Jul 15
July 15, 2015

Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre


On July 11, 2015, President Clinton gave remarks at Srebrenica, Bosnia, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre. The full transcript of remarks is below.

Thank you very much.  First, Mr. Mayor, I thank you for your remarks.  Only God knows why you were spared when your loved ones you grew up with perished.  But the message of reconciliation and hope you gave today shows that there might be some divine wisdom with what you have done with a life you have been given twice.

I thank President Ivanic, President Covic, President Izetbegovic, and all the representatives of the international organizations and their countries.  I especially would like to thank President Obama for asking me to come here today and all the American delegates that are here, members of both parties from all across our country, to reaffirm our longstanding belief in the people, the future, and freedom of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Many have said in eloquent ways that 20 years ago, 8,000 men and boys died in a genocide here.  That awful act finally stirred all the members of NATO to support the military intervention that was clearly necessary to end the slaughter and trigger peace talks to put Bosnia and Herzegovina back on the long road to a normal life. 

We forget sometimes, those of us who were not directly involved, how long that road can be.  When you asked me here in 2003, when we dedicated this sacred site, only 600 of the victims had been laid to rest.  Today, loved ones and total strangers from all over the world have come here and they can see that 6,000 men and boys have been buried—and more are coming today. 

I am very grateful to the people who took action to stop this war, to stop the killing, all the people at Dayton 20 years ago who made the peace, many of them no longer living.  After 20 years, I am thankful that Bosnia remains a peaceful country.  I am thankful that it is increasingly part of the European community and that it has participated with the peacekeeping forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The work I did here as President, and later in Kosovo, was among the most important things I did.  I grieve that it took us so long to unify all of your friends to use the amount of force that was necessary to stop this violence.  I am thrilled that the peace has been retained.  But we owe the people who sacrificed their lives here the truth.  The mothers, the wives, the sisters, they come here today, just like they did 12 years ago, using the moral high ground of their position to tell me the truth about all the things we have not done that we still have to do. 

So, on behalf of my country and from the bottom of my heart, I love this place.  I never want to see a killing field like this within thousands of miles of here.  But the world is still being dominated by war and killings based on ethnicity, race, and religion.  Everybody in the world is still trying to decide whether we can really live together as partners.  Someone has to take the first step. 

So, as a friend of Bosnia, I want to thank the Prime Minister of Serbia for having the courage to come here today.  I think it is important that we acknowledge that.  It may or may not work out.  The President of Croatia is here.  She has things to say.  We’ll see what happens.  

I am begging you not to let this monument to innocent boys and men become only a memory of a tragedy.  I ask you to make it a sacred trust, where all people come and claim for this country a future of unity, freedom, democracy, prosperity, and a government that is capable, honest, and works toward the benefit of all people.  It would be fitting to honor those people who might have become mayor, who might have become president, who might have discovered cures for diseases, who at least would have loved the women that they left behind. 

It would be fitting if you decided that you really would do this together; that you would say to the whole world that the politics, the economics, and the blood of identity differences has to go away.  The only way in the world we live in that we can appreciate what is special about our heritage is if we think our common humanity matters more.  The borders are so fragile, we are all going to wind up in one war after another, one killing after another, one roadside bomb after another, one totally misled young person after another blowing himself or herself to smithereens all because we think that the only thing that matters in life is our differences.   Every human being on earth today can identify with every mother, every wife, every sister, every daughter who lost someone at Srebrenica 20 years ago. 

It takes a long time to get over that.  You’ve done a good job keeping the peace that a few days of NATO bombing and the hard bargaining at Dayton made, but we have to do better at making the future.  The sacrifice demands that we do better.  And we have to do it together.  We have no choice. 

So I call on all the leaders from all the countries and all the heritages that are here: in the skeptical steps that a leader of Serbia made to come down here—shake his hand on the way out.  Thank him for being here.  Redeem the sacrifices of those who have been found and those who must still be found.  Redeem the bombs that were dropped, redeem the peace promises that were made.  Give this country a prosperous, clean, democratic, united future.  In front of the whole world, say that our differences are very important and we are proud of them, but our common humanity matters more.  Every grave marker in this memorial proves that. 

Thank you very much.