The top international official in Bosnia has banned the denial of genocide in the Balkan country to counter attempts by Bosnian Serbs to deny the scope of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s only post-WWII genocide.
Valentin Inzko, the outgoing head of the Bosnian Office of the High Representative, or OHR, introduced the changes to the country’s criminal code on Friday, introducing prison sentences of up to five years for denial of genocide and glorification of criminals. of war, including the naming of streets or public institutions after them.
The OHR is the main international body that oversees the implementation of the peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. It has the authority to impose decisions or remove officials that undermine the postwar ethnic balance and reconciliation efforts among Bosnians, who are mostly Muslim, Serb and Bosnian Croat.
The international court of justice and the international criminal court for the former Yugoslavia declared genocide the slaughter of the Bosnian Serbs of more than 8,000 Bosnians that took place in Srebrenica during the Bosnian war. However, Serb officials in Bosnia and neighboring Serbia have refused to accept the appointment.
Inzko, an Austrian diplomat, said in a statement: “Hate speech, glorification of war criminals and revisionism or total denial of genocide and war crimes prevent societies from dealing with their collective past, constitute a renewed humiliation of victims and their loved ones, while perpetuating injustice and undermining inter-ethnic relations.
“All of this causes frustration, makes society chronically ill and prevents the emergence of a desperately needed reconciliation.”
Inzko said he decided to use his powers after waiting for years for Bosnian politicians to act. He cited the refusal of the Bosnian Serb assembly to withdraw the decorations awarded to three convicted war criminals.
“The situation has gotten worse and now it is getting out of hand,” he said, warning that the lack of recognition was “sowing the seeds” of new conflicts. For this reason, I believe that now it is necessary to regulate this matter with legal solutions ”.
The genocide in Srebrenica occurred after Bosnian Serbs seized control of the eastern enclave in July 1995. They executed Bosnian men and boys and dumped their remains in mass graves that were then dug and buried to cover the crime. The remains of the victims are still being unearthed and identified.
Bosnian politicians and relatives of the victims praised Inzko’s decision, which was quickly rejected by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who is a member of Bosnia’s multi-ethnic presidency and the top politician in the Serbian entity Republika Srpska.
Dodik threatened to initiate a process of “dissolution” of Bosnia, reported the Klix news portal. “The Republika Srpska rejects this, the genocide did not occur, the Serbs must never accept this,” he said.
Dodik has repeatedly criticized the OHR and the West for being biased against the Serbs in Bosnia. The UN security council on Thursday rejected a resolution tabled by Serbian allies Russia and China that would have immediately stripped the OHR’s powers in Bosnia.
Both the Bosnian and Serbian Serbs, who supported the Bosnian Serbs during the war, have called the massacre a crime, refusing to acknowledge that it was genocide.
Bosnian Serbs have also honored their wartime leader Radovan Karadžić and military commander Ratko Mladić as heroes, although both have been convicted of genocide and sentenced to life in prison by the Hague court. In many cities of the Republika Srpska, which is the name of the Serbian entity in Bosnia, murals with Mladić and Karadžić can be seen.
Inzko said his decision was not directed at nations but at individuals. Acknowledging people’s guilt allows people to shed the weight of the past and move towards a more promising future, he said.
In Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, the prosecution said it would monitor any statements by individuals or groups and act in accordance with legal changes.
Kada Hotic, from the Mothers of Srebrenica group for the victims’ families, said that the law should have been introduced earlier. “Anyway, I welcome the decision,” he said. “Without acceptance, there is no forgiveness, and I will not forgive until someone asks for forgiveness.”
The US embassy in Bosnia called Inzko’s move “a starting point for a more concrete debate and steps by local actors regarding practical implementation.”
“We must emphasize that the Srebrenica genocide is not a matter of debate, but of a historical fact,” the embassy said in a statement. “It is time to truly turn to a future based on peace and mutual trust.”
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, also welcomed the High Representative’s action.
“We must protect the truth, promote reconciliation and educate future generations,” Mijatovic tweeted.
Inzko will step down from office on August 1, following his resignation in May after 12 years in office. He will be succeeded by Christian Schmidt from Germany.
“My conscience dictates that I have no right to end my term while condemned war criminals are glorified,” Inzko said.