Anne C. Richard
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
July 10, 2013

Date: 07/10/2013 Description: Assistant Secretary of State Anne C. Richard - State Dept ImageMr. Afanasiev, Minister Cordas, Minister Osmanovic, Assistant Minister Nenadic, Ambassador Moon, diplomatic colleagues, members of the press, and everyone here today: thank you very much for coming.

We come here for a solemn occasion. Tomorrow at the Potocari memorial, we will pay our respects to the more than 8,000 victims killed in the Srebrenica genocide 18 years ago, to their families, and to those who survived the genocide. But it is also a time to look forward. Even as we stand with the victims and their families in remembering what happened in Srebrenica, even as we reflect on the horror of that time and urge the fractured communities to work toward reconciliation, we need to look to the future. I want to talk about how the lessons of the Balkans animate our work today – how we are trying to better see the warning signs, to prevent atrocities, and to improve the ability to provide humanitarian relief and international protection.

Last year on the anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, President Obama recognized this challenge, noting: “The name Srebrenica will forever be associated with some of the darkest acts of the 20th Century….. We know that Srebrenica’s future, and that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, will not be held back by its painful recent history…and we pledge our enduring commitment to support their aspirations for a better tomorrow.”

To help achieve that “better tomorrow” to which President Obama referred, the United States Government will continue to support efforts by the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to fully implement Annex VII of the Dayton Peace Agreement – especially ensuring the right of all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina to return to their pre-war homes.

This brings me to the other reason for my travel to the Balkans this month. I am here to take part in meetings focusing on a more positive and hopeful future: the Regional Housing Program established by the international community in partnership with countries in the region. The Regional Housing Program is an effort to provide permanent housing to as many as 74,000 refugees and displaced persons in Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, and here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, this process must mean much more than physically moving people into houses. It also must mean better ensuring their security, combating discrimination, and rebuilding infrastructure. It means providing returnees opportunities for employment, education, and access to health care. Through the Regional Housing Program, the United States and others in the international community continue our efforts to repair some of the damage of the wars of the 1990s. Yet, the part played by the United States must be subsidiary to governments here; and there remains much still for the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to do -- both in the Federation and in Republika Srpska--in order to fulfill their Annex VII obligations. We are encouraged by the joint declaration on Annex VII signed by the United Nations, the European Union, the Bosnia and Herzegovina Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees, and the entity ministries for refugees and displaced persons and hope they and other stakeholders will continue working together toward full implementation of Annex VII.

So my visit is about both remembrance of the past and hope for the future. In my talk this afternoon, I would like to first lay out what I see as the key humanitarian challenges facing those of us dealing with conflict today, and offer a few issues that deserve more attention. Second, I will encourage us all to consider the message of President Obama, urging us to aspire for better.

As head of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, my aim is straightforward: protect and aid the individuals who become victims of persecution, wars, famines, disasters, and atrocities.

UNHCR reports that today, 45 million people worldwide are refugees or displaced, making it the highest number since 1994. Of this number, 30 million are displaced by violence and human rights abuses within the borders of their own countries. From Darfur, Sudan to eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, from Colombia to Burma, millions remain far from their homes.

There are several bedrock principles of my job, among these that people should be able to leave a dangerous place to get to safety, and neighboring countries must keep their borders open to refugees. Citizens who seek a place of safety inside their nation’s borders – internally displaced persons or IDPs – must receive the protection they need and be safe from attack. And those people who stay should be able to get food, water, medicine, and shelter. People in danger must not be abandoned.

These are critical-yet-elusive goals in many parts of the world, and I will talk about how Srebrenica remains important today.

But first I want to acknowledge how Srebrenica and the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina helped to further develop these principles. First, while as many as 900,000 Bosnian citizens did go to other countries, even more were driven from their homes to other places within the country. Globally, two-thirds of those affected by disaster stay inside their home country. The plight of internally displaced persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war helped change the international community’s response, which before had only focused on refugees. Humanitarian agencies never again can talk only about international borders but must be prepared to work internally as well. This puts these agencies in the middle of conflicts and can make it difficult to deliver aid, but we have to try and get help to the people who need it.

