News 14 Jun 17

Bosnian Genocide Denial Punishment Law Angers Serbs

Proposed amendments to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s criminal code to make the denial of genocide and crimes against humanity punishable by a prison sentence have sparked furious reactions from Bosnian Serbs.

Danijel Kovacevic
Banja Luka
Gravestones of Srebrenica massacre victims. Photo: Wikimedia/Michael Büker.

There were angry reactions on Wednesday from Bosnian Serbs - who don’t believe the Srebrenica massacres were genocide - after the state Council of Ministers agreed on proposed amendments to the law that will criminalise the denial of genocide.

Bosnian Justice Minister Josip Grubesa said the draft legislation envisages “five to ten years in prison for public approval, denial or minimisation of the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, as ruled upon by a final decision of an international or domestic tribunal”.

Although the ministers from Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska on the state Council of Ministers voted for the amendments, the authorities and others in the entity said that it was an attempt to stigmatise the Serbs.

“This is another attempt to rewrite history, abolish Republika Srpska and portray it as a genocidal creation,” Milorad Kojic, head of the Centre for Research of War and War Crimes and Tracing Missing Persons of Republika Srpska, told BIRN.

He said it was also an attempt to “shut the mouth of anyone who tries to prove what actually happened in the past war, using legal facts and arguments”.

“The goal is to verify the judgments and rigged trials rendered by both the Hague Tribunal and the judicial institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Kojic added.

In 2004, in the case against the former Bosnian Serb Army general Radislav Krstic, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague ruled that the 1995 mass killings of Bosniaks from Srebrenica by Serb forces constituted genocide.

This ruling was endorsed by the International Court of Justice in 2007 in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Serbia and Montenegro.

Republika Srpska’s Justice Minister Anton Kasipovic complained that the Council of Ministers ignored his ministry’s suggestions when it defined the amendments to the criminal code.

“In my opinion, not enough attention was paid to what we from Republika Srpska had objections about,” Kasipovic told media on Tuesday.

The Republika Srpska Justice Ministry argued that the denial of a genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity is considered a criminal offence only if the way the denial is expressed invokes violence or hatred towards a particular group - and as invoking violence, as a criminal offence, is under the exclusive competence of the country’s entities, it cannot be the subject of an indictment in the state criminal code.

But according to the Republika Srpska ministers on the Council of Ministers, suggestions from the Serb-dominated entity and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, the country’s judicial overseer, were acknowledged when defining the draft law.

“We insisted on that and I agreed to vote only after they accepted the remarks,” Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic told BIRN.

But the Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Minister Mirko Sarovic told media on Wednesday that the Council of Ministers only adopted the text of amendments to the criminal code “in principle”, and that the Republika Srpska ministers on the Council will accept the final text “only if their objections are accepted".

The unclear situation sparked yet another conflict between the political parties in Republika Srpska. The ruling coalition in the entity, which is part of the opposition on the state level, has accused Sarovic, Mektic and other members of the Bosnian Serb political parties who are part of the ruling coalition on the state level of a betrayal of national interests.

The amendments will only come into force if they get the backing of both chambers of the Bosnian parliament, and the ruling coalition in Republika Srpska, led by the Alliance of the Independent Social Democrats, has just enough votes in one of the chambers, the House of Peoples, to block the changes.

‘The Srebrenica genocide didn’t happen’

Very few people in Republika Srpska’s main town of Banja Luka wanted to respond to BIRN’s questions about the Srebrenica genocide issue on Wednesday, and those who did mostly agreed with the official position of the entity’s authorities.

“I don't believe that genocide took place in Srebrenica. That was a lie. A horrible crime, yes, but not a genocide. And I am sure that 8,000 people weren’t killed. I believe that the number is far, far less,” said one man, Dragan, aged 25.

“The Srebrenica genocide didn't happen. That was a product of the Bosniaks’ propaganda with the help of their allies from the West,” said Vukasin, 72, a retired factory worker.

“It is a shame that we [Bosnian Serbs] will carry the burden of the people who allegedly committed genocide that didn't happen. We need to fight against those lies and accusations,” said Sanja, a 21-year-old student.

Srdjan Puhalo, a Banja Luka-based political analyst, told BIRN that the response from the Republika Srpska government to the draft law was to be expected.

“We have systematic denial of the Hague verdicts by the authorities in RS. The whole legitimacy of the Hague Tribunal is in question. This is an ethnic policy of avoiding dealing with the past,” Puhalo said.

“The authorities in the RS cherish the dominant view in the Bosnian Serb entity that genocide did not happen in Srebrenica. These changes to the law pose a direct blow to such a policy,” he added.

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Srebrenica: Genocide Reconstructed

In July 1995 Srebrenica was shelled and occupied by the Army of Republic of Srpska,VRS, despite being declared a protected area by the United Nations. More than 7,000 people were killed, the victims of genocide.

Ratko Mladic: The Force Behind the Srebrenica Killings

The Bosnian Serb commander’s role in the genocide committed in Srebrenica is described in detail in many indictments and verdicts pronounced before local and international judicial institutions.

The Indictment Against Ratko Mladic

Indictments in 1995 and 2000, further amended in 2002 and 2010, charge the former commander of the Republika Srpska Army with genocide and other crimes.

Ratko Mladic: From Promising Officer to Bloodstained Warlord

When Mladic ordered his army to bomb the people of Sarajevo until they ‘go insane’, he revealed the murderous intentions that would culminate in the Srebrenica massacre.

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