International Conference ‘Stopping genocide and holocaust denial’ - Sarajevo, 20 June 2019

Video-message by Adama Dieng, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide

Transcript of the Video-message:


Excellencies, dear colleagues and participants,

I would like to open my statement by sincerely thanking the organizers of this very important international conference on stopping genocide and holocaust denial. I would like to specifically express my most heartfelt gratitude to the Mothers of Srebrenica, who have tirelessly fought for justice and have championed in need for remembrance. I witnessed this when I visited them at Potočari Memorial Center. I stood with them in fields that have witnessed unbearable suffering. I traveled to Srebrenica to honor the Mothers’ fight for justice and to pay tribute to their fathers, their brothers, their husbands, their sons, in some cases their entire families. These innocent civilians lost their lives when the most terrible of crimes was committed, the crime of genocide.

While in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I also had the opportunity to visit other sites where great crimes were committed and memorials that honored the sacrifice of many in the fight against Fascism and Nazism. There is great pain remaining there and there is also a deficit of empathy.  

For this reason, the theme of this conference could not be more timely nor relevant. Genocide denial is real; it is presented proudly by people of influence and people with power; it is used to achieve political gain; it is echoed by non-accountable media organizations and platforms; it is spread via social media.

It sows fear, mistrust and hate. It divides people, communities and states. It doesn’t allow for healing and empathy. Instead, it is part of a well-thought-out strategy to deliberately push aside inconvenient facts – always at the expense of the victims and survivors.

The International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has determined, conclusively, that genocide was committed in Srebrenica in 1995. The International Court of Justice as well as national courts have consistently reached the same conclusion. Denying the seriousness of what happened, or even that crimes happened at all, is a grave offence which has real consequences. Genocide denial is an affront to the victims and an impenetrable barrier to any meaningful effort for reconciliation.

With great worry, I say that genocide denial constitutes an important sign of a broader dynamic. It simultaneously feeds on, and strengthens contested narratives about the past, the present and the future. It turns perpetrators and war criminals into heroes.

It is unacceptable to have streets, school dormitories and other public and civic spaces and places named after them. It is even less acceptable to bestow medals and honours upon such persons in official government institutions; or at any ceremonies.

All political leaders and all people in a position of influence, including religious leaders, must combat negative rhetoric and the glorification of war criminals with words of compassion and empathy for the pain and suffering of their neighbors.

Victims, survivors and witnesses are the true heroes. They have displayed immense courage by coming to the courts to testify against those who harmed them and others.  About those who gave orders to target civilians during conflict; about those who flouted the Geneva Conventions. Despite the passage of many years, victims and survivors never gave up hope that they would see justice.

We must always remember their suffering and honor their cause.

I express great hope that this international conference will contribute toward our collective efforts to more actively counter genocide denial. First, we must strongly advocate for and boldly defend international norms and principles; a rules-based order – at a time when geopolitical realities are, unfortunately, eroding such vital notions.  Second, I hope that you will be able to raise commitments and identify concrete actions that need to be taken by leading actors both in government and outside of government such as religious leaders, woman, youth and civil society actors.

Today, I pledge to add my own very efforts by continuing to engage   political and social leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as in the region on promoting accountability, and reconciliation. I will calibrate this engagement to reflect and build upon the results of this conference.

Let us collectively make meaningful moves to help the citizens of this region to build bridges across a difficult and emotion-laden past. Let us take meaningful, concrete steps on the path toward greater tolerance, understanding and genuine trust-building.

Excellencies, dear colleagues and participants,

We share the same objective: to work towards a world free of hate and division in which crimes such as the ones that were committed in this region no longer happen; a world that has learned the lessons of the past; and a world where communities can live together in peace and dignity, as it is their inherent right.

Acknowledging the truth about what happened and empathizing with those who have suffered greatly constitutes the first, essential step in this direction. Let us never deviate from this commitment. Always remember that glorification of grave crimes like those that were committed during the holocaust or the genocide in Srebrenica constitute a vicious attack on human dignity, particularly to the victims and survivors. It is unacceptable and must be condemned in the strongest terms.

I thank you very much for your attention and I wish you all the very best in your deliberation and a very successful conference.