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Justice undone: twenty years since the Bosnian genocide

Twenty years on from the Srebernica genocide, survivors and families of the victims are left asking: where is justice? A long term approach is needed to help survivors make peace with their past.

Survivors and mourners at the 19th year anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. Flickr/Taylor Mc. Some rights reserved.July 11, 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Twenty years since “never again” came simply to mean “again”, when 8,372 Bosnian Muslims were rounded up in the hot valleys of eastern Bosnia and executed by the Bosnian Serb Army, led by General Ratko Mladić, while the “international community” bolted.

What is often forgotten outside of Bosnia is that Srebrenica was the culminating act of the genocide. The systematic killings began in 1992. Approximately 677 concentration camps were set up across the country for the rape of Bosnian Muslim women, torture and mass executions. Grave crimes of unimaginable destruction were committed in these camps. The Bosnian Serbs themselves coined the term “Etničko čišćenje” (ethnic cleansing) to define their strategy, which was publicly announced on 12 May 1992.

The campaign was based on the “Six Strategic Goals of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina” and was announced by then Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic and these strategies were unanimously adopted by the majority of Bosnian Serbs at the Assembly. The document is a proof of mens rea, the political intent to commit genocide. It depicts Bosnia’s “Wannsee moment.”

The ICTY judgments have, therefore, irrevocably established the facts. Some aspects of the legal proceedings have left justice undone, however. For a number of survivors, some decisions are illogical and have been politically influenced. For example, ICTY’s bureaucratic rules allow convicted war criminals to be released after serving only two-thirds of their sentence. At times some convicted war criminals have been released for no clear reason. The survivors and families of the victims are left asking: where is justice?

To further complicate the process of seeking justice, in 2003 the international community imposed a new Bosnian Criminal Code through the High Representative to Bosnia. The original Yugoslav Criminal Code was not deemed sufficient to process war crimes in the country. In 2013, after an appeal by two convicted war criminals, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that they had to be tried by the law which was in use at the time of committing the crime: that is to say by the previous Yugoslav Code, which had now been deemed insufficient, rather than the new law from 2003.

Subsequently, many convicted war criminals had their sentences reduced and some were freed, only to be arrested again after pressure from the public. The complex legal system, political manipulation and indecisive international influence, understandably, has sparked anger and distrust amongst families of the victims of genocide.

The denial of genocide and war crimes by a majority of Bosnian Serbs further exasperates the process of reckoning with the past. Milorad Dodik, Bosnian-Serb Prime-Minister of Republika Srpska as well as Bosnia’s richest man and a long-time vociferous nationalist and genocide denier, ensured that  in the years 2008-2014 1,898,900 BAM (€966,562) of Bosnia’s budget financed the Srebrenica Historical Project, a project run by genocide denier Stefan Karganović who consistently claims that less than 1,000 people “died”.

It is understandable then that the majority of genocide survivors are sceptical of political gestures when it comes to the Srebrenica genocide. The recent visit to the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Centre by Dodik has opened old wounds. A number of commentators have exemplified this event as “a step forward,” only to question their own reasoning a couple of days later after SDS, Dodik’s Party, announced that it will hold a referendum in 2018 on independence for the country's autonomous Serb Republic.

It is evident that a long-lasting approach is needed to combat genocide denial to pave a way for survivors to reckon with their past. If political leaders are interested, and if Dodik’s visit to the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Centre is to be taken seriously, than the quest for justice must be in the forefront. All other political gestures will be deemed, as they have been thus far, as political manipulation.  

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About the author

Hikmet Karcic is a human rights activist based in Sarajevo, author of 'An Appeal for Truth' and Researcher at Institute for Islamic Tradition of Bosniaks.


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