Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnian Serbs Now Anxious About ICJ Ruling

Initially relieved that Serbia had been acquitted of genocide, Republika Srpska worries about the judgment's implications for its future.
Two days after the International Justice Court, ICJ, acquitted Serbia of genocide and shifted the blame on Bosnian Serb forces, the government of Republika Srpska, RS, issued a statement in which it apologised to the victims and survivors of the 1992-95 war.

"The government of Republika Srpska expresses its deepest regret for the crimes committed against non-Serbs during the recent war in Bosnia and condemns all persons who took part in these crimes," read the statement.

Although the ICJ cleared Serbia of direct responsibility for genocide in Bosnia, it confirmed the findings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, that the gravest of all crimes did take place in the eastern Bosnian town in July 1995, and clearly put the blame on Bosnian Serb forces.

The ICJ's ruling on February 26 said that acts of genocide "were committed by the VRS [RS army] in or around Srebrenica from about 13 July 1995", and that "the Main Staff of the VRS had the necessary specific intent to destroy in part...Bosnian Muslims - specifically the Bosnian Muslims of Srebrenica".

This finding was very unpleasant for the Bosnian Serbs, who - although relieved that Serbia as their wartime ally was acquitted of genocide charges - suddenly realised that they have been labelled the main culprits.

The initial reaction of the RS government, led by Prime Minsiter Milorad Dodik, was not unexpected.

"I think that genocide has not been committed in Srebrenica and that there was no plan to do it," he said, immediately after the verdict was announced.

Dodik, however, acknowledged that "a horrific crime has been committed" in the eastern Bosnian enclave, but rejected "any responsibility on the part of the RS institutions".

Just a few days later, the Bosnian Serb government seemed to have taken a slightly different approach and offered an apology to those who suffered there.

On February 28, it issued a statement saying it was "essential that a deepest apology be extended to the victims, their families and friends, regardless of their ethnicity".

It further said that the ruling of the UN's highest court offered an opportunity to all nations and citizens in Bosnia to "leave behind an unfortunate era and turn to the future and the building of mutual trust".

However, nowhere in the statement did the government indicate that it would assume full responsibility for genocide in Srebrenica, which many observers find rather disappointing.

The majority of Bosnian Serbs have opposed the genocide lawsuit for years, claiming it was illegal. They also feared that a ruling in Bosnia's favour would jeopardise the very existence of RS, as it might be concluded that it was founded on genocide.

Indeed, after the initial relief that Serbia was acquitted of genocide charges, Bosnian Serbs realised that the ICJ's ruling could have some serious repercussions for themselves.

"It is very dangerous that [the court] concluded that some kind of genocide occurred, which could be a sign that Republika Srpska's future has been brought into question, and that the entire court process served the purpose of declaring this entity to be a product of genocide," said acting president of the Serbian Radical Party Tomislav Nikolic.

Some 10,000 people gathered this week in Sarajevo at a protest meeting organised by the Genocide Victims Association, demanding that a Bosnian parliament adopt a law that would officially ban the denial of genocide in Srebrenica.

A representative of this association, Zijad Bradic, who was present at the rally, called for an immediate revision of the Bosnian constitution, which recognises the division of Bosnia into two entities (the Federation and RS), because it is "a direct result of genocide and other crimes against humanity".

The current Bosnian constitution was part of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Former Bosnian foreign minister Muhamed Sacirbey, who was one of the architects of of the Dayton Agreement, takes the same view. In a statement commenting on the ICJ ruling, he said, " While..Dayton...should be applauded [for ending] a war, the accords are not compliant with the court's ruling. The consequences of genocide must be reversed and remedied and territory cannot be linked to ethnicity especially if it discriminates against any ethnic group in terms of political as well as human rights."

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR programme manager.

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