Second, the people in Srebrenica -- as the people of Sarajevo, Gorazde, Zepa and other Bosnian cities -- were in effect hostages taken by a warring party. Their ability to leave or to receive aid was manipulated to suit the war aims of the Serb forces. The decision to take Srebrenica, drive the women and children out, and murder the men was an act of genocide by an armed force. It showed the world the challenges posed to what humanitarian agencies and international peacekeepers can do when faced with forces intent on genocide.


Two months ago, in the state of Minnesota in my own country, I visited the St. Paul Healing Center run by the Center for Victims of Torture. I met with a doctor there who helps victims of torture from around the world put their lives back together and recover. I asked the doctor where her patients came from. I expected she would say that her patients come from the Congo, or Iraq. The doctor replied with a one-word answer: “Srebrenica.” All these years later, Bosnians who survived Srebrenica and other atrocities continue to suffer severe trauma caused by their ordeals. The trauma and the nightmares do not simply disappear. Innocent civilians tried to escape the violence, but many could not.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said during his visit to the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial last year, “We must learn from the lessons of Srebrenica.” Among the most important lessons that the Secretary General identified was that “the international community failed to provide the necessary protection to many people who were killed at the time when they needed our support.” The horror of that atrocity – and so many other atrocities that took so many lives then – reverberates to this day, almost two decades later

The Srebrenica genocide left many hard, painful lessons. The question is: What are we doing to learn from those lessons?


Some of those who managed to escape during the conflict and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia two decades ago fled to neighboring countries and others fled longer distances, even as some neighboring countries and several European nations restricted the number of Bosnian refugees allowed to enter.

One country that provided refuge to nearly 10,000 Bosnians in the 1990s was Turkey. This is the same Turkey that today has opened its doors to accommodate nearly a half-million refugees who have fled the brutal war and atrocities in Syria. Today, the Syria conflict has forced more than 1.7 million Syrians to escape into the neighboring countries of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq. The citizens and governments of those five countries have responded to the massive Syrian refugee influx, for the most part, with generosity and at tremendous financial expense. Open borders for refugees who need to flee are not only helping save the lives of Syrians. Open borders are helping save the lives of a quarter-million refugees from Darfur, Sudan who have fled to neighboring Chad; providing refuge to a million Somali refugees in the Greater Horn of Africa region; to Iraqi and Afghan refugees in Pakistan; to Burmese refugees in Thailand, and refugees elsewhere.

However, keeping national borders open is a challenge. Sometimes governments deny entry to refugees. In the Syria crisis refugees continue to cross borders even as resources and hospitality in neighboring countries begin to wear thin and options for restricting the flow of refugees are discussed. We cannot take these open borders for granted, especially as tensions mount in the countries neighboring Syria.

The Bureau that I lead at the Department of State works hard to encourage open borders around the world. We meet with governments to encourage them to fulfill their international obligations and commitments relating to refugees. The U.S. Government also realizes that one of the most effective ways to encourage governments to maintain open borders is by doing what we can to support humanitarian aid programs for refugees. We help refugee-hosting governments by sharing the costs. Last year, the State Department provided more than $1.8 billion to assist and protect more than 15 million refugees as well as vulnerable migrants and displaced people around the world.


In armed conflicts throughout the world, however, civilians bear the brunt of the violence. And too often families simply cannot reach the border. Citizens become displaced inside their own country, in search of safety. When that happens, they need help. In those situations, international humanitarian access-- meaning that aid workers can reach and help those who are trapped—becomes all-important.

As you all know, this is what happened to hundreds of thousands of Bosnians two decades ago. Families fled, but they remained inside the country, inside the danger zone. An estimated 1.3 million residents of this country fled their homes to other locations within Bosnia and Herzegovina. An additional 1.4 million Bosnians remained at home but were desperate for aid from the outside world. And many were targeted. Snipers in the hills murdered ordinary people trying to go about their lives, trying to survive in a war zone. Going outside to purchase bread or obtain water for drinking became an act of courage. Remaining indoors became an act of bravery -- or desperation -- as mortar rounds demolished homes and abruptly snuffed out entire families.

In Bosnia, the world witnessed what happens when aid deliveries are blocked and humanitarian access denied. Over months, convoys were unable to reach people in Gorazde, in Cerska, in Zepa, in Bihac, in Srebrenica, and elsewhere. Trucks loaded with relief supplies were directly targeted for attack, the drivers killed. Convoys with food, medicines, soap, and other basic supplies were forced to turn around only a few kilometers from their destinations. Relief convoys that did reach besieged villages managed to do so only after negotiating access at dozens of roadblocks. As you know, the international community mounted a humanitarian airlift to reach a number of towns that were cut off by road.

