Speech by the Netherlands Minister of Defence Kajsa Ollongren at the Srebrenica commemoration in Potočari

Mothers, Families, Survivors, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

For 27 years now, this site has been a place that holds terrible memories, a fact of which I myself am also gravely aware. Memories of deep fear and uncertainty among all of the people who were desperately seeking protection here in July 1995. But also memories of utter powerlessness among the UN soldiers who had so badly wanted to afford them that protection.

These are your memories. These are our memories. Memories of the horrendous genocide that may not simply disappear with the passage of time. Because your deep grief and your deep sense of loss are ever present – they are here and now. And we share those feelings with you - every year on the 11th of July.

We do so as part of the harsh realisation that it was here that over 8,000 deeply loved people were robbed of their lives and so of their voices. Some of them have yet to find their final resting place.

And while they may have been silenced, today we can still hear all of their voices in that silence: as a perpetual cry from the grave. This silent cry calls on us, the living, to make our voices heard every single day. To remind the entire world of what happened here. Of the promise made by the international community to protect you. Of the two years and four months in which UN soldiers tried to fulfil that promise. In the belief that this would be enough. The Netherlands also took part in this effort, with the best of intentions.

Despite this, Srebrenica was ruthlessly overrun. Even then our soldiers continued to do what they could, to carry out their task in the best way possible and to protect defenceless people.

The events of July 1995 led to deep human suffering. Suffering that is palpable here to this day.

We cannot relieve you of this suffering, but what we can do is to look history straight in the eye.

Only one party is to blame for the horrific genocide: the Bosnian Serb army. And thankfully, a number of the main persons responsible for this atrocity have since been brought to justice by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

But let me be clear; the international community failed to offer adequate protection to the people of Srebrenica. And as part of that community, the Dutch government shares political responsibility for the situation in which that failure occurred. For this we offer our deepest apologies. 

The memories of July 1995 connect Bosnia and the Netherlands forever. Together, we went through the darkest days that this place, the place where we stand today, has ever seen. That experience gave us a common voice.

A common voice that we must make heard when war rages elsewhere in Europe, where innocent people are dying, and with which we continue to say: never again. A voice that we must make heard when other voices attempt to deny the genocide, or purposefully fuel polarisation in our societies. The place where we now stand teaches us what that can lead to.

That is why we are making our voice heard here, at the Memorial Centre in Potočari. And we shall not rest until all of the victims have found a final resting place here. And we will also make our voice heard in The Hague - the international city of peace and justice - where steps are being taken to erect a national monument to the genocide in Srebrenica. The family members of the victims of the genocide and Dutchbat veterans are working on this project together, with a common voice.

By making this common voice heard, we hope to build a future of peace and hope.

Today, but also tomorrow and in the future. At this site, but also in the Netherlands and anywhere in the world our voice can and must be heard.