UN approves resolution to commemorate 1995 Srebrenica genocide

General Assembly votes to create memorial day despite fierce opposition from Bosnian Serbs and Serbia.

a woman in grey cries in front of rows of headstones
A Bosniak woman prays next to a monument with the names of those killed in the Srebrenica genocide at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre in Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina [File: Armin Durgut/AP]

The United Nations General Assembly has voted to establish an annual day of remembrance for the 1995 Srebrenica genocide despite furious opposition from Bosnian Serbs and Serbia.

The resolution, written by Germany and Rwanda, received 84 votes in favour and 19 against with 68 abstentions on Thursday. It makes July 11 the International Day of Remembrance of the Srebrenica Genocide.

Before the vote, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic warned the General Assembly the move “will just open old wounds, and that will create a complete political havoc”.

But he added he did not deny the killings at Srebrenica, saying he bowed his “head to all the victims of the conflict in Bosnia”.

“This resolution seeks to foster reconciliation in the present and for the future,” German Ambassador Antje Leendertse said.

Church bells rang out across Serbia on Thursday in protest. The Serbian Orthodox Church said it hoped the gesture would unite Serbs in “prayers, serenity, mutual solidarity and firmness in doing good despite untrue and unjust accusations it faces at the UN”.

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Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic wears a Serbian flag as he attends the UN General Assembly session that passed a resolution to create an international day to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide [Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, meanwhile, denied a genocide had even taken place in the Bosnian city and said his administration would not recognize the UN resolution.

“There was no genocide in Srebrenica,” Dodik told a news conference in Srebrenica.

Bosnian Serb forces captured Srebrenica, a UN-protected enclave at the time, on July 11, 1995, a few months before the end of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s civil war.

In the following days, Bosnian Serb forces killed about 8,000 Muslim men and teenagers – a crime described as a genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.

The incident is considered the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II.

In addition to establishing the memorial day, the resolution condemns “any denial” of the genocide and urges UN member countries to “preserve the established facts”.

In a letter to other UN members, Germany and Rwanda described the vote as a “crucial opportunity to unite in honouring the victims and acknowledging the pivotal role played by international courts”.

‘Provocative’

There has been a furious response from Serbia and Bosnian Serb leaders.

To try to defuse tensions, the authors of the resolution added – at Montenegro’s request – that culpability for the genocide is “individualised and cannot be attributed to any ethnic, religious or other group or community as a whole”.

That has not been enough to appease Belgrade.

In a letter sent Sunday to all UN delegations, Serbian charge d’affaires Sasa Mart warned that raising “historically sensitive topics serves only to deepen division and may bring additional instability to the Balkans”.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzia, called the resolution “provocative” and a “threat to peace and security”.

Moscow previously vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the “crime of genocide at Srebrenica”.

Dodik – president of Republika Srpska, the Serb entity in Bosnia where thousands of people demonstrated in April against the resolution – said the Srebrenica genocide was a “sham”.

The European Union has responded strongly, with foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano saying: “There cannot be any denial” and “anyone trying to put it in doubt has no place in Europe.”

For relatives of the victims of the massacre, the UN debate is an important moment in their quest for peace.

“Those who led their people into this position [of genocide denial] must accept the truth, so that we can all find peace and move on with our lives,” said Kada Hotic, 79-year-old co-director of an association of Srebrenica mothers. She lost her son, husband and two brothers in the genocide.

The resolution is “of the highest importance for spreading the truth”, said Denis Becirovic, the Bosniak member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency.

Source: News Agencies