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Srebrenica Survivors Await UN Vote as Serbs Slam Genocide Resolution

As survivors and victims’ families await this week’s vote at the UN General Assembly on a resolution condemning the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, Bosnian Serbs and their allies have been campaigning against it, claiming it demonises all Serbs.

A Bosnian woman mourns during a funeral ceremony at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre and Cemetery, July 2022. Photo: EPA-EFE/JASMIN BRUTUS.

“It really hurts to read those lies, to hear the denial of genocide on a daily basis, those insults.”


Sabina Mehmedovic is talking about the backlash in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity and in Serbia itself against the proposed United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, which will be voted upon in New York on Thursday.


Thirty-eight-year-old Mehmedovic is the mother of two girls. One of them is a similar age to Mehmedovic in July 1995, when she hugged and kissed her father for the last time. She gave him her Kinder Surprise toy so he could keep it safe until their next meeting.


But they never met again.


The toy would become the clue that helped her to identify her father’s remains. He was one of more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys killed during the massacres by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995, which have been classified as genocide by international courts. Mehmedovic lost all the male members of her immediate and extended family over the course of a few days.


She, like the thousands of other survivors and victims’ family members, are expecting the UN General Assembly to vote positively on the resolution on Srebrenica genocide on Thursday. They hope it will contribute to tackling the problem of genocide denial, which remains widespread in the region.


But while waiting for the vote on the resolution proposed by Germany and Rwanda, the Bosnian Serbs and their political allies, particularly in Serbia, are campaigning against it, claiming it would “demonise” the entire Serb population.


If approved, the resolution will declare July 11 the International Day of Remembrance for the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, state that the UN unreservedly condemns any denial of the genocide in Srebrenica, and call on member states to ensure the court-established facts are taught in their educational systems.


“This is why the resolution is important for us, the genocide victims,” Mehmedovic explained.


“No one would be able to deny that genocide happened in Srebrenica again, like they do now in spite of the court verdicts, and everyone would have to respect our pain and the lives that have been lost,” she added.


‘They are threatening Serbs’ interests’

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks during a press conference about the draft UN resolution in Belgrade, April 29. Photo: EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC.

As soon as news of the proposed resolution broke at the end of March, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic responded on Instagram by saying that “hard days are ahead of Serbia”.


“They are directly threatening our vital national interests, both of Serbia and Republika Srpska. It will be difficult, the hardest thing yet [to stop the UN resolution]. We will fight. Serbia will prevail,” Vucic said.


Milorad Dodik, president of the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity, stepped up his resistance to the resolution by organising a rally on April 18 in Banja Luka, Republika Srpska’s administrative centre.


Under the slogan “Srpska is calling you”, Dodik massed thousands of protesters to publicly oppose the resolution and deny the existence of any genocide, once again.


Ahead of the rally, the National Assembly of Republika Srpska adopted a report on “sufferings of all peoples” from the Srebrenica area created by what it claimed was an independent commission. Its intention appeared to be to play down the crimes committed against Bosniaks by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.


In a speech at the rally, Dodik acknowledged that “the operation by the Army of Republika Srpska in July 1995 was a mistake in Srebrenica. A mistake that left behind an enormous crime.”


“This is the moment when, on behalf of Republika Srpska, I want to express special respect to all the victims and offer my condolences to their families,” he continued.


However, although he admitted that Srebrenica was a crime, he insisted that “it was not genocide”, once again rejecting the verdicts handed down by the UN court in The Hague.


He continued his speech by claiming that the West is aiming to “finish off Republika Srpska” with the resolution, which would “demonise the entire Serb population”, he argued.


However, the resolution’s draft does not accuse Republika Srpska, Serbia or Serbs of being responsible for the crimes against the Bosniaks of Srebrenica in July 1995, and only names individuals who have been convicted of genocide.


Despite this, Serbian President Vucic has been campaigning for weeks against the resolution, and flew to New York on Monday to continue the struggle in person. “I am going to New York to fight with all my strength and heart for the future of our country,” Vucic wrote on Instagram.


Before setting out on his trip, Vucic even asked Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Porfirije to bless his mission. The patriarch responded by giving an early-morning sermon that was shown on Serbian television, in which he declared that the resolution was “an attempt to declare that Serbs are a nation that committed genocide”.


Serbia’s opposition to the resolution is being backed by representatives of Russia, China, Hungary, Venezuela, North Korea and Nicaragua at the UN.


But the resolution has also attracted strong support. Besides its initial sponsors, Germany and Rwanda, more than 30 other countries are now co-sponsoring it.


In the former Yugoslavia, its backers include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia and Slovenia. But the issue has caused major controversy in politically-divided Montenegro, where Serb political forces are strong.


Peace hopes undermined by divisions

A Bosnian woman visits gravestones during a funeral ceremony for 50 newly-identified victims at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre. Photo: EPA-EFE/JASMIN BRUTUS.

The proposed resolution is intended by its sponsors to help prevent future atrocities and lay the ground for lasting peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


But at a time of intense political and social crisis in the country as well as enduring post-war ethnic divisions, all of which have been exacerbated by Dodik’s secessionist rhetoric, experts are sceptical.

Mladen Bubonjic, a professor of communications from Banja Luka, said thinks that “the damage to Bosnian society” has already been done.


“No matter what the outcome of the vote is, the campaigns against it… will continue to polarise the country,” Bubonjic told BIRN.


“Even if it is adopted, the division and tension will continue. Based on the current system of values in this area, it is hard to believe that it will bring true peace,” he predicted.


“And Bosnia and Herzegovina can’t be seen as an isolated example in this case, this is something we have been seeing since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Since then, it has always been ‘us and them’, everywhere,” he added.


He noted that this was reflected in the east-west blocs that oppose and support the Srebrenica resolution.


The UN General Assembly consists of 193 member countries, which have equal voting rights. A simple majority, meaning 97 votes from member countries, is required for the resolution to be adopted.


In July 2015, the UN Security Council rejected a resolution on Srebrenica when Russia, as a permanent member, vetoed its adoption. At the General Assembly however, there is no possibility of a veto.


In a statement, two Bosnian war victims’ associations, the Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide and the Mothers of the Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves, appealed to UN member countries to adopt the resolution because it “honours the victims of serious violations of international law”.


For survivors like Sabina Mehmedovic, whose childhood was marred by the trauma of the genocide, the adoption of the resolution would also bring some satisfaction.


“And for those who still deny [the Srebrenica genocide], I have only one message,” she said.


“Walk up the hill above Potocari [Srebrenica Memorial Centre, where the victims are buried in a huge cemetery], and just take a look at the thousands of white graves. That should be enough.”

 

(c) 2024, BIRN

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