OXFORD'S Lord Mayor Jean Fooks led a moving ceremony to remember the victims of the Srebrenica massacre.

In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces, led by General Ratko Mladi? overran and captured the town of Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia, which had been declared a United Nations Safe Area in 1993.

In the days following Srebrenica’s fall, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically massacred and buried in mass graves.

On Tuesday, to mark the 22nd anniversary of the start of the massacre, Mrs Fooks led the Town Hall ceremony to remember the victims on Srebrenica Memorial Day.

During the service candles were lit to highlight the consequences of hatred and intolerance and the need to take action to build better and safer communities.

Mrs Fooks said: "When we talk about Srebrenica, we talk about the 8,372 victims named at the Potocari cemetery, who are overwhelmingly Muslim men and boys.

"It is right and proper that we remember these lives lost each year on July 11."

The Lord Mayor added that Srebrenica was the 'final act in a genocidal plan aimed at Bosnian Muslims across Bosnia-Herzegovina'.

She said: "Among the victims of this plan were the 20,000 to 50,000 women and girls who were subjected to sexual violence during the conflict.

"We do not know the exact number of victims, because the majority of them have remained silent, through stigma, shame and fear."

The theme of this year's Srebrenica Memorial Day was Breaking the Silence: Gender and Genocide.

Beth Parrott, services manager for Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre, was also at the ceremony, where about 20 people gathered at the top of the main stairs in the town hall at 1pm.

She said: "Violence against women and girls is still a problem here in the UK and here in Oxfordshire.

"We work with many survivors who often struggle to talk about their experiences.

"In Bosnia women and girls were targeted both because of their religion and their gender."

Zaheer Qureshi visited the ceremony from the Asian Cultural Centre in Manzil Way, East Oxford.

Wiping away tears, he said: "Race or religion doesn't matter – so many people were killed at Srebrenica for no reason, it is right they should be remembered in this way."

Marilizl Kenward, 52, from Jericho, said: "I wanted to come here to protest against all kinds of discrimination against women."

Ms Fooks added: "I think this is the first time we have held this ceremony at the Town Hall but I would like it to be an annual event and I hope more people attend next year."

The Srebrenica massacre was the culmination of a campaign of ethnic cleansing used during the Bosnia War by Bosnian Serb forces to achieve their aim of forming a ‘Greater Serbia’ free from Bosnian Muslims.

Throughout Bosnia, between 20,000 and 50,000 women and girls suffered rape and sexual violence – a weapon of war used to ethnically cleanse communities and terrorise them into fleeing.

Visit srebrenica.org.uk.