Srebrenica at 20: ‘door open for a new war’?

At the July 11 ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic was chased off by stone-throwing protesters—the first violence at the annual commemoration. He later said he was hit in the face with a rock (although he was not injured) as the crowd chanted "Kill, kill" and "Allahu Akbar!" At issue is Serbia's official denialism on whether the massacre of more than 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslims after the town fell to Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 constituted "genocide." Vucic wrote up a open letter for the ceremony that said: "Serbia clearly and unambiguously condemns this horrible crime and is disgusted with all those who took part in it and will continue to bring them to justice." But it (pointedly) did not use the word "genocide." The New York Times notes that Bosnian Muslims still recall Vucic's bloodthirty statement during the 1992-95 war that for every dead Serb, 100 Muslims should be killed. But much more to the point is that Serbia's government last week asked Russia to veto a UN Security Council resolution that would formally designate the Srebrenica massacre an act of genocide. (Jurist, July 5) On July 8, Russia obliged, with Moscow's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin calling the UK-drafted text "confrontational and politically-motivated." In Sarajevo, Munira Subasic, the head of Mothers of Srebrenica, told AFP that Russia's veto made "trust and reconciliation impossible." She added: "Russia is actually supporting criminals, those who killed our children. By deciding [to veto] Russia has left the door open for a new war." (Al Jazeera, July 9)

In not at all coincidental timing, Belgrade in the lead-up to the Srebrenica anniversary also asked Switzerland to extradite former Bosnian Muslim commander Naser Oric, who was arrested in Geneva on a war crimes warrant from Serbia. Oric had been found guilty by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of failing to prevent the murder and mistreatment of Serb prisoners at Srebrenica before its fall, and sentenced him to two years in prison. But the conviction was overturned two years later by the court's Appeals Chamber on the grounds of insufficient evidence. ICTY prosecutor Serge Brammertz has raised questions over the Serbian charges, stating that under international law "no one can be convicted twice on the same facts." (AFP, June 21)

Menawhile, Serbia is still reusing to honor extradition orders related to the post-Yugoslav wars. The ICTY in May ordered Belgrade to immediately return Vojislav Seselj, the ailing former paramiliatary commander and accused war criminal, to his detention cell at The Hague. Seselj had been allowed to return to Serbia for cancer treatment, but the ICTY revoked his provisional release after he spoke at a news conference in Belgrade and boasted that he would not return voluntarily to The Hague. The last we heard, in mid-June, he was preparing to start his third round of chemotherapy treatments in Belgrade. Seselj has pleaded not guilty on nine counts including murder and torture. He faces three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes. (B92, June 16; Jurist, May 26)

In an ominous sign that Bosnia may be slipping back towards war, in April a gunman attacked a police station in the Serb-controlled town of Zvornik, killing an officer and injuring two others before being shot dead. According to Bosnian Serb authorities, the gunman opened fire in the building with an automatic rifle, while shouting "Allahu Akbar!" (BBC News, April 27) President Milorad Dodik of the Bosnian Serb Republic asked for Serbia's help, and Vucic said that Belgrade would respond with financial and intelligence aid. (B92, April 28)

After the attack Sanel Menzil, a resident of the town of Kotor Varoš in the Serb Republic, was arrested—because of his Facebook status. He wrote that he did not condone the attack, but criticized the Serb Republic's decision to have an official day of mourning for the slain officer while the government refused to acknowledge the Srebrenica genocide or have any such official mourning on the anniversary of that crime. (Revolution News, May 19)

All of this comes as Serbian nationalist leader and Nazi collaborator Dragoljub "Draza" Mihailovic, whose forces committed atrocities against Muslims and Croats in World War II, has been posthumously rehabilitated in Serbia.

Wheels of justice turn at Hague…
Jurists at The Hague continue to make slow progress in cases arising from the Bosnian war. The ICTY Appeals Chamber in January upheld genocide convictions for Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara in relation to the Srebrenica massacre. The ICTY Trial Chamber convicted seven senior Bosnian Serb officials including Popovic and Beara in 2010 for their roles in the massacre. Popovic and Beara were convicted of genocide and sentenced to life imprisonment. Popovic, Beara and three others appealed the judgment. The January ruling marked the first final judgment for genocide handed down by the ICTY. (Jurist, Jan. 31)

The January before that, Ratko Mladic, leader of the Bosnian Serb army during the war, refused to testify in the war crimes trial of the Bosnian Serb wartime presdient Radovan Karadzic. Both face charges of genocide

Momcilo Krajisnik, the former speaker for the Bosnian Serb parliament, returned to Bosnia in September 2013 after being released from prison. Krajisnik, arrested in 2000, was convicted in 2006 for the persecution, deportation and forcible transfer of civilians from their homes during the war. The ICTY granted early release to Krajisnik, based partially on evidence of his "rehabilitation" during his time in prison. Bosnian Muslims and Croats were outraged by Krajisnik's welcome at his hometown of Pale, which included crowds waving Serb Republic flags, honking horns and blaring nationalist songs from loudspeakers. (Jurist, Sept. 1, 2013)

…and in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Authorities in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (that part of the country controlled by an alliance of Muslims and Croats) are pursuing their own cases. The war crimes division of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina  in January confirmed the indictment  of Dragomir Vasic on genocide charges for his role in the Srebrenica massacre. Vasic, currently a member of parliament in the Serb Republic, was commander of police during the war and is charged with complicity in separating captive men and boys from their families in the prelude to the massacre. (Jurist, Jan. 8) 

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2013 sentenced Goran Saric, a former Bosnian Serb police chief, to 14 years on charges of crimes against humanity for his role in the forcible deportation of the residents of Centar municipality. The court held that Saric was responsible for the "expulsion of the entire Bosniak [Bosnian Muslim] population on ethnic and religious grounds." (Jurist, Aug. 28, 2013)

Bosnia's Federation government has won some cooperation from Belgrade. Police in Bosnia and Serbia, as part of a joint ioperation, arrested 15 in December 2014 accused of perpetrating the massacre of 19 unarmed men at the town of Strpci in 1993. Bosnian Serb militiamen removed 18 Muslims and one Croat from a train stopped in at the town. The captives were brutally beaten before being executed. The investigation has identified Bosnian Serb warlord Milan Lukic as mastermind of the massacre. He is currently serving a life sentence handed down by the ICTY for separate war crimes against Muslims in Bosnia. The coordinated operation apprehended 10 suspects in Bosnia and five in Serbia including Milan Lukic's brother Gojko and former Bosnian Serb army general Luka Dragicevic. (Jurist, Dec. 5)

No 'genocide' seen in Croatia war
Last October, the Netherlands Ministry of Defense announced plans to appeal a July 2014 ruling finding the Netherlands liable for the deaths of 300 of the men and boys killed in the Srebrenica massacre. The lawsuit, brought by the Mothers of Srebrenica, charged that the UN-backed Dutch troops failed to adequately protect displaced Bosnian Muslims at a UN compound outside Srebrenica when it was overrun by Serb forces. (Jurist, Jan. 8)

In another case critical to the question of historical memory, the International Court of Justice ruled in February that neither Serbia nor Croatia commited genocide during the 1991-95 Croatian war. Croatia had accused Serbia of committing genocide against Croats during the war, and in a counter-claim Serbia accused Croatia of committing genocide against Serbs living in Croatia's Krajina region. While the court recognized that genocidal acts were perpetrated by both sides, it found that neither side could provide sufficient evidence to prove the necessary specific intent to commit genocide. (Jurist, Feb. 3)