mosque, who has personally travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina, welcomed guests to the memorial: “This idea of ‘Never Forget’ is not a slogan, it’s something that has to come from the heart. Hopefully, it is implemented in the way that we deal with our problems in our societies today. So we say ‘never forget’ means we would never allow something like that to happen on our doorstep, whether it be in Europe or anywhere else, ever again.”

Failure of UN safe zones 

Dr Melika Arifhodzic, representing the Grand Mufti’s office and a Senior Advisor in the Secretariate of the Interreligious Council of Bosnia-Herzegovina, spoke to guests via Zoom from Sarajevo. She thanked the Mosque and Centre for its continued efforts to highlight the Srebrenica Genocide for more than 20 years. 

Arifhodzic briefly highlighted the history of the Bosnian-Serb conflict, and how “at the beginning of the war, the Bosnian-Serb army with Yugoslav army weapons and paramilitary forces from Serbia, committed horrendous atrocities against civilians, including forced deportation, torture, mass murder, detention camps, and systematic sexual violence with rape camps in the cities of Bosnia.”

She then underlined the failure of ‘safe zones’ created by the United Nations to protect civilians: “in fact, they tended to be prisons for people” and were “completely incapable of protecting people;” after having completely disarmed the people within the safe zones. This inevitably led to the mass murder of 8000 civilians. She closed by emphasising the “underlying the importance of talking about the need to remind on historical facts and court decisions, inviting victims that survived to testify, in investing in research, and organising exhibition roundtables.” 

“A scar on the soul of humanity”

A video was played from Rt. Hon. Alistair Burt, a former Minister of state and presently the UK’s Commissioner on the International Commission on Missing Persons. In his message, he said, “Srebrenica remains a scar on the soul of humanity; a crime committed in plain sight in the midst of a community that said never again. To visit the memorial in Srebrenica is to recognise the sheer misery and depth of human violence and the consequences. Those who have kept that memory alive recognise that ‘never again’ means nothing unless there is a way of bringing to justice those who have committed such crimes; to know that of whatever rank they may be, those who may have killed and murdered in the cause of conflict will be brought to justice.”

A special message from the Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina

A special message was read out by Munadiya Aftab, a local activist and volunteer of the Mosque on behalf of the Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr Husein Kavazović. In his message, the Grand Mufti said, “May God accept the noble effort of everyone involved in helping Bosnia and Herzegovina… I had the pleasure of visiting your great centre in my first term as the Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
During my visit, I was happy to open the Srebrenica Week as the London Muslim Centre spearheaded a
number of events and exhibition to mark the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide... Twenty-seven years have passed since the Serbian army and police committed genocide in our beloved Srebrenica. We feel the consequences of that evil in many ways even today. Acknowledging the genocide in Srebrenica and respecting the judgments of international courts should have been an important step on the way to an honest confrontation with the past.”

The Grand Mufti added, “However, despite all court verdicts and confirmed facts of what had transpired in Srebrenica, we witness the human dishonour of not only those who deny the genocide but even celebrate it. The absence of sincere repentance calls into question the moral healing of individuals and the community.” The Grand Mufti also mentioned that while it is in the nature of Muslims to forgive, “forgiveness can only happen if there is sincere repentance of the perpetrator and justice is served.” He also highlighted how many of the perpetrators of the Srebrenica Genocide remain unrepentant and said, “Unfortunately, many of the criminals are still at large, and do not have an iota of remorse.”

Brutal torture and rape in Bosnian-Serb concentration camps

In one of the most moving parts of the memorial event, Nisad Jakupović, a survivor the Omarska and Manjaca concentration camps in 1992, shared his harrowing experiences with pictures shown on the screen. Jakupović detailed the treatment at the hands of Bosnian-Serb forces and described the heavy shelling in his village of Kevljani and how it was captured, with boys and men being taken to concentration camps.

Jakupović described how he lost half of his weight within two months of being at the concentration camp, and how the first killing in Omarska occurred of an elderly man who was killed in cold blood. He also recalled the experience of how a local imam who was also being kept prisoner was badly beaten and forced to eat pork and then forced to tell others it was the best food he ever tried.

Jakupović recollected the screams of the concentration camp prisoners who were brutally tortured by being thrown onto burning tyres. He described how his trauma continues to this day: “I never forget, even 30 years after that; I still have nightmares, and I still sweat in the bed.” He added that in Omarska, “There were about 30 female prisoners. Two of them were killed. All of them were systematically raped.” 

Jakupović described how, along with his brother, they were transported to Manjaca concentration camp. Seventeen people were beaten to death by Serb villagers along the way as the crammed bus made stops in Serb villages “without a single shot being fired”. He lamented that “Serbs are still in denial” about the horrific occurrences of torture and brutal killings. Some of the victims who have tried to raise their torture in the courts are now being forced to pay 3000 euros in court fees, because certain courts do not recognise the treatment of these individuals as torture.


Educating future generations

Imam Sedin Sahman, a teacher at the Bosnian Islamic Community in London, spoke about how it is important to raise awareness of the atrocities that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina with young people. Sahman explained that the genocide in Srebrenica was ot the only one but “but unfortunately [there were other massacres] in other cities and towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where innocent people have been killed just because they were Muslims. There have been many genocides in the past too. But the difference between this genocide and previous ones is that now we can talk; now we can tell the truth.”

Speaking about educating future generations, he said, “We can educate our young generations; before we couldn’t do that because the system prevented us. We had to be silent. And that is why a genocide would happen again and again and again. There was no generation that didn’t remember at-least one war during a lifetime in Bosnia. Now we are different. We cannot be naive anymore… This is why I have an extra reason or additional reasons to teach in Bosnian schools, to spread the truth, to educate our children not only about the war, but about the Bosnian language, about religion, about history, tradition, and many other positive things that my country has got”.

“The war was right in my face”

Reverend Alan Green, Chair of the Tower Hamlets Interfaith Forum and a parish priest at St John’s in Bethnal Green, who led an ELM-led Interfaith Delegation to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2010, acknowledged the tremendous suffering Nisad Jakupović had gone through: “It is a sad privilege to be here this evening and to be in your company. Having heard your testimony, which was difficult to hear, it’s certainly difficult to speak following you. There’s so little that I think I can say that will make a difference. That will bring an end to what has happened and to give you and your fellow countrymen and women justice.”

Speaking about there being any sense of lacking acknowledgement of the Srebrenica Genocide, he said, “We must stand up for justice. We must continue to talk about what happened in Srebrenica, and we must continue to ensure that we oppose such a direction anywhere in the world.”

He recounted how he was “unprepared” during the visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2010, and saw burials take place. “I thought what I was going to was a commemoration of an event in the past and what I found there was an event that was happening directly that day in the present. There were hundreds of burials taking place that day of bodies that had been recovered or at least sufficient parts of bodies have been recovered. The families felt that it was time at least to have a burial, so it seemed that the war was right in my face. And I think for many of you, that has not changed, that continues.”

He ended by expressing how ‘otherisation’ can creep into communities, and said, “… it isn’t just one moment, a whole group of people turning against another. It happens incrementally. It happens by starting with words and then gradually of bringing division and building barriers between people so that they no longer see one another as neighbours, as you have described, as school friends, but as ‘the other’.”

A Q&A session followed the speeches before the evening’s memorial event was brought to a close.