Let’s shift to Syria today. Inside Syria, more than four million people are reported to be displaced; millions more need humanitarian relief. Many of those people are without adequate food or water, poor sanitation, and little or no medical care. Despite heroic efforts by international humanitarian agencies and local charities operating inside Syria, UN humanitarian officials report that emergency water and sanitation programs have reached only 40 percent of Syrians who need those programs. Emergency health programs are reaching fewer than 30 percent of those in need. Fewer than 15 percent have access to emergency shelter and other relief supplies.

Why is it so hard to get aid delivered to those who need it in Syria? Partly it is because of the extreme danger. A number of relief workers have lost their lives there in the line of duty. But it is also because the Assad regime, which has the responsibility to help its own displaced, has created barriers to the delivery of aid.

In April, a top UN humanitarian official accompanying an aid convoy reported that he had to negotiate his way through 54 checkpoints on the 300-kilometer road between Damascus and Aleppo. Some had been erected by the Asad regime, and others by opposition forces. Cumulatively, these roadblocks make travel across Syria by humanitarian workers an arduous and dangerous journey. Moreover, delivering aid inside Syria is incredibly challenging because of continuing violence and shifting battle lines. And in Damascus the Asad regime issues or denies visas to aid workers and keeps a list of approved non-governmental organizations – the number of which is shrinking.

Part of my job is to push to secure humanitarian access so that aid workers can reach and help those who are trapped. The U.S. Government condemns those who attack innocent civilians, calls out governments that are perpetrating crimes against their own citizens and calls on governments to allow aid to reach those in need. The United States has provided nearly $815 million in humanitarian aid since the start of the Syria crisis, more than any other country. Some of it helps refugees who have fled Syria and nearly half – nearly $385 million - has been allocated for relief programs inside the country. We know that international aid is reaching people in all 14 governorates in Syria. But we also know that access is limited within governorates, and aid is not reaching everyone who needs it.


The challenge of maintaining humanitarian access to victims of conflict and providing them with some basic forms of protection does not exist only in Syria.

In Sudan’s Darfur region, the government regularly impedes the flow of international relief to 1.4 million Darfurians living in bleak displacement camps. The Government of Sudan has made harassment of aid operations an art form. The government at times refuses to issue visas to international aid workers; at other times, Sudan officials revoke visas they have already issued. Medicines sit in warehouses until they expire. We are also worried about those in conflict areas of South Sudan, where access is being impeded, slowing delivery of relief supplies that are vital to the local population.

In remote areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, widespread insecurity, sporadic fighting, and often non-existent roads block regular humanitarian access to villages. A tragic hallmark of that conflict is that women and girls are targeted for violence and rape, just as was the case during the war in Bosnia. Disruptions to humanitarian deliveries were a problem for 20 years in Somalia and remain challenging; earlier this year we saw similar challenges operating in northern Mali, where insecurity prevented access to many. A few weeks ago I was in Colombia and met with people who were being displaced by threats and attacks even as peace negotiations are being held and the Colombian government takes laudatory actions to provide restitution to conflict victims.


Improving our access to help victims of conflict and prevent human rights abuses is far more than a logistical challenge; it is a political challenge first and foremost. The U.S. Government is committed to working with other States and organizations that share our concerns about this. We will continue diplomatic efforts to encourage governments – and when necessary to pressure them – to live up to their responsibilities to assist and protect vulnerable populations. Here are some of the methods we are using and steps we are taking to secure and maintain humanitarian access:

(1) Using Diplomatic and Legal Tools: Sovereignty should not be used as a shield for genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other mass atrocities. We should use all the legal and normative frameworks at our disposal to push for international humanitarian access where needed, including human rights law, international humanitarian law, the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and the concept of the Responsibility to Protect to which UN member states agreed in 2005. As Srebrenica demonstrated, as Syria demonstrates today, merely having laws and guidelines on the books will not be enough in many cases. But elsewhere there is evidence of an improving legal environment that may result in greater respect for these laws and guidelines. In Africa, where sustained humanitarian access has been a prevalent problem over the years, the U.S. Government is working to help governments implement the African Union’s excellent treaty that protects the rights of persons who have become internally displaced due to conflict, instability, or natural disasters. In the United States, the administration of President Obama has launched an initiative to strengthen our government’s ability to impose financial sanctions, export controls, and travel bans against those who support or perpetrate atrocities in other countries, and to prosecute individuals who participated in atrocities. We are also supporting local efforts to promote accountability and combat impunity.

(2) Strengthening Peacekeeping Operations: Peacekeeping can play an important role in halting conflicts, supporting safe returns and opening up humanitarian access. One lesson of the Balkans, and of Srebrenica, is that peacekeepers need to be prepared for their environment and to protect civilians, and the military capacity and will to act must match mandates. We are working to make UN peacekeeping operations more effective, better-trained, and properly equipped. Last year alone the United States provided training and equipment to support 16,000 peacekeepers in seven UN and regional peacekeeping operations. We have also focused on strengthening the protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations. Last year as Chair of the G8, the United States brought attention to badly needed tools – the development of doctrine, training, and mission planning on the protection of civilians for missions. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.S Government supported an innovative strategy that aims to combine peacekeeping and human rights analysis to make the entire peacekeeping effort more effective. Recently, a new peacekeeping mission in Mali was established which should increase access and support reconciliation to that divided country.

(3) Stronger Advocacy for International Humanitarian Operations: As long as there is conflict, we will need international humanitarian relief organizations able to take on the incredibly difficult and dangerous work of helping people in need of relief. What we also know is that such work requires solid leadership. Those at the top of humanitarian agencies and operations must be strong leaders and advocates. They must negotiate with national and local authorities, talk to armed groups, and manage to get past roadblocks and checkpoints. That takes skill and patience, experience and planning. They must break down barriers to get relief supplies to vulnerable populations – and to tell the international community what is happening. That’s why it’s critical to find the best leaders for these positions, including those who lead UN agencies and serve as UN Resident Coordinators and UN Humanitarian Coordinators.

As an advocate on humanitarian issues, I know their work must be backed up with strong diplomatic support. My State Department colleagues and I are absolutely committed to raising our voices on urgent crises and engaging other governments, international organizations and citizens of foreign countries in what we call “humanitarian diplomacy”. We know that open borders, humanitarian access, and the many other challenges facing humanitarian operations in the world today are mostly political problems for which political solutions are needed before the aid workers will be able to go home.


These issues I raise are part of our government’s effort to reduce conflict and atrocities, through many means. In August 2011, President Obama put a spotlight on this goal, directing a dozen government departments and agencies to look at how to better prevent mass atrocities, declaring that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.” Certainly this initiative is aspirational, and one that looks to include atrocity prevention in the daily business of our government. One result is a monthly meeting of a new group with members from across the government. It [is called the Atrocities Prevention Board and it] reviews key country situations and also ways to improve U.S. and international tools. In particular, this effort is aimed at better early warning and prevention. Prevention is the best way to reduce future atrocities – and humanitarian challenges.

As Deputy Assistant Secretary Reeker said in Sarajevo in May, “…we continue to extend a hand as friends and partners…the United States will continue to invest in future leaders and in developing a market based economy, the rule of law, and a strong democracy…,but local actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina, government officials, civil society, and ordinary citizens – all need to do their part for the county to move forward.”


Ladies and gentleman, I want to end my remarks today by recalling a singular act that took place twenty years ago. At that time, Mina Jahic, a Bosniak, took into her home a young, seriously wounded Muslim man who, somehow, had managed to escape the execution squad. Mina took the risk that few of us would take. She sheltered the injured man, nursed him back to health, and helped him to escape a month later. Mina herself could have been executed for her actions. But she did the right thing, the moral thing, and inspired her neighbors to do likewise. In 2011 she was honored by the Secretary of State together with other heroic rescuers. Mina is here today and I can thank her myself: Mina, thank you.

Mina was not the only one in this country who opened her door to a victim in danger who needed a place of safety and I salute all of them. Nations of the world should do no less, by keeping their doors open-- their borders open – to refugees who need to escape persecution and supporting deliveries of humanitarian relief to vulnerable people caught in the grip of conflict.

Please know that even thousands of miles away, the memory of Srebrenica lives on. My colleagues and I remember the tragedy and honor the human spirit of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And that the United States government will continue to support – with our voices, our commitment to diplomacy, preventive actions and solutions, and our funds – those who today need a place of refuge and a helping hand.

Thank you very much.