Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (22:14): My father has quipped that he was lucky to land in the lucky country. He was an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia, back then a multi-ethnic country, comprised of different religions and cultural traditions. Friends cared little if you called yourself Croat, Serb, Bosnian—it just mattered that you were friends. Sadly, three decades later, this was not the case for much of our extended family, and countless others, throughout Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. Between 1992 and 1995, the war in Bosnia saw more than 100,000 people perish, with a further 1.3 million displaced. In a continent that had hoped it had closed off its darkest chapters, it witnessed new ones being written—bloody chapters, scarred by haunted terms few imagined would be associated with a modern Europe: ‘genocide’, ‘human shields’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’.
One particularly heart-wrenching story is that of Srebrenica. On 16 April 1993, the United Nations carried resolution 819 deeming, ‘All parties and others concerned treat Srebrenica and its surroundings as a safe area which should be free from any armed attack or any hostile act.’ Days later the first United Nations Protection Force troops arrived, ahead of the demilitarisation of Srebrenica in early May. But by 1995, the enclave was under siege and the humanitarian situation on the ground was a catastrophe. Resources were so depleted, even UN forces ran low on food, medicine, ammunition and fuel. In early July 1995, the Mayor of Srebrenica reported that residents had started dying of starvation. Within days of the announcement, the Army of Republika Srpksa’s General Ratko Mladic led the offensive that took the town. Images of the General taking a triumphant walk through the empty streets of Srebrenica will be forever seared into minds. The General knew what would happen next. Over five days in July, 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were rounded up and massacred. It was Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II.
Mevludin Oric is one of the few men who survived the massacre. In his words: ‘We came out, they blindfolded us and we were taken to a field to be executed. “Get out and stand in a line,” they were shouting. Then I heard gunshots and I fell to the ground. How can a man not burst into tears? Why did this happen?’ In May 1992, Fetaneta Alihromic and her then teenage children witnessed the execution of her husband in Srebrenica. She later saw her brothers and her father killed. According to her: ‘They killed us like animals. So we hid in the forests during the day and went to our homes at night for shelter.’
In 1995, Ratko Mladic was indicted by International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. As the top military general with command responsibility, he was accused of being responsible for the Srebrenica massacre. But the important thing to note here is that the ICTY indictment against Ratko Mladic also accuses him of genocide in nine other municipalities in addition to Srebrenica.
I am advised that Department of Immigration and Citizenship figures for the period 1992-95 put refugee numbers from the former Yugoslavia at just over 23,500. Survivors from Srebrenica are also largest in numbers in New South Wales and Victoria. At this time, my thoughts are with them.
Last week’s arrest of Ratko Mladic is a small step in the healing process for the families of his victims. It is an important step forward in the pursuit of international justice. It sends a signal to everyone in the entire world: war crimes are unacceptable and if you commit acts of genocide, if you engage in these sorts of atrocities, you will be held to account.
In closing, I would like to reflect on the words of Munira Subasic, the president of Mothers of Srebrenica. Her words were picked up in the Walkley Award winning SBS program Echoes of Srebrenica, first broadcast in July 2010 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the massacre. The program was also a finalist in the United Nations Association of Australia Media Peace Awards and has been shortlisted for the Amnesty International Media Award for human rights programs. In that program, Munira says: ‘After I die, I want my granddaughter Sara to have friends who are Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Jews, Roman Catholic and everyone else. If we do not do this … if we don’t give testimony, if we don’t prove who the criminals are, and who the good people are, and if the good people do not speak up against the criminals, then this will not happen. But to live in a ghetto, to live with someone and to hate them, or for them to hate you … that brings no joy, not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina but everywhere in the world.’