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Serbia Is Resisting a UN Resolution to Mark the Srebrenica Genocide


Mourners at a ceremony in the region marking the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, July 2007. A UN General Assembly draft resolution to designate July 11 as an international day commemorating the genocide is not welcomed by Serbia or Republika Srpska, the entity in Bosnia-Herzogovina. ADAM JONES/CREATIVE COMMONS

Less than a week after the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was marked in a somber, candelit ceremony in the United Nations General Assembly Hall, the creation of an international day to commemorate a genocide that happened in Europe in 1995 — Srebrenica — is going to be voted on by countries at the UN on May 23. (This article was updated on May 15.)

Although an independent international tribunal found that genocide occurred in 1995 in the former Yugoslavia during the Bosnian wars, the airing of views on the plan by certain member states at the UN to memorialize the victims is not exactly welcomed by the political camp in the Republika Srpska, the Serbian enclave in Bosnia-Herzogovina, and by Serbia’s president, according to regional media reports.

President Aleksandar Vucic has reportedly balked at the proposed resolution marking the genocide and its potential vote in the General Assembly and not in the Security Council, where Serbia’s important ally, Russia, could veto the text. Vucic is expected to be in New York City on April 22-23, the Serbian mission to the UN told PassBlue, but provided no details. The Council is holding a meeting on Kosovo on April 22, and a diplomat from the Balkans suggested that may be why Vucic is coming.

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On a recent visit to Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, Milorad Dodik, the president of Republika Srpska, said that “Bosnia and Herzegovina may not survive” the UN General Assembly resolution, EuroNews reported. He denies the Srebrenica massacre occurred.

At least 8,372 unarmed men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica over 10 days in July 1995. The execution sites ranged from a warehouse to an earthen pit and were carried out in internationally designated “safe areas” meant to be protected by UN peacekeepers. But they looked the other way as they were quickly overrun by Bosnian Serb forces.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as the “means” through various acts intended to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.

The baseline draft text to formally authorize the Srebrenica commemoration through a General Assembly vote, slated for May 23 at 10 A.M., is circulating among member states. On April 17, a private presentation to member states will be held at the UN, led by Germany and Rwanda, who initiated the cause to officially honor the genocide. The official commemoration will close the gap for the two prosecuted genocides — Rwanda and Srebrenica — that were carried out in the 1990s, as one diplomat put it.

The mission of Bosnia-Herzogovina, a main sponsor of the resolution, told PassBlue that it stands behind “every word in the text.”

But Russia, in a text message to PassBlue on April 17, said of the initiative: “We believe it is untimely and counterproductive. And potentially conflict-prone.”

The goal to mark the Srebrenica genocide is taking place as the International Court of Justice, in The Hague, is deciding on a hotly argued case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza. So far, the court has declared that Israel’s actions in the Palestinian enclave could amount to genocide.

The General Assembly draft text, seen by PassBlue, will designate July 11 as the International Day of Reflection and Commemoration, starting in 2025, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica. The draft condemns genocide denial and the glorification of people convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The resolution is partly modeled after the General Assembly resolution establishing the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. It is supported by a cross-regional group that includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Rwanda, Slovenia, Türkiye and the United States. Although it is too soon to predict the results of the vote, supporters are confident it will not be close.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or ICTY, found that genocide against Bosnian Muslims was carried out in Srebrenica in 1995. The court was established by the UN Security Council in 1993, and its aim was to prosecute war crimes that took place during the Bosnian wars in the 1990s.

The first genocide conviction, against Radislav Krstic, a Bosnian Serb army officer, was handed down in August 2001. He was convicted for his role in the massacre of “over 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995,” the ICTY website says.

Theodor Meron, who was president of the tribunal when the genocide judgment was made against Krstic and who served on the appeals chamber of the court, told PassBlue that he was “strongly in favor” of an official commemoration.

During the tribunal’s mandate, from 1993 to 2017, the court’s website says that “it irreversibly changed the landscape of international humanitarian law, provided victims an opportunity to voice the horrors they witnessed and experienced, and proved that those suspected of bearing the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during armed conflicts can be called to account.”

Two other high-profile cases resulted in convictions. Radovan Karadzic, the first president, from 1992 to 1995, of Republika Srpska, one of the two entities making up Bosnia, was sentenced to life in prison by the tribunal for the Srebrenica genocide and crimes against humanity. He is carrying out his sentence in a British jail.

In 2017, Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs’ military commander, called the Butcher of Bosnia, was also sentenced to life for two counts of genocide in his role in Srebrenica.

Clauses in the proposed General Assembly resolution include a request for the UN secretary-general to establish a public program titled “The Srebrenica Genocide and the United Nations,” starting with activities preparing for the 30th anniversary.

Recently, Vucic of Serbia reportedly said in Koha, a Kosovo media site, that he would send a letter through his UN ambassador to the president of the General Assembly requesting that “all procedures will be asked to be carefully examined.”

On April 15, the office of Ambassador Nemanja Stevanovic for the UN told PassBlue that he was out of the country and unavailable for an interview. No other diplomat in the office was available for comment, the Serbian mission said.

Vucic is quoted additionally in Koha as saying that Serbia will continue to fight the resolution, “although I know that the chances are minimal.”

Vucic was also quoted (in English) on March 29 on the Twitter/X account of The National Independent, a news site focusing on the Western Balkans, as saying: “Western powers want to pass a resolution on genocide at the UN General Assembly, through which they want to abolish the Republic of Srpska and demand war reparations from the Republic of Srpska”

On April 11, Dodik, president of Republika Srpska, said on his X account, translated by Google, in reaction to the General Assembly initiative: “I said and I say publicly that the genocide in Srebrenica did not happen. We believe that putting the resolution on Srebrenica to vote in the UN General Assembly is a direct destruction of the possibility to live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is directly directed against Srpska and the Serbian people as a whole.”

More recently, Dodik was quoted by media as saying, “After that act of the UN [Srebrenica Resolution], Republic of Srpska will rapidly work on measures and actions aimed at its independence. One of those actions is the Electoral Law.”

This month, the specter of Srebrenica was raised by the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, who said in an April 2 statement that an amendment to the election law of Bosnia and Herzegovina, introduced on March 26, 2024, stipulates that “no person who has been convicted by any international or domestic court of the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes may stand as candidate for elections or hold any elective, appointive or other office.”

The step, Nderitu added, helps strengthen “trustbuilding in the country both in institutions and among communities impacted by the denial of genocide and related crimes, and to advance inter-communal healing.”

This article was updated on April 17 to include a text message from the Russian mission to the UN’s press office on the Srebrenica draft text.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the Srebrenica genocide commemoration?

Dulcie Leimbach

Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Serbia Is Resisting a UN Resolution to Mark the Srebrenica Genocide
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