July this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre − considered the worst crime on European soil since World War II, the slaughter saw more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims killed by Serb forces.
Birmingham Police Sergeant Marina Dain was patrolling the streets of Bosnia at the turn of the Millennium − less than four years after the ceasefire − for a tour of duty with the International Police Task Force.
She recently returned with the delegation ‘Remembering Srebrenica’ to pay respects to communities decimated by the genocide and see first-hand how the country has moved on.
Now Marina is drawing on her experiences to devise a project teaching inter-faith tolerance to schoolchildren across the West Midlands…and ensure lessons are learnt from the atrocity.
What is Remembering Srebrenica and how did you get involved?
It’s an organisation that aims to ensure the atrocities that occurred during the Bosnian War are recognised and do not happen again. Since December 2013 they’ve invited groups of people from diverse backgrounds (my party included a university lecturer, charity boss and an Imam) to Srebrenica to learn from the genocide and victims’ lives.
I worked in Bosnia from 1999 to 2000 on the UN’s International Police Task Force and applied to return with a pledge to develop and promote an educational package on hate crime to be delivered through schools.
This year is a big one for the organisation as July 11 marks the 20th anniversary of the massacre and will be recognised as Srebrenica Memorial Day.
Was it the first time you’d returned to Bosnia; it must have been an emotional trip in more ways than one?
Many of the sights and stories were harrowing and will stay with me forever. But it’s not designed to be a pleasant sightseeing trip…we saw the former battlegrounds, mass graves and spoke to survivors of the conflict.
Our guide experienced the four-year siege of Sarajevo and had fought against the Serb forces; he told how he defended the city and protected his family. We met Hasan. He managed to escape the ‘Death March’ that saw thousands of Bosnian Muslims led away and executed − an act that’s since been classed as a war crime and genocide.
We were also introduced to two mothers who lost members of their family during the ‘ethnic cleansing’. They are still fighting for justice and the development of a proper resting place for their loved ones’ remains in the cemetery at Potacari.
All of these individuals had a story to tell and wanted the world to hear it. Their stories had a profound effect on me, leaving me wondering how this could ever have happened in modern society. I struggled to understand how human beings could do this to each other.
How can what you’ve seen in Srebrenica help promote racial harmony in the West Midlands?
I’m working on an educational package to be delivered in schools that’s designed to tackle hate crime and uses Srebrenica as an example to illustrate the awful consequences of extreme intolerance.
The one message I want to deliver from Srebrenica is: "Hate is your Weakness".
Part of my role as the Partnerships Manager in Birmingham West & Central is overseeing hate crime and urging people to report such incidents…not to shrug them off or suffer in silence.
Once the package is complete it will be provided to senior schools and hopefully give young people the opportunity to recognise Srebrenica Memorial Day on July 11th 2015. One of the focuses will be on the Third Party Reporting Centres in our communities where people can disclose hate crimes in confidence if they prefer not to contact police directly.
What are hate crime Third Party Reporting Centres?
They provide hate crime victims − people who’ve been targeted because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability − with an alternative to reporting incidents directly to the police.
Details of the offence are logged by staff and passed to our officers to investigate. We’d prefer people to come to us directly but experience tells us that, for a variety of reasons, some don’t want to speak with officers and prefer to report crimes anonymously.
The danger of not reporting crimes is that if unreported we can’t tackle the issue and, if unchallenged, experience shows that offending can rapidly escalate from minor anti-social behaviour to more serious violent incidents.
There are around 100 such centres in the region, including 28 in Birmingham West & Central.
We’re now seeing an increase in hate crime incidents but I don’t believe this is because more are necessarily being committed but rather more people know they will be taken seriously, treated with dignity and respect, and that their case will be thoroughly investigated.
What is the International Police Task Force and what was your role?
Following the conflict, several West Midlands Police officers volunteered to represent the force in Bosnia as part of the IPTF. I applied and was selected to go in October 1999 for 12 months. It was an unbelievable opportunity to work as a police officer with UK colleagues in a European Country, developing democratic policing in a location where civil war and ethnic cleansing had ripped the country apart.
I was initially deployed to a region called Bihac in the north west of the country. We conducted joint patrols with local officers to ensure policies and procedure were followed and no prejudice was shown to a member of the community from a different ethnic group. We advised senior officers to ensure they grasped the concepts and implemented democratic policing and took action against allegations of human rights abuses. I also helped train a group of officers in surveillance techniques.
How were you received by local communities?
Living in the community meant I got to know a lot of locals and socialised with their friends and family. I practice judo (Marina is a 2nd Dan black-belt the British Police Champion!) so I sought out the local judo club and started to train and coach there in my downtime.
I got to know the coaches and students really well and supported them at the national Championships that took place in the sports hall in Sarajevo…the venue where Torvill and Dean won their gold medal in the 1984 Olympics! Two of them went on to become national champions − it was a proud moment.
In addition to tackling hate crime, what else does your role as Partnerships supervisor entail?
You will often hear police officers talk about ‘partners’ − it basically means other organisations we work with like local authorities, other blue light services, housing associations, charities, and support organisations.
My role sees me get involved in crime prevention initiatives, youth engagement, tackling anti-social behaviour, Neighbourhood Watch, ASB, and protecting vulnerable people.
Of note, I’ve set up a Referral Portal featuring around 150 organisations to make it easier for people to access support services for things like substance misuse, domestic abuse, mental health, elderly care, debt advice, food banks or housing. In one recent case we introduced a repeat domestic abuse victim to Trident Reach…it was the first time she’d engaged with a support group and is now making great progress.
Follow memorial events for the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide using the hashtag #RememberingSrebrenica2015