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My focus on human rights is very personal.
I was born and raised in Bosnia, a country which I watched nearly die at the hands of a vengeful few. Just a few days before the Dayton Accords ended the fighting, my brother was killed. Nothing will back bring him back—or the thousands of other brothers, sons and fathers, and daughters and mothers who also perished—but the community of nations can do much more to restore dignity, prosperity, justice and hope to all the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
My message, and the driving force of The Sanela Diana Jenkins Foundation for Bosnia and Herzegovina, is simple: The world must not forget Bosnia.
To much of the world, Bosnia evokes memories of mass graves and urban slaughter in an obscure and long-neglected corner of Europe. To me, though, Bosnia is a much more complicated and heartbreaking place—a place where memories of idyllic childhood summers collide with brutal images of war and constant reminders of its dehumanizing consequences.
The Bosnia I grew up in was part of Yugoslavia, a collection of states that also included Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Despite centuries of historic tension between various ethnic and religious groups, Jews and Muslims and Christians lived and worked together across Bosnia’s rolling hills and picturesque river valleys. My parents were middle class people who provided me and my younger brother, Irnis, with a comfortable life.
In 1992, that comfortable life was swept away. My life—and the destiny of Bosnia—irrevocably changed course when Serbian bombs began falling and hillside snipers made targets of schoolchildren. Serbia started the brutal aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. Over the next four years, nearly 45% of Bosnia’s 4.5 million residents were made refugees as Serbian forces besieged cities and obliterated entire neighborhoods. More than 200,000 people were murdered—including thousands of children. Thousands of Bosnian women were raped. The massacre of 8,000 at Srebrenica, a little town in Eastern Bosnia, crystallized the horrors of the Bosnian War for the Europeans and Americans, who helped broker peace at the summit in Dayton, Ohio.
But for countless Bosnians, the end of war brought a peace that has been difficult at best. The country’s infrastructure was destroyed—from hospitals and schools to roads and power plants. The murder of my brother was a devastating personal tragedy—one that was repeated in countless families across Bosnia. It focused my efforts to ensure that the Bosnia both of us loved could one day be reborn.
That, however, will require more help from outside Bosnia. The nations, leaders and individuals who acted to end the fighting must now help nurture the peace. Peace means more than the absence of war. It means educational opportunities. It means access to quality healthcare. It means justice for those who were violated.