UN will vote on commemorating the 1995 Srebrenica genocide annually – which Serbs vehemently oppose

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The UN is scheduled to vote on Thursday on establishing an annual day to commemorate the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs, a prospect that has sparked vehement opposition from Serbs who fear it will brand them all as “genocidal” supporters of the mass killing. The General Assembly resolution sponsored by Germany and Rwanda doesn’t mention Serbia as the culprit but that hasn’t stopped the intense lobbying campaign for a “no” vote by the Bosnian Serb president, Milorad Dodik, and the populist president of neighbouring Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic.

The 193-member assembly is expected to vote on Thursday morning on the resolution that would designate July 11 as the “International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica”, to be observed annually starting in two months. On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serbs overran a UN-protected safe area in Srebrenica. They separated at least 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys from their wives, mothers and sisters and slaughtered them. Those who tried to escape were chased through the woods and over the mountains around the town.

The Srebrenica killings were the bloody crescendo of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, which came after the breakup of the then-nation of Yugoslavia unleashed nationalist passions and territorial ambitions that set Bosnian Serbs against the country’s two other main ethnic populations, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks. Both Serbia and Bosnian Serbs have denied that genocide happened in Srebrenica although this has been established by two UN courts.

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Dodik, who is president of Republika Srpska, the Serb part of Bosnia which comprises about half its territory, said on Wednesday on the social media platform X that the UN resolution is being forced on the country by supporters of Muslim Bosniaks and that it will split up the country. “Bosnia and Herzegovina has reached its end, or to be more precise, it was brought to an end by those who swore to it,” Dodik said on X.

“All that remains is for us all to make an effort to be good neighbours and to part in peace.” Dodik has made several such threats in the past to have the Serb-controlled territories secede from Bosnia and join with neighbouring Serbia. He and some other Bosnian Serb officials are under US and British sanctions partly for jeopardising a US peace plan that ended the Bosnian war. The final draft of the resolution added a statement reiterating the General Assembly’s “unwavering commitment to maintaining stability and fostering unity in diversity in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

The determination in 2007 by the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest tribunal, that the acts committed in Srebrenica constituted genocide, is included in the draft resolution. It was Europe’s first genocide since the Nazi Holocaust in World War II, which killed an estimated 6 million Jews and people from other minorities. Germany’s UN Ambassador Antje Leendertse said last week that there is an official UN commemoration of the 1994 Rwanda genocide on April 7 every year – the day the Hutu-led government began the killing of members of the Tutsi minority and their supporters.

The draft resolution aims “to close the gap” by creating a separate UN day “to commemorate the victims of Srebrenica”, she said. Menachem Rosensaft, the son of Holocaust survivors who is an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that designating July 11 as the official day of remembrance for the Srebrenica genocide “is a moral and legal imperative.” The slain Muslim Bosniaks deserve to have their deaths and the manner of their deaths commemorated and Srebrenica was supposed to be a safe area but was abandoned by Dutch UN peacekeepers, leaving the Bosniaks who sought shelter there “to be murdered on the UN’s watch”, Rosensaft said.

Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, called the timing of the vote “unfortunate, given allegations that Israel is pursuing genocide in Gaza.” “The vote will be an opportunity for more political theatre,” he told AP. “I expect Russia and China will make a great point of asking why the US and European governments are concentrating on a massacre in the 1990s rather than killings in Gaza today.” Russia and China, which have close ties to Serbia, are virtually certain to oppose the resolution and Hungary has announced it will vote “no.”

Germany’s Leendertse said “the resolution has the support of a large cross-regional group.” Gowan said “if the level of support is limited, it will be a blow to the Bosniaks.” Serbia’s President Vucic and his government have been campaigning both at the UN and among developing countries to win support for a “no” vote. Approval requires a majority of those voting. In arguing against the resolution, Vucic and Dodik have raised the possibility that it will open the door to having to pay war damages if it is adopted. Local analysts say Serb leaders, including Vucic, also fear they could be put on trial for active participation in the Bosnian bloodshed.

The draft resolution condemns “without reservation any denial of the Srebrenica genocide as a historical event.” It also “condemns without reservation actions that glorify those convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by international courts, including those responsible for the Srebrenica genocide.” Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, were both convicted of genocide in Srebrenica by a special UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. In all, the tribunal and courts in the Balkans have sentenced close to 50 Bosnian Serb wartime officials to lengthy prison terms.