POSITIVE ENGAGEMENTS YIELD HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng’s visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina urges greater support to BiH citizens who are leading by positive example; and unity of action and purpose by the international community

 

Sarajevo, 6 -10 October 2019

 

The return visit of the United Nations (UN) Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) focused on citizens and leaders across the country who are working to rebuild communities in the face of the ongoing politics of division. The visit included conversations with peacebuilding champions from Sarajevo, East Sarajevo, Fojnica, Jajce, Žepče and Maglaj.

Special Adviser Dieng marked the start of his official mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina with a visit to Sarajevo’s War Childhood Museum on 6 October. The newly appointed Head of the OSCE Mission to BiH, Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec, the European Union Ambassador to BiH, Mr. Johann Sattler, the Council of Europe Ambassador, Mr. Drahoslav Štefanek, and the UN Resident Coordinator in BiH, Ms. Sezin Sinanoglu, joined Mr. Dieng in viewing the unique exhibition.

The delegation noted how deeply the trauma of conflict runs in children, individuals and communities. Unlike many commemorations, memorials and celebrations that exacerbate differences between communities, this exhibit reminds us that the scars of trauma do not discriminate by nationality, religion or race. The experience of all civilians is equally important.

“We have seen objects that vividly convey the impact that conflicts have on the lives of children at the stage in life when they should be playing and developing their minds, their bodies and their spirit. War carries forward trauma to the future generations. Peace cannot be taken for granted. There cannot be a stronger reason for us to redouble our efforts in order to ensure a durable peace for all”, said Special Adviser Dieng following the talk with Mr. Jasminko Halilovic, Founder of the Museum, and Ms. Amina Krvavac, the Executive Director of the Museum.

The unique character and the project of the War Childhood Museum was awarded in 2018 by the Council of Europe Museum Prize as a recognition of excellence in museum art and the significant contribution to the presentation of European cultural heritage.

"We are pleased that we could also talk with Mr. Dieng and all the members of the Delegation about the expansion of the Museum outside BiH. Our joint efforts have to be directed towards promotion of peace and fight against hate speech across the world. It is important that our commitment for the WCM’s establishment as an international platform has support of the leading international organizations”, said Jasminko Halilovic, the founder of the Museum.

“I was here today to reaffirm the EU's commitment to fostering an environment in which crimes against humanity and human rights violations will not be tolerated and the dignity of each victim will be respected in line with international norms. Those in positions of responsibility in BiH must find away to overcome the past, enable a sincere dialogue and do everything in their power to provide access to the truth for all victims and society as a whole.”, the newly appointed EU Ambassador to BiH added.

The UN, the OSCE Mission to BiH, the CoE and the EUSR note that the rising tide of the rhetoric of hate and mistrust, the denials of war crimes and genocide, and the glorification of war criminals by elected and public officials and by some media organizations do not allow BiH’s citizens to heal their traumas.

These actions and words pose an impenetrable barrier to any meaningful and sustained efforts for genuine reconciliation between victims and survivors of the conflict as well as between future generations of Bosnians and Herzegovinians.

The senior leaders committed to work jointly with community, political and religious leaders and citizens of all nationalities in order to help define a climate of mutual empathy, respect, dignity for all.

In his meetings with the BiH Presidency; the BiH Minister for Human Rights and Refugees; and the Assistant Minister for Multilateral Affairs the UN Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng; advocated for the need for elected officials to do more to define an environment of mutual respect and dignity for the citizens of the country.

Joined with the Head of the OSCE Mission to BiH, Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec and her team; and the UN Resident Coordinator in BiH, Ms. Sezin Sinanoglu, Special Adviser travelled throughout the country in order to meet with citizens and leaders who have already taken the initiative to look past the politics of division and to reconcile communities.  They heard about their efforts to strengthen empathy and compassion in their work; they also heard about their struggles against the rhetoric of fear, mistrust and even hate speech generated by some officials and media.

Their meeting with representatives of civil society from all corners of the country was a sobering discussion.  Young people are not leaving the country only because of the lack of socio-economic opportunities; they are also leaving because of the toxic political environment and the instability it generates.  CSO representatives argued that citizens are losing hope because they don’t see any mechanisms or institutions or champions that can help them step out and effectively challenge hate speech and the politics of division.  Nevertheless, they are committed to keep working together, and with all partners, with courage and conviction.

“We need to take these concerns to the heart of our work. Every single citizen is essential to build the future of this country.”, noted Mr. Dieng.

In Fojnica, leaders such as Fra Mirko Majdandžić at the Franciscan Monastery and Mayor Sabahudin Klisura continue to champion the centuries-long history of mutual respect and constructive dialogue between communities. Their example can help others turn the page to move together toward a peaceful future for all neighbors.

An inspiring conversation unfolded with the high school students in Jajce whose predecessors fought against institutional segregation.  The younger generations noted that “this was one of the best things that happened in our community in years.” Mr. Dieng urged the students to carry on the cause if they did not wish to be separated from their friends simply because they are of different nationality.

“It is inspiring to see the efforts of municipal authorities and civil society in promoting return, reconciliation and inter-ethnic co-operation and communication. It is especially encouraging to see that attempts to create a joint memory of past atrocities can be successful: I believe such initiatives can be a powerful driver for reconciliation within the communities. I sincerely hope that the political situation outside these municipalities will be de-polarized and that the political environment in the country would become more conducive to positive co-operation.” said Ambassador Kavalec.

In Žepče, Mr. Dieng. Ambassador Kavalec, the Mayor of Žepče, Mato Zovko, the Municipal Council Speaker, Muhamed  Jusufović, and the Žepče Association of Civilian War Victims jointly paid tribute at the town’s memorial dedicated to all civilian victims of the war.  Working together, Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks succeeded in reunifying a town violently split in two during the 1990s conflict; successfully orchestrating the return and reintegration of members of the 3 constituent communities and unifying their schools. A prime example of the latter was reflected during the visit to the Secondary Music School Katarina Kosača Kotromanić.

“I am very pleased to learn that the music school orchestra and choir regularly perform together at different school and music competitions in the country, as well as different social and public events in Žepče. The school represents one of the best examples of the successes brought about by the Žepče Municipality’s integration efforts in the education sector”, said Ambassador Kavalec.

The Delegation also spoke with the three war-time commanders from Maglaj who have dedicated their life to working to rebuild trust and constructive dialogue among and between all communities: “We are doing this so our kids can live here in peace,” stated Boro Jevtić, Rizo Salkić and Marko Zelić.  The protagonists of the OSCE-supported documentary film “Maglaj, War and Peace” stressed that “We don’t want them to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina because of politics.”

“In a bleak political environment, we have seen truly inspiring things. There is much good happening at the local level. We must lend our support to, and make stronger investments in, strengthening social cohesion and ensuring that all identities are respected and that all feel they have a stake in this society; in this beautiful country of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” concluded Mr. Dieng. Upon his return to Sarajevo, Dieng conveyed these views to the diplomatic corps in BiH.

Adviser Dieng recognized the joint efforts by the Sarajevo Mayor Abdulah Skaka and the East Sarajevo Mayor Nenad Vukotic in bringing the two cities together, in the face of many challenges, towards the common objective of the 2019 European Youth Olympics Festival. This initiative, which was supported through the UN-BiH Presidency Dialogue for the Future project, is a clear display of what can be achieved when people of all backgrounds work in partnership together toward a positive future.

Furthermore, in an open conversation with the Interreligious council in BiH, he emphasized their leading role in the society, and hope that they will continue to share their activities and experiences with the region, and other countries across the world. “We want to preserve and build dialogue because there is no alternative if we want to live together in peace”, concluded the members of the IRC in BiH.

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