20 Years After Bosnia War, Russia and West at Odds Over 'Genocide' Commemoration

World commemorates 20th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre, worst mass killