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Challenging hate: Applying the lessons from Srebrenica in our communities

UK charity Remembering Srebrenica supports police forces in helping to promote community cohesion. Remembering Srebrenica's Communications and Engagement Manager Andrew Tromans examines how the lessons learnt from the 1995 genocide are used to challenge hate.

Twenty-three years ago, fifty years after we all said never again, a genocide occurred in the heart of Europe. In 1995, more than 8000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the town of Srebrenica on the eastern border of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were systematically and methodically slaughtered for no other reason than their faith.

Remembering Srebrenica believes that commemorating the Bosnian genocide provides the police with a means of engaging with the whole community

When the founder and Chair of the UK charity Remembering Srebrenica, Dr Waqar Azmi OBE, addressed the Police Superintendent’s Association annual conference in 2017, he said: “If you want to understand the Muslim community in this country and the fears that they have about Islamophobia, you cannot unless you can comprehend the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995.”  

Since then, police services across the country, supported by Remembering Srebrenica, have been leading the way in promoting community cohesion through sharing the lessons from the Srebrenica genocide.

The 11th July is the internationally recognised day for commemorating the Srebrenica genocide. This year more than half the police forces in England and Wales marked the 23rd anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide during ‘Srebrenica Memorial Week’ which was held 8-15 July.   

A genocide survivor speaking at a hate crime event with Cheshire police

Remembering Srebrenica believes that commemorating the Bosnian genocide provides the police with a means of engaging with the whole community – people of all faiths and none – by encouraging them to unite against hate.  Police services in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Sussex have been leading the way in promoting community cohesion through sharing the lessons from the Srebrenica genocide. 

In police stations from Cornwall to Hartlepool, a diverse range of activities took place such as respectful minute silences to remember the victims and survivors of the Srebrenica genocide, memorial exhibitions and screenings of Remembering Srebrenica’s memorial film, ‘Acts of Courage: Resisting Hate”. During Srebrenica Memorial Week, a ‘Time to Think’ seminar was held at Sussex Police Headquarters to inform officers about the Srebrenica genocide and the importance of challenging hate.

We work through our network of more than 1200 ‘Community Champions’ across the country, who bring their communities together each July to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide

Remembering Srebrenica shares the police’s sense of mission and urgency to tackle hate crime. In October 2018, a report by the Home Office confirmed that there had been a 40% increase in reports of religious-motivated hate crimes from 5,949 in 2016-17 to 8,336 in 2017-18. Worryingly, more than half (52%) of these hate crimes had been targeted at a single group – Muslims.

This finding sits against a trend towards a general increase in reported hate crime over the last five years with surges in the immediate aftermath of events such as the EU referendum vote and the terror attacks in Manchester and London last year.

As an organisation that is committed to building stronger, safer and more cohesive communities, Remembering Srebrenica is alarmed by the growth in hate crime and hate incidents.

Remembering Srebrenica aims to inform the public about the consequences of hate through sharing the lessons from the Srebrenica genocide in 1995. To achieve this, we work through our network of more than 1200 ‘Community Champions’ across the country, who bring their communities together each July to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide and deliver social action projects throughout the year.

The Srebrenica Memorial Site

Remembering Srebrenica also forms strategic partnerships with other organisations such as rape crisis centres, schools and trade unions to help spread our message. 

In response to the growth in hate crime we have worked closely with police services across the UK since 2016 to develop training for police officers.

Remembering Srebrenica’s core training module is based around the ‘Ten Steps to Genocide’, a model developed by Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch. The ‘Ten Steps to Genocide’ model explores the timeline of a possible genocide. The first stage of any genocide is the widespread use of divisive language that seeks to dehumanise a minority group or groups within a society. The growth of hate crime and the targeting of certain religious groups and communities in the UK certainly helps creates the conditions under which conflict and genocide might take place.

President of the Police Superintendents’ Association Gavin Thomas recently visited the site of the Srebrenica genocide while attending one of Remembering Srebrenica’s ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’ delegations. He commented on his experience in Bosnia: “The lessons from history are clear. The road to genocide starts with divisive and hateful language – the rhetoric of ‘us and them’.

“It is everyone’s duty to reject intolerance, stand up to hatred and strive to make our communities inclusive.

It was through the powerful experience of meeting survivors of genocide and ethnic cleansing, hearing their testimony first-hand  hat the partnership between the police and Remembering Srebrenica was formed.

Reflecting on the partnership between the police and Remembering Srebrenica that Gavin has been instrumental in creating, Gavin said:

“I am proud of the long-standing partnership between the police and Remembering Srebrenica.

“This year more than half of the constabularies in England commemorated the Srebrenica genocide and a number of police services have incorporated Remembering Srebrenica’s education materials into their hate crime training.”

Over the last five years, Remembering Srebrenica has taken out a number of police officers on the ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’ programme. It was through the powerful experience of meeting survivors of genocide and ethnic cleansing, hearing their testimony first-hand that the partnership between the police and Remembering Srebrenica was formed.

In addition to the police officers, since it was founded in 2013, Remembering Srebrenica has taken more than 1,200 British citizens  to Srebrenica to learn about the consequences of hatred.

On their return from the ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’ programme, delegates fulfil their pledge to tackle hatred by setting up social action projects and bringing communities together to remember the victims as well as becoming Community Champions.

Superintendent’s Association President Gavin Thomas and Vice-President Paul Griffiths visit Srebrenica

In October of this year, Paul Griffiths, Vice-President of the Police Superintendents’ Association travelled to Bosnia-Herzegovina with a diverse delegation of police officers and educators to learn the ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’.

During the four-day educational visit, the group learnt about the ‘Siege of Sarajevo’, the longest siege of modern city, and paid their respects at the site of the Srebrenica genocide.

Reflecting on the ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’ delegation experience and how what he learnt on the four-day visit can be applied to the UK,  Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths said: “The flight time from the UK to Bosnia-Herzegovina is only four hours and yet we would never consider the remote possibility that genocide could be committed on British soil. That is something that happens elsewhere – not Britain.

“However, if I talked about community tensions, increasing hate, the growth of the far right, discrimination and communities being targeted, then these are all conditions that we can at least recognise in the landscape of Britain today.”

The challenges facing organisations such as the police and Remembering Srebrenica that seek to empower communities to resist intolerance are huge. Through the example of the Srebrenica genocide, where the dangers of unchecked hatred are so clear, we can see why we must not shirk from this task. With dedication and determination, together we can overcome hatred.

Police forces can find the ‘Ten Steps to Genocide’ training module here. If you would like more information about how to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide, please contact Remembering Srebrenica on 0121 454 3343 or email on [email protected].


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