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

Srebrenica Judgment Controversy Refuses to Abate

Republika Srpska seeks to defuse tensions provoked by ICJ genocide ruling.
By Merdijana Sadović
The crisis in Bosnia sparked by the International Court of Justice’s ruling that genocide was committed in Srebrenica in 1995 shows little sign of abating more than a month after the judgment.

Srebrenica, where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed after it was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995, is today part of the Bosnia’s Serb entity Republika Srpska, RS.

Hundreds of Muslims who returned to this eastern Bosnian town have long been unhappy with living conditions. They complain about the lack of work, inadequate housing and poor infrastructure.

Deeply impoverished and seemingly forgotten, Srebrenica was thrown back into the spotlight when the ICJ issued its ruling.

In the wake of the decision, some local Muslim politicians sought to use it in a campaign to change the town’s status.

In early March, representatives of the returnees said Srebrenica should be classed as a district - like Brcko, the only town in Bosnia to currently enjoy this status - and run by the Bosnian state instead of the RS as it is now.

They said their community would leave Srebrenica for good if the demand was not met.

“We don’t want to live in an entity governed by those who committed genocide,” said Hakija Meholjic, the chairman of the group which claimed to represent the views of all Muslim returnees in Srebrenica.

As soon as this demand was announced, an already deeply divided country split again over the way the problem of Srebrenica and the ICJ ruling should be approached.

While Bosnian Muslim and Croat politicians supported the returnees’ demand, the RS government saw it as another attempt to undermine the Serb statelet.

The Banja Luka authorities said they would do everything in their power to prevent Srebrenica from breaking away.

Then, on March 24, Muslim members of the Srebrenica municipality council adopted a resolution on separation from RS - which not surprisingly provoked outrage among Bosnian Serb politicians.

“We [will] undertake all measures aimed at suspending this resolution, file charges and maybe even introduce a direct rule, that is, dissolve the existing authorities in Srebrenica, to bring order there,” said RS president Milan Jelic shortly after the resolution was adopted.

RS prime minister Milorad Dodik said that the resolution was “unconstitutional and illegal”.

The international community’s High Representative for Bosnia, Christian Schwartz-Schilling, agreed with Serb officials and called the council’s resolution "unacceptable".

On March 27, he issued a strongly-worded statement, in which he said he would prevent Srebrenica Muslims from carrying out their threat, by taking “robust action”.

In this week’s interview with Sarajevo daily Avaz, Schwartz-Schilling reiterated his position on this issue, but he also stressed the importance of the RS authorities distancing themselves from those who committed the 1995 killings.

Most importantly, he said, RS institutions should get rid of all those in their ranks who took part in genocide in any form.

Sulejman Tihic, the chairman of the Party of Democratic Action, SDA, the largest Muslim party in Bosnia, says he is surprised with Schwartz-Schilling’s reaction.

According to Tihic, the resolution was “a completely legal and legitimate political act” reflecting the “political will of the citizens of Srebrenica".

Tihic also insisted that little had been done in RS over the last 12 years to bring those responsible for genocide to justice.

Two days after the resolution was adopted, a public debate was held in Tuzla on the ICJ ruling and the latest events in Srebrenica.

Bosnian expert on constitutional law Kasim Trnka, who participated in this debate, said the Bosnian authorities should address the UN Security Council and ask for its opinion on the ruling and its implications. The body has the power to enforce ICJ judgments.

Professor of law at the Sarajevo University Cazim Sadikovic says the absence of detailed explanations of what the genocide ruling means in practice is causing confusion.

He said it was imperative that the international community and the Security Council set out exactly the legal implications of the ICJ ruling. “The more they wait, the more problems will be generated,” he said.

At the public debate in Tuzla, Trnka said Srebrenica cannot get the status of a district without changes to the state constitution, which is exactly what RS authorities fear. They suspect that changes to the current constitution, established by the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, could signal the beginning of the end for RS.

“I don’t think Srebrenica will be granted a status of a district, because that would mean opening a Pandora’s Box,” Tanja Topic, a political analyst from Banja Luka, told IWPR.

She feels the Srebrenica case has been highly politicised, although she says it is clear something has to be done to improve the living conditions of the town’s citizens, especially Muslim returnees.

Sacir Filandra, professor at the Faculty of the Political Sciences in Sarajevo, says there’s no doubt politicians in both entities are exploiting Srebrenica - and those who suffer the most are its citizens.

Filandra told IWPR granting Srebrenica special status would not solve the problem.

“The situation in the whole of Republika Srpska has to change - which means the human rights of all ethnic groups have to be respected throughout the territory,” said Filandra.

In an apparent attempt to ease tensions in the wake of the Srebrenica council resolution, the RS government on March 27 declared the town an area of special socio-economic importance and announced its plan to urgently invest some 7,5 million euro there.

In addition, the government’s move requires all state institutions and companies in the municipality to provide equal employment opportunities to members of all ethnic groups. It also makes provision for the building of memorials at place where killings took place.

While these moves are welcome, some analysts say they are long overdue.

“It’s a shame that nothing has been done in Srebrenica for 12 years,” said Topic. “Nevertheless, this RS government’s initiative is a move into the right direction. There is no doubt none of this would have happened had ICJ not clearly said in its ruling what happened in Srebrenica and who was responsible.”

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague project manager.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.


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