Serbian human rights groups have condemned a recent statement of the Serbian president that the massacre in Srebrenica, while a horrible crime, was not genocide.
Seven Belgrade based human rights organisations issued a joint statement saying that President Tomislav Nikolic’s claims that the crimes committed in Srebrenica were not genocide offended the victims and their families.
Reactions came after Nikolic’s interview for the Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera” in which he said that although horrible crimes took place at Srebrenica, these could not be classed as genocide.
“Serbia was never involved in the crimes at Srebrenica. The crimes were committed by individual perpetrators whose nationality happened to be Serb. The Serbian parliament condemned these horrible crimes, but genocide was not mentioned. I never heard anyone in Serbia calling it by that name [genocide in Srebrenica], which meant I didn’t either”, Nikolic said.
In the joint statement, the human rights NGOs accused the president of populism, adding that he had offended the Serbian people, as well.
“His message impacts not just the victims and neighbouring countries," the statement read, adding that Nikolic's message at home is that Serbian nationality means one can deny the facts established by the rulings of international courts.
"It [his statement] also conveys a message that others who have a different stance are not Serbs,“ the statement read.
In the same interview Nikolic said that Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of Bosnian Serbs, and Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander, both ICTY defendants accused for genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, must be assumed innocent until the court rules otherwise.
The NGOs urged Nikolic to change course. Instead of making offensive statements, he should devote himself to the normalization of relations among the former Yugoslav countries.
This is not the first time that Nikolic has been criticised for his views concerning the genocide in Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serbs killed over 7,000 Bosniaks men and boys after capturing the town in eastern Bosnia.
Speaking to Montenegrin state television on May 31, he said: “There was no genocide in Srebrenica… No one has proved it so far. One officer has been convicted and now all those that were working with him will be convicted as well. But it is hard to tell that there was an intention [of genocide]."
The ICTY and the ICJ classed the mass killings in Srebrenica as acts of genocide in 2004 and 2007, respectively.
Serbia was cleared of direct involvement by the ICJ on February 26, 2007 but was found to have breached international law by failing to prevent the massacre and by failing to try or transfer to the ICTY the persons accused of genocide.
On April 19, 2004 the ICTY sentenced the former Deputy Commander of the Bosnian Serb army's Drina Corps, Radisav Krstic, for aiding and abetting genocide.
The case of “Popovic and others”, in which seven members of the Drina Corps were convicted of genocide is currently being appealed.
The cases against Radovan Karadzic, former President of the Republika Srpska, Ratko Mladic, former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, VRS, and Zdravko Tolimir, the assistant commander of the Intelligence and Security of the VRS, who are all charged with genocide, are still ongoing.
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.
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.
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.
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.