Kit Gillet in Bucharest -
On July 11 world leaders will gather in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the worst atrocity to have occurred in Europe since the end of World War II.
Around 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb war commanders in Srebrenica in July 1995. At the time, Srebrenica was a UN-protected enclave and was supposed to be a safe haven for those escaping the conflict, but Dutch peacekeepers stood by as the men and boys were loaded onto buses. The Dutch government later resigned in 2002 following publication of a damning report that criticised the Dutch authorities for failing to adequately prepare, support and instruct its troops on the ground.
Some areas outside the town are still an active crime scene 20 years later, with 1,200 bodies yet to be recovered and many women still waiting for the chance to bury their loved ones.
Earlier this week the British newspaper The Observer reported on new research that reportedly showed that Britain and the US knew six weeks before the massacre that the UN-protected enclave would fall, but that they decided to sacrifice it in an effort for a peaceful resolution to the overall situation.
Culpability has long been a sore subject in regards to what happened in Srebrenica, as has attempts to label events there genocide. Serbia and Bosnian Serbs have continued to deny that what happened was genocide, despite the International Court of Justice and the war tribunal in the Hague ruling it as such.
Attempts in recent weeks to pass a UN resolution officially labelling Srebrenica genocide were blocked when Russia indicated it would veto the resolution.
On July 7 Serbia’s Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, told reporters that he was going to take part in the July 11 commemorations, following news that the United Nation’s Security Council had delayed the vote on a UK-drafted resolution.
Last month, Vucic said his government was not supporting the draft text of the Srebrenica resolution as it would not contribute towards making positive change in the region. He warned that if it were accepted in its current form it would have major political and legal consequences for Serbia.
Speaking on July 7, Vucic said that Serbia does not consider the news of the delayed UN vote on the resolution a victory since “there are no winners in Srebrenica but only victims who require our respect”.
During a news conference broadcast live on Serbian television, Vucic said that he would “represent a Serbia that is capable of admitting that certain individuals had committed crimes”. However, he added that “there is no collective guilt”.
The UN Security Council delayed the vote on the resolution after Russia, a historic ally of Serbia and Bosnian Serbs, warned that it would veto the text in its current form. At the same time, Russia has reportedly been preparing a rival resolution, which doesn’t include the word Srebrenica nor genocide.
Vucic said Serbia has held talks on the issue with top Russian officials over the past days, and also exchanged notes and letters with authorities from China and all other members of the UN Security Council. He expressed hope that the Council would not approve the resolution in the coming days, adding that he has personally received guarantees in relation to this.
Vucic has maintained that Serbia and Serbs are not against the victims, and will never be against Croats and Muslims, but that the resolution was not in the interest of reconciliation and therefore Serbia was against it.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, stressed that the UK-drafted version fixed guilt to only one nation and that its passing would cause only greater divisions.
In March, Serbian police arrested eight people with strong links to what occurred 20 years ago, the first time the country had gone after those responsible. “It is important to stress that this is the first time that our prosecutor’s office is dealing with the mass killings of civilians and war prisoners in Srebrenica,” Bruno Vekarić, Serbia’s deputy war crimes prosecutor, told Reuters at the time.
This, however, has done little to allay many peoples’ feelings that Serbia has long dodged any guilt over what happened.
In Bosnia, the annual Mars Mira walk, the three-day peace march held every year since 2005 to honour the victims of Srebrenica, is already underway and will arrive late in the day on July 10th.
Meanwhile, world leaders will be arriving in Srebrenica over the next 48 hours to pay their respects to the victims of one of the most shameful episodes in recent European history.
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