UN Under-Secretary-General Nderitu message on Peace Day & Bosanski Petrovac Peace Monument Unveiling
27 September 2021
The Under-Secretary-General Alice Nderitu's message on the occasion of the unveiling of the Monument to Peace in Bosanski Petrovac, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the marking of the International Day of Peace (21 September).
It is an honour for me to speak to you on the occasion of the unveiling of the Monument to Peace in Bosanski Petrovac today. This event marks an important expression of the will of the municipality’s citizens to engage and move forward with the vital work of reconciliation. It is a tangible reflection of your annual effort to help transform September from a month of painful memories into a Month of Peace and Tolerance. I am both honoured and proud to support your courageous way forward.
I learned about your remarkable journey during my visit in June. I had the privilege to speak with many of you who have been involved in uniting people and building bridges others had destroyed. In short, working together for a more promising future as a cohesive community defined by mutual respect, empathy and dignity.
My visit to Bosanski Petrovac was part of my very first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, including to other municipalities where I had the honour to pay respect to victims of atrocity crimes. I spoke with many people: political, religious and local leaders, parliamentarians as well as citizens who are making a positive difference in their communities, in their towns, and in their daily lives. I wanted to hear about your concerns, your vision for the future and about your expectations. One of my key messages was to encourage everyone, at all levels, to ensure that they engage in constructive policies, discussions and actions so that atrocity crimes can never happen again in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Unfortunately, in some parts of the country that I visited, I heard about the absence of trust, the denial of past crimes, about convicted criminals being glorified, and about the rise of divisive rhetoric and hate speech. I heard about lack of support to those trying to overcome such obstacles to bring people together, usually within their immediate communities.
But I also heard from many individuals who understand that the process of healing and living together are too important to leave them in the hands of high-level leaders only. Bosanski Petrovac is full of citizens who wish to move faster in order to build a prosperous municipality that provides opportunities and services for everyone.
During my visit, I met religious leaders from eastern and western Herzegovina who are building bridges which can be as strong as the stone bridge that unites the beautiful city of Mostar. I met war veterans associations in Zepce who, together, pay tribute to their sons and daughters, victims of conflict. I was impressed by the teachers and students I met in Stolac, who wish to learn together in a joint library in an otherwise segregated school system.
And I was proud and honoured to spend one day with you in Bosanski Petrovac. United Nations colleagues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as our counterparts at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, explained to me the significance of your efforts and achievements so far. The weight of the past in your town is heavy, and the scars are deep. Yet, the leadership of your local authorities, the energy of your youth organizations and the positive activism of dedicated citizens have allowed all of you to look forward and to prioritize what unites you in the search for a prosperous future.
I was proud to meet many young “agents of change” in Bosanski Petrovac: From the Municipal Council members to the youth groups supported by my UN colleagues and mountaineers who come together to climb mountains without prejudice, when in fact prejudice can be the highest mountain to climb.
It was clear to me that in Bosanski Petrovac you have decided to work for the benefit of all citizens because you all ultimately aspire toward a genuine and durable peace that provides job opportunities, good education and health care for all.
Some will say that all this amounts to burying the past. But moving forward does not mean forgetting about the past. On the contrary, memorializing the past together and honouring all the victims is an essential prerequisite to build a common and better future.
In Bosanski Petrovac, you are leading by example. You have decided to honour all victims while recognizing that there is no distinction in the suffering of each individual, of their relatives and friends. The monument you are unveiling today constitutes an example for the whole country and for the entire world. I am proud to join you in this remarkable and historic day.
I encourage other municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to pursue your example and to work hand in hand with you to advance healing and reconciliation. This can be an unstoppable movement. Together with my colleagues at the United Nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the OSCE and the donor community, I express my commitment to support you in this endeavour in every way I can.