UN today Vote on Srebrenica Genocide Resolution: Serbs threaten secession from Bosnia

As the UN General Assembly prepares to vote on a resolution recognizing the genocide in Srebrenica in 1995 initiated by Germany and Rwanda (USA is co-sponsor), Serbia has launched a vigorous diplomatic campaign to block the initiative

by Sededin Dedovic
UN today Vote on Srebrenica Genocide Resolution: Serbs threaten secession from Bosnia
© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

As the UN General Assembly prepares to vote on Thursday on a resolution recognizing the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, Serbia has launched a full diplomatic offensive to block this initiative. “This will be the hardest day since I became president and was prime minister,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić in a video on Instagram on Wednesday, with the Manhattan skyline in the background, according to Politico.

“Tomorrow we will see who our true friends are”. The resolution, sponsored by Germany and Rwanda, grants UN recognition for what many consider the worst crime committed in Europe since World War II: the massacre of over 8,000 Bosniaks by Bosnian Serb forces in and around eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina on and around July 11, 1995, during the brutal Yugoslav wars.

Given the number of contemporary conflicts already being juggled, a resolution about a historical event could have flown under the radar. But in Serbia, the issue of Srebrenica is still viewed not as an opportunity to honor the victims, but to flex the country’s nationalist and diplomatic muscles.

The Bosnian Serb government called on citizens on Wednesday to "display Serbian flags and symbolically express their opposition to this document." The tallest tower on the Belgrade waterfront, a glass phallus on the Sava River, displayed a rotating message: "We are not a genocidal people." Over the past month, Serbian leaders have held multiple press conferences and visited the UN headquarters several times to meet with key players in an attempt to influence the vote.

“It’s not hard to deconstruct the narrative coming from the Serbian government – that there isn’t a single part of the document or any other document that would be allowed at the UN that would stigmatize an entire nation,” explained Sofija Todorović, program manager at the Youth Initiative for Human Rights.

The Youth Initiative, along with other civil society organizations in Serbia and the wider region, supports the UN resolution because they argue it supports remembrance – such as declaring July 11 International Day of Remembrance of the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide – rather than collectively blaming any nation or ethnic group.

Volunteers carry some of the 136 coffins of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre at the Potocari cemetery and memorial near S© Matej Divizna / Getty Images

Co-sponsors of the UN resolution include several EU member states as well as the USA.

However, according to her, Serbia's fierce opposition to the resolution has more complex roots than mere nationalist pique. Belgrade, she explained, wants to increase its international influence by appearing to quarrel with its neighbors, and then quickly resolving disputes, thereby gaining a reputation as a force of stability and a major regional player.

“This is the foreign policy that Serbia has chosen, especially after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began,” Todorović continued. “It wants to be relevant in the world by creating tensions and then receiving praise from the international community when those tensions are resolved”.

Genocide on Trial

The Bosnian War from 1992 to 1995 was a bloody outcome of the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia and included a four-year siege of its capital, Sarajevo, considered the longest in modern warfare. The conflict occurred during a time of relative stability and euphoria in the rest of Europe, where former communist states were celebrating their newfound democratic rights and independence.

As such, the severity of the Yugoslav conflict drew significant attention, and the crimes that accompanied it led to the formation of a special court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The court aimed to demonstrate that the newly unified Europe and the more cooperative post-Cold War world could deal with war crimes in a manner consistent with Western legal traditions and the highest standards of proof.

It was this court, along with the International Court of Justice in The Hague, that declared the massacre in Srebrenica a genocide. The current UN resolution, to be voted on by the General Assembly today, merely affirms the unique nature of the crimes committed.

The ICTY trials, which lasted from the late 1990s to 2017, along with the UN resolution, are expected to set the standard for future trials for genocide and perpetrators of crimes. “Unfortunately, in Serbia, it is still difficult to talk about any topic related to the war because the state has never officially distanced itself from the crimes and has never taken a clear stance on the conflict,” concluded Todorović.

Bosnia and Herzegovina's Ambassador to the UN, Zlatko Lagumdžija, recently called on Serbia during a UN speech to “not stoke the flames of nationalism and intentionally sow seeds of hatred,” stating that it was clear the country had missed the essence of the resolution.

“The resolution on the Srebrenica genocide is not a threat to the Serbian people but to individuals with names, particularly the eight ICTY judgments that contain convictions for the crime of genocide,” explained Lagumdžija. “There are no genocidal nations. Only criminals are responsible for genocide”.

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