Bosnia and Herzegovina Holds Its Breath as the UN Votes on a New Genocide Resolution

, by Amir Heric

Bosnia and Herzegovina Holds Its Breath as the UN Votes on a New Genocide Resolution
Photo by Faruk Garib, 2021

The Historical Background of Srebrenica

The turn of the second millennium saw the effective end of socialist hegemony in Eastern Europe. Some nations abandoned the path to communism through peaceful transitions, others held referendums, but some became involved in armed struggles of nation-building. The Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia dissolved in the 1990s following the rise of secessionist movements in its western republics. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, their 1992 bid for independence ended in the first genocide on European soil after the Holocaust. Survivors remember the years Bosnia spent fighting for its independence as years of harrowing accounts of tragedies, human rights violations, and ultimately the international community’s inability to prevent the Srebrenica Genocide in the final year of the war. Peace was achieved on 21 November 1995 through the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords. However, earlier that year Serb paramilitary forces had ramped up their attacks on UN-designated “Safe Zones.” One of these safe zones was Srebrenica. The Dutch peacekeeping battalion failed to prevent the fall of the enclave on 11 July 1995, which led to the systematic murder of approximately 8372 Bosniak Muslims from the region while many more were expelled and scattered to surrounding towns and villages. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), formed in 1993 by the United Nations Security Council, “found that genocide against Bosnian Muslims was carried out in Srebrenica.”

Russia’s Role in the 2015 Resolution

The Srebrenica Genocide has remained a topic of contention in contemporary Bosnian society since 1995. It permeates every aspect of Bosnian life and profoundly impacts the national consciousness, appearing in political debates, news coverage, cultural production, and historical discussions. Tensions soared once before in 2015 when the UN Security Council decided to open a vote on a resolution that called on international remembrance and condemnation of the Srebrenica Genocide. The four primary points of the resolution condemn genocide and all human rights violations, specifically reaffirm the ICTY’s Srebrenica Genocide verdict, call on ethnic reconciliation based on the acceptance of the verdict, and express sympathy and solidarity for the victims (on all three sides) of the conflict. Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Federation’s UN envoy, vetoed the vote. Russia and Serbia have enjoyed a long-standing geopolitical alliance since before the First World War. Churkin said the draft was “not constructive, confrontational and politically motivated,” adding that it unfairly singled out Bosnian Serbs for war crimes. Moscow pushed for the replacement of the word “genocide” with the phrase “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.” Russian meddling in Balkan politics is not a new phenomenon. Their key player in the region has always been the state of Serbia and the Serbian leadership welcomes this symbiotic relationship — Moscow can spread its influence and destabilize the region while Belgrade’s relatively weak voice on the international stage gets boosted through its connection to Putin’s regime. European Western Balkans reported on the issue in 2023 citing examples of Russian 2015 newspaper headlines that read “Serbs are a genocidal nation and Serbia must admit it – this is the latest monstrous resolution on Srebrenica from London.” They further highlight the resolution’s points by noting that the Serbian people are never blamed for the atrocities and are included in the goodwill wishes of the international community addressed to all victims of the conflict. The resolution should not have offended anyone as it merely “emphasized support for the implementation of the Dayton Agreement, noted the errors and omissions of the United Nations Security Council in the possible prevention of genocide in 1995, and welcomed efforts to learn lessons and work to prevent similar tragedies in the future.” Nevertheless, Russia succeeded and the resolution was abandoned.

The 2024 Resolution and its Implications

2024 presents another opportunity for the international community to grant global recognition and importance to the Srebrenica Genocide. The UN General Assembly is set to adopt a new Srebrenica resolution on 27 April 2024, which will be put to a vote on 2 May. Belgrade has deemed this move an “attack on Serbs and Serbianhood,” even though the future resolution’s main task is a purely “informational, humanitarian, and ideological one – to convey to the world information about the genocide in Srebrenica and to consolidate this fact in the minds of the populations of UN member states.” This resolution would enable 11 July to become the International Day of Remembrance of the Genocide in Srebrenica. This would condemn any denial of the genocide and would be marked worldwide, something that the Bosnian political entity of Republika Srpska strongly disputes and contests. The draft resolution that N1 has reviewed requests that “any denial of the Srebrenica genocide be unequivocally condemned,” and calls on member states “to preserve established facts, including through their educational systems, by developing appropriate programs aimed at preventing revisionism and the occurrence of genocide in the future.” This move to condemn genocide denial extends to the glorification of individuals convicted of war crimes by the ICTY.

The Serbian Response

The issue of the Srebrenica Genocide has been contested by both Serbia and the Republika Srpska since 1995. For example, Serbia does not recognize the genocide. It condemns the crimes committed in 1995 but refuses to label them as genocide even though Serbia was acquitted of any state involvement in 2007. This resolution has ignited tensions in the Balkans as the Serbian and Bosnian Serb leadership cannot rely on Russia’s veto powers since the vote will be held at the General Assembly, not the Security Council. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić was quoted falsely claiming that “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.” He would then go on to affirm his support for the Bosnian Serb leadership by stating “The odds are against us, but we will oppose the resolution until our last breath.” Milorad Dodik, the President of the Republika Srpska, has increased his secessionist rhetoric following the announcement of the vote by threatening that "Bosnia and Herzegovina may not survive the UN resolution.” Dodik has previously denied the genocide on numerous occasions, despite video and text evidence existing of him declaring in 2005 that “I know perfectly well what happened in Srebrenica. It was genocide. That was established by the court in The Hague. It is an indisputable legal fact.” Nevertheless, if the resolution passes, Dodik has threatened to enact “special measures” on 5 May, three days after the UN vote. These special measures are likely to manifest as an attempt at secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina, which would violate the terms of the Dayton Accords. The United States embassy in Bosnia tweeted in response that “Any attempt to secede from the entity or any other sub-state unit is an anti-Dayton action that will not be tolerated. The Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not give the entity or any other sub-state unit the right to secede.”

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