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The Bosnian War, between 1992 and 1995, played a key role in the break-up of Yugoslavia and continues to have an impact on the Balkan region today. Twenty-three years after the Srebrenica genocide, tensions there still remain high. On the 16th of January 2018, the Henry Jackson Society was delighted to welcome Sir Geoffrey Nice QC and Martin Bell OBE to the House of Lords in an event chaired by Rt. Hon. the Baroness Blackstone.
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC is one of Britain’s most distinguished human rights lawyers. He was a practising barrister until 1998, he was then recruited by Justice Louise Arbour to serve as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. From 1998 to 2006 he prosecuted a number of high profile cases relating to the genocide, including that of Slobodan Milošević, the former President of Serbia. Today Sir Geoffrey is a Bencher of the Inner Temple and is a campaigner for raising the awareness of humanitarian crimes.
Martin Bell OBE is a renowned broadcaster, author and independent politician. In the 1990s Martin gave evidence five times in the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. In 1997 he defeated Conservative MP Neil Hamilton in the Cheshire constituency of Tatton to become the first elected Independent MP since 1951. In 2001 he was appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador by UNICEF UK.
The event started with an engaging speech by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. He argued that Srebrenica is still, even today, one of the greatest tragedies on European soil, here he emphasised the involvement of many influences in the conflict. Sir Geoffrey continued by claiming that there are still forces at work to stop the truth from ever coming to light. He then told a story detailing how he was detained in Bosnia, and the government of Bosnia had asked him to sign a document about the revision of the 2007 judgement. This 2007 judgment by the International Criminal Court of Justice found that Serbia had not breached the genocide convention (apart from in relation to Srebrenica), and has been the cause of much tension and debate. He claimed that Bosnia wanted his signature on this document because they knew that the application would fail. However, he does not know why. It remains a mystery.
Martin Bell OBE was the BBC’s principal reporter of the war and gave a fascinating insight into what his experiences were during the war, and also after during the trials. He began by arguing for the necessity of remembering correctly for the victims and for the case generally. Martin outlined what he thought were some the problems with the trails. For example, he claimed that the prosecutors and judges were under the same roof every day. Whereas the defence were not part of the court day-to-day. Which caused problems internally.
The floor was then opened up to questions. During which time, we heard from Colonel Bob Stewart DSO, who was in the audience. In 1992, he took his Battalion to Bosnia as the first United Nations Commander of British Forces there. He gave an emotional account of his time in Bosnia, the things he had witnessed there, and his overall reflections on the handling of the conflict by the Dutch and the British. To finish off, Andrew Ross, who helped organise the event and was in the audience, asked the panel what can we do now to right the wrongs, and what lessons can we learn from the genocide? Sir Geoffrey stated that we (the British) should not get into a similar situation without staying and seeing the thing through. The event ended on a positive note with both speakers agreeing that we must make the international community realise documents are vital for justice and trials.
The Henry Jackson Society would like to thank both Sir Geoffrey Nice QC and Martin Bell OBE for their personal experience and insight into Srebrenica and the subsequent trials, the Rt. Hon. the Baroness Blackstone for hosting us, Colonel Bob Stewart DSO for his moving speech on his time in Bosnia, and Andrew Ross for helping to organise a wonderful event.