A group of high-profile Scots women travelled to Bosnia in mid-March, with our Chair, Julie Adair, and Vice Chair, Sabina Kadić-Mackenzie.  We were a mix of journalists, campaigners, educators and children and human rights experts.   The normal schedule for our 3-day visits was customised to include a range of women’s issues, and opportunities to hear stories from across Bosnia.

As ever, our wonderful guide, Suvad Cibra, started the trip in Sarajevo.  He explained how integrated and multicultural the city was before the war started in 1992, as was the whole of Bosnia.  Sharing his story of being a refugee within his own country, he then talked us through what life was like during the Siege of Sarajevo – the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.

During our time in Sarajevo, we met with Žene ža Žene(Women for Women).  This is an inspirational NGO which seeks to empower women across post-war Bosnia to succeed economically and, critically, to learn how the democratic process works and how they can be part of it.  This moving video explains the impact the organisation is having in developing young women for leadership positions, and nurturing their growing self-confidence:

Later that afternoon, we visited Bakira Hasečić at the offices of her association, the Women Victims of War.  Bakira campaigns tirelessly – and incredibly bravely – for victims of sexual violence, not only to bring their aggressors to justice but also to support them as they try to heal from their ordeals. Sitting alongside a poster of Bosnia which was peppered with red dots showing places of mass rape and sexual abuse, Bakira told us about her work and her love for her home town,Višegrad.  She still returns there to tend her garden, despite the fact that her reputation as an activist means it’s sometimes ripped up when she comes back for her next visit.  

The next day we travelled to Srebrenica and the Memorial Centre and cemetery at Potačari.  First Azir Osmanović took us around the exhibitions at the Memorial Centre, now situated in the old UN Dutch base. His work, and that of the Centre, is to keep the memories of those killed alive, and to this day Azir searches woodlands in the hills around Srebrenica for the personal belongings of the missing.

It was a chilly day, so our meetings with the Mothers of Srebrenica and survivors Nedžad Avdić and Almasa Salihović took place in the prayer room at the cemetery.   There we listened for several hours to their personal stories which were told, as ever, with grace and honesty.  We heard how Nedžad survived a mass execution and, despite his serious injuries, succeeded in finding his family.  And we listened  to Almasa’s experiences of the chaos at Potačari in the week of 11th July and how her older brother, Abdullah, was separated from the family and never seen again.  

Fadila, Mejra, Fadila and Šehida, representing the Mothers of Srebrenica, shared their memories of their murdered sons, husbands and fathers and told us how they continue to fight to find their remains and bring the perpetrators of the genocide at Srebrenica to justice.  

On our last day in Bosnia we learned about the work of the International Commision on Missing Persons.  This brought another dimension to many of the stories we’d heard during our visit. Nihad Brankovic gave us a fascinating presentation about their work and explained how addressing the fate of missing persons from ‘mass disappearances’ is fundamental to truth and reconciliation in war torn areas.

There was a persistent sense of optimism amongst the people we met on this delegation to Bosnia.  It radiated from those who continue to fight to keep the memories of their loved ones alive, or those who are working to bring justice, healingor democracy to this beautiful but troubled country.  We are thankful that they found the time – and courage – to speak to us, and we stand with them today, and every day.