by Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths
I watched the video footage which showed soldiers with AK47s controlling six young men.
The film showed them being forced into a field and I watched as they were shot dead.
As a father of two young men, I moved uncomfortably in my seat.
As a police officer, I couldn’t accept such a barbaric act of violence.
As a citizen of a liberal country, I was sickened that these young men were murdered because they were Muslim.
I was at the Srebrenica memorial, which shows the atrocities of 1995 when Serbian Forces committed an act of genocide and murdered 8,372 innocent men and boys purely because they were Muslim.
The years may have passed but the pain is still very visible. We met a survivor of the death march, and a lady who had lost her husband and son to genocide.
We saw possessions displayed that were found on the corpses within mass graves, and read moving stories about their lives, their hopes and dreams… all so cruelly lost.
The images and stories made it very real and the drive back to Sarajevo left us all quiet, reflective, and numb.
This area of the world has a complex and rich history of ethnicities, religions and cultures.
But in the 1990s it became the global focus of war, with all the accompanying horrors.
What is it that turns multi-cultural environments, where cohesion and harmony should be celebrated, into ethnic cleansing?
For me – I saw history, hate, power and control being misused, abused and exploited.
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’s 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….these are all conditions that we can at least recognise in the landscape of Britain today.
With the recent rise in hate crime in England and Wales, it is so important for the police to play our role in enhancing community cohesion, and be a catalyst for understanding different views and mediating a peaceful way through differences, whilst still upholding the law.
The police have to play this role with stakeholders, partners and communities, to provide unity and hope.
We need to speak out against prejudice, discrimination, harassment and violence where these are blighting lives and putting people’s safety at risk.
We need to encourage communities from all parts to unite to make ‘courage against difference’ contagious.
As Martin Luther King Jr so eloquently put it:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”
Paul travelled to Bosnia-Herzegovina with a diverse group of people from the UK, including police officers, teachers and religious leaders, at the invitation of the charity Remembering Srebrenica.
For more information, and for resources for policing or schools, visit www.srebrenica.org.uk.