UN General Assembly adopts resolution on Srebrenica genocide

UN General Assembly adopts resolution on Srebrenica genocide
Resolution declaring July 11 the International Day of Remembrance of the Srebrenica Genocide adopted despite strong opposition from Serbia, Bosnia's Republika Srpska and Russia. / OHR
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia May 23, 2024

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia & Herzegovina on May 23, despite fierce opposition from Serbia, Bosnia's Republika Srpska and Russia. 

In July 1995, more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed in Srebrenica by Serb troops and Serbian paramilitary groups. The resolution declares July 11 the International Day of Remembrance of the Srebrenica Genocide.

The initiators of the text were Germany and Rwanda, while Montenegro submitted amendments clarifying that the responsibility for the genocide is personal and not of all Serbs.

84 countries voted in favour of the resolution, 19 were against, while 68 abstained, which gave food to the resolution’s opponents to claim it is illegitimate.

The countries that voted against the resolution were Antigua and Barbuda, Belarus, China, Comoros, Cuba, North Korea, Congo, Dominica, Eritrea, Eswatini, Grenada, Hungary, Mali, Nauru, Nicaragua, Russia, Sao Tome and Principe, Serbia and Syria.

Among the EU member states, Slovakia, Cyprus and Greece abstained.

The resolution designated July 11 as the International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica, to be observed annually and condemned any denial of the genocide as a historical event, urging all countries to “preserve the established facts, including through their educational systems by developing appropriate programmes, also in remembrance, towards preventing denial and distortion, and occurrence of genocides in the future”. 

It also condemned actions that glorify those convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by international courts, including those responsible for the Srebrenica genocide.

The resolution specifically mentions that “criminal accountability under international law for the crime of genocide is individualised and cannot be attributed to any ethnic, religious or other group or community as a whole.”

Serbs rally against UN’s decision

Tensions increased in the Western Balkan region ahead of the UN debate, and the adoption of the resolution sparked protests in several ex-Yugoslav countries. 

In Belgrade, cars holding Serbian flags gathered in front of the parliament to protest against the adopted resolution. Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic wrote on his Instagram profile that the resolution failed as more than half of the UN member states either abstained or voted against it.

“They wanted to put a mark on our foreheads and failed,” Vucic said.

“Surrender has never been an option for us. Proud of a free Serbia and a heroic Serbian people,” the Serbian president wrote on Instagram.

In Montenegro, Serbs gathered to protest in front of the government building as the country backed the resolution. However, the protesters were less than 100, according to videos from daily Vijesti.

Protesters in Montenegro were carrying Serbian and Russian flags and chanting the name of Ratko Mladic, who was convicted of genocide by The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Republika Srpska, there was no rally but just statements by the entity’s political leaders. Like Vucic, Dodik said the resolution has failed.

“Close to 110 countries did not vote or abstained. This is a failed resolution and it means that the UN did not support it. Their plan to impose genocide and moral disqualification on Serbs failed,” he said in a statement on his website.

Dodik also said that there was no decision by Bosnia’s state-level presidency on the resolution. He said he will file a report on the violation of the Dayton peace agreement as the country’s representative to the UN voted in favour of the resolution.

“We do not want to live with those who violate the Constitution of BiH and who violate the strategy on foreign policy,” Dodik said.

After threatening on May 22 that he will propose the secession of Republika Srpska, he said that the entity’s government will create a “peaceful separation agreement”, which will be sent to the Federation entity within 30 days. The decision was formally approved by the government of Republika Srpska at a session held in Srebrenica on May 23.

“Today we are launching a formal decision to seek a peaceful demarcation. We shall propose to clarify the political competencies related to the entities first, and to preserve and leave the current model of functioning of economies and within a few years to adapt it to the model of peaceful separation,” Dodik said.

Bosnia comprises two autonomous entities – the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska. Each of them has its own institutions and there are also state-level institutions.

Srebrenica victims satisfied

While Serbs were angered by the UN resolution, the mothers of those killed in Srebrenica were relieved that their loved ones will not be forgotten and that their pain will be shared by many countries on July 11.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk welcomed the resolution, saying it was a further recognition of the victims and survivors and their pursuit of justice.

“The resolution is all the more important given the persistent revisionism, denial of the Srebrenica genocide, and hate speech by high-level political leaders in Bosnia & Herzegovina, as well as in neighbouring countries. Recent weeks have underscored how urgent it is to deal with the past in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkans,” Turk said in a statement.

Amnesty International also noted in a statement the resolution was long overdue.

“This long overdue resolution represents an important public recognition of the victims and their families and pays rightful tribute to survivors who have fought for nearly 30 years to keep the memory of the harrowing events in Srebrenica alive,” Jelena Sesar, Amnesty International’s Europe researcher, said.

“Sadly, authorities in some parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region continue to deny the crimes and engage in dangerous glorification of those convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. This despite the fact that international courts have proven beyond any doubt that the killing of more than 8,000 men and boys in 1995 constituted an act of genocide,” Sesar added.

Meanwhile, Bosnia’s Foreign Minister Elmedin Konakovic said the state-level government will send protest notes to all nineteen countries that voted against the resolution.