Genocide is not something to be negotiated – it is something to be ashamed of

Genocide is not something to be negotiated –  it is something to be ashamed of

b92_logoAt the time of this writing, it is still uncertain what the final text of the UN Security Council resolution marking the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide will look like, and whether the resolution will be adopted at all. However, even without knowing the final outcome of the attempt by the most important international political body to commemorate appropriately the worst crime in Europe since World War II, it is quite clear that Serbian officialdom has missed yet another opportunity to be on the right side of history. Instead, it has taken a stance in relation to our difficult past which will leave a deep and painful mark both in the international arena and in the consciousness of our neighbours.

Over the last month, Serbian officials have waged a veritable diplomatic and media war against the proponents and supporters of the resolution. Top government officials have warned us, rather dramatically, that if adopted, the resolution would be a serious humiliation for Serbia, as it would brand the Serbian people as “genocidal“. And they have kept us informed about the diplomatic steps being taken to prevent its adoption. Newspapers such as Politika, Večernje novosti and Blic have published texts and analyses (which did not amount to more than counting how many times the words “genocide“ and “reconciliation“ were mentioned in the draft resolution, and citing the opinion of Milorad Dodik about the text) which have set the pace for a broad mobilization of public opinion against the resolution. The majority of citizens, however, had been unfamiliar with the full text of the draft resolution until yesterday, when the Serbian translation of the final version of the resolution was first published in the press.

The final version of the resolution presented, along with the original version, to the Security Council for discussion, contains several important messages, some of which have global relevance (such as the affirmation of the responsibility to protect norm). But the most important messages, when it comes to the local political and social contexts, are the following four: 1) a condemnation of the genocide and all other crimes committed by all sides in BiH, along with sympathy for all the victims and an appeal to the authorities to provide long-term institutional support for the victims and their family members (paragraphs 2, 5 and 6); 2) a call on political leaders to accept the facts of all proven crimes, including this genocide, accompanied by a condemnation of genocide denial, because it distresses the victims and hinders reconciliation (paragraph 3); 3) a call for the inclusion of lessons about the past crimes in educational programmes, in order to help prevent their recurrence (paragraph 12); 4) a call for the continuation of the prosecution of those responsible for the genocide and other crimes by national judiciaries (paragraph 11). The text makes no mention of which side or sides is/are responsible for the crimes and the genocide.

There can be no doubt that what Serbian leaders consider unacceptable is contained in paragraph 3 – accepting the proven facts about the crimes and refraining from denying the genocide. Behind their absurd allegations that this resolution, which acknowledges and pays respect to all the victims in BiH, would undermine reconciliation and destroy BiH, lies the naked truth about what they think about the crimes committed in BiH by the Serbian side in the conflict, and about the official politics of Serbia at the time, which inspired, and then politically and materially supported, systematic crimes against Bosniaks. The Serbian President, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, today’s most vehement opponents of the resolution, championed that politics. And even twenty years after the war in BiH, they still lack the human and statesmanlike courage to accept the facts about the systematic persecutions, ethnic cleansing and genocide of Bosniaks, and to reveal them, clearly and without relativization, to the citizens of Serbia And thus, despite the court judgments, perpetrators’ confessions, survivors’ testimonies, pictures showing Bosniak men being separated from their women, pictures showing their bodies in mass graves, and documents clearly indicating the intention to do away with Bosniaks in Srebrenica, the Srebrenica crime still remains the “zero point“ of reckoning with the past crimes committed in the name of the Serbian people.

Serbia’s international reputation was severely damaged during the wars of the 1990s, and it will again suffer due to the bizarre fact that Serbia, a UN member state that cooperates with the courts established by the UN, does not in fact recognize their judgments. It will take a lot of time and much, much more than mere opportunistic political statements expressing regret for the victims, to change Serbia’s image amongst our Bosniak neighbours. It will take franker and more courageous words about the perpetrators, the scale and nature of their crimes, and the political inspirers of the crimes committed in our name – but also, about ourselves.

Sandra Orlović
Humanitarian Law Center Executive Director
Article originally published in Danas daily newspaper, on July 8 2015