For the rest of the week, the Russell Rotunda will be home to a series of haunting photographs documenting the aftermath of the genocide committed against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica 10 years ago.
The exhibit, “Srebrenica — Remembrance for the Future,” is the first in a series of events in Washington, D.C. — and internationally — commemorating the 10th anniversary of the killing of nearly 8,000 Bosnian men and boys by Serb forces in July 1995.
The photos in the Rotunda, set up to display a “chronicle of genocide,” capture the suffering and resolve of the refugees, the vile process of searching for and exhuming mass graves and identifying remains, and the mourning of family members, many of whom had to wait years to give their loved ones proper burials.
The Heinrich Böll Foundation North America, a nonprofit dedicated to democratic ideas and international understanding, organized the exhibit.
“The goal is to remember the lessons of Srebrenica,” said Helga Flores Trejo, director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. “Not just to look at the past, but draw out the lessons of today for our policy debates.”
[IMGCAP(1)]Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, agreed.
“Srebrenica is like the quintessential example of what a peacekeeping mission should never be,” Smith said. “We need to learn how to not do it again.”
To that end, Rep. Benjamin Cardin (Md.), the top Democrat on the Helsinki Commission, and Smith introduced a resolution in April to honor and remember the victims of the Srebrenica genocide, and to urge the United Nations to recognize its responsibility in “failing to take sufficient, decisive, and timely action” in Bosnia. “The United Nations and its member states should constantly seek to ensure that this failure is not repeated in future crises and conflicts,” the resolution continued.
Cardin said the exhibit plays a role in that process. “It’s a reminder that we still haven’t brought closure to this atrocity,” he said.
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), ranking Member on the Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored the event for the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Biden and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) have introduced a similar resolution in the Senate.
“When you ask yourself why any genocides occur, it’s because anybody in a position to help fails to see the victims as human beings,” said Chip Unreh, a Biden spokesman. “This exhibit humanizes the tragedy and can help all Americans understand it in those terms. By understanding what happened, we put ourselves in a better position to prevent future genocides from occurring.”
Trejo said she hopes that everyone who sees the photos will join in paying tribute to the dead while thinking about the future.
“When we were preparing the exhibit yesterday, many groups of young students stopped to see the photos. And we watched them thinking and discussing,” Trejo said. “That’s why it’s so appropriate to have it in the Senate, because it’s not just the policymakers who come here, but so many visitors.
“Because if all people stop and think, that’s exactly what we want to achieve,” she added.