Confluence of Cultures, Legacy of Coexistence Offer ‘Path to the Future’, Secretary-General Tells Bosnia and Herzegovina Parliamentary Assembly

25 July 2012

Confluence of Cultures, Legacy of Coexistence Offer ‘Path to the Future’, Secretary-General Tells Bosnia and Herzegovina Parliamentary Assembly

25 July 2012
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Confluence of Cultures, Legacy of Coexistence Offer ‘Path to the Future’,


Secretary-General Tells Bosnia and Herzegovina Parliamentary Assembly

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, as prepared for delivery to the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo today, 25 July:

It is a profound honour to address the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Over the last six days, I have been on a journey through this region.  But in many ways, the region itself is on a journey — a journey of justice, peace and to a better life.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is at the heart of it.  This year marks your twentieth anniversary in the United Nations.  You have travelled a long distance in a short time.

Twenty years ago, Bosnia and Herzegovina was host to United Nations peacekeepers.  Today, you are a proud contributor with officers serving from Cyprus to South Sudan.  Twenty years ago, your country occupied the agenda of the United Nations Security Council.  Today, you have served as a successful member of that Council.  Twenty years ago, you suffered the hardship and horrors of war.  Today, you are sharing your peacebuilding lessons with the world.  Twenty years ago, you were dependent on assistance from others.  Today, you are reaching out your helping hand to the world while moving towards a self-sufficient democratic State.

I have come to Bosnia and Herzegovina to salute your progress and urge you on.  Democratic transitions are difficult in the best of times.  The challenges grow exponentially in the aftermath of war.  Yet you have much to draw from.  You are a nation of talented people, emerging and dynamic leaders, women and men who have the skills and know-how to move this country forward.

And you have another asset.  Bosnia and Herzegovina is a land of natural beauty and mighty rivers.  But it is the confluence of cultures — the flow of religions and ethnicities living together through the ages – that has both set you apart and defined you.  Yes, you know anguish and pain.  But you carry a legacy of coexistence in a common home.  Some tried to bury it in the rubble of war, but it is real and it is there.  And that legacy offers a path to the future.

The twenty-first century will be won by those who cross dividing lines, those who work together for a shared future, those who are pupils of history, not prisoners of it.  You understand this.  That is why you have chosen reconciliation and progress.  Despite differences and difficulties, I know you can succeed.

As you work to achieve your goals, I urge you to draw on one ability above all — the power to listen.  Listening to the voices of your fellow citizens and engaging in genuine dialogue with your neighbours; this is what parliamentarians are uniquely qualified to do.

Members of Parliament are the bedrock of democracy.  You represent the people’s hopes, the people’s will.  The citizens of this country, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina’s young people, look to you.  They want an effective Parliament.  They know that stalemate and stagnation are the enemies of all.  In a fast-moving era, standing still means lagging farther behind.

The people want transparent and accountable institutions.  They know that corruption corrodes.  It may be less visible or violent than war, but it eats away at a society’s faith and trust.  The people want inclusive decision-making focused on real needs and aspirations.

In politics everywhere, it is far too easy to stoke fears for narrow interests and short-term gain.  In a country still undergoing consolidation, it can be a challenge to serve all equally.  Yet we know the wish for good schools and better health care knows no ethnicity.  The demand for decent work has no religion.  The desire for a country where young people see their future at home and not abroad — this hope knows no nationality.

There is consensus among all political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina that European integration is the best route for ensuring the country’s future stability and prosperity.  The United Nations takes no position on any country’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.  But the European project has become a unique chance for the continent to bridge divides and shape a stable and prosperous future despite ongoing challenges.

The United Nations remains your partner, including in your European Union reform process, which your constituents and international partners hope to see accelerated.  We strongly support the reinforced European Union presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as embodied by the office of the European Union Special Representative.

More broadly, the United Nations family continues to fully support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s efforts to advance development and reconciliation in the country.  Led by your priorities and direction, we are working together to create jobs, especially for young people, extend social protection for the most vulnerable groups, end the suffering of those enduring protracted displacement, safeguard the environment, tackle discrimination and promote respect for human rights and the rule of law.

The rule of law is the essential framework for stability and certainty which underpins the transition to lasting peace.  Your National Strategy on Transitional Justice is an important milestone to further reconciliation.  I welcome the parliament’s active engagement in constitutional reform options which would empower your citizens and fight all forms of discrimination.

Constitutional reform is highly complex.  There is no easy fix.  But precisely because the road is long, the first steps must be taken quickly.  It is a constant process.  Even the most economically developed and democratic countries continue to evolve their constitutional frameworks in order to meet emerging needs and changing realities.

Having visited all of the former Yugoslavia, I know there is a mutual regional commitment to cooperation and real aspirations for good-neighbourly relations.  You have made progress over the past two decades.  Your leaders are meeting regularly.  Cultural and economic ties are growing closer.  More initiatives at the grass-roots level can help cement these gains.  In particular, we need to help young people from different communities know one another.

In my meeting with the members of the Presidency, I pledged the full support of the United Nations for dialogue and confidence-building within Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Dialogue and regional cooperation are also essential to address more difficult, outstanding issues such as coordination in war crimes trials and investigations, as well as support for victims and witnesses.

Leaders must summon the courage and the foresight to move beyond competing accounts of past events to shape a common history.  This is crucial for consolidating peace and moving the country forward.  It is fundamental for victims who seek and deserve justice, the truth about the fate of their loved ones, and the space to heal.

Tomorrow I will visit Srebrenica, a name that resonates as one of the darkest chapters in modern history.  First and foremost, I want to pay my deepest respects to the victims and their families.  In a tragedy of such epic proportions, there was so much blood and so much blame.  The United Nations did not live up to its responsibility.  The international community failed in preventing the genocide that unfolded.

But we have learned from the horror, and we are learning still.  Thousands of men and boys were slaughtered in Srebrenica — needlessly, savagely.  But Srebrenica also gave birth to a new international resolve for justice, accountability, for a responsibility to protect civilians.

Together with our Member States, we are doing more to prevent atrocities.  We are bringing perpetrators to justice.  We are caring for victims of sexual violence.  And we are working to match words with deeds.  Quite simply, we must do better in seeing atrocities coming and telling it like it is.  We cannot take refuge behind strong words and weak action.

We must work to prevent and respond to grave violations of international humanitarian law.  That is why we acted in Libya, we acted in Côte d’Ivoire.  Today, the international community is being tested in Syria.  The echoes are deafening; an accelerating slide to civil war; growing sectarian strife; villagers and children, butchered.

The United Nations is doing all that we can.  But action — meaningful action — will take the concerted efforts of the international community.  Without unity, there will be more bloodshed.  More deadlock means more dead.  That is why, here in the heart of a healing Bosnia and Herzegovina, I make a plea to the world:  do not delay; come together; act.  Act now to stop the slaughter in Syria.

From Bosnia and Herzegovina, I go to London and the opening of the Olympic Games.  The international community will celebrate nations and peoples coming together in shared passion and purpose — just as the world did here in this Olympic City of Sarajevo, in 1984.

Much has transpired in the decades since.  But you have endured the darkest passage.  The scenes of the war here in Sarajevo are etched on the global consciousness — the trees cut down for firewood, people on their way to market gunned down by snipers.  The grim, prolonged siege was a crucible for the United Nations — our diplomacy, our peacekeeping, our humanitarian assistance — everything we do to help people facing the worst.

To see Sarajevo today, at the height of summer, with people in cafes, its museums restored and its streets filled with life, is to see the human spirit in bloom.  You have come far.  And the journey continues.  Now it is up to you to define what Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina will mean for future generations.

I believe in you.  I believe that you can repair the wounds and bridge the differences.  I believe that you can move towards an integrated country in an ever-more integrated Europe.  And I believe you can lead the region and show the world the true meaning of tolerance, understanding and mutual respect that will lead to a better life for all.

I am proud to be here to pledge:  the United Nations will stand with you on your journey to a united future.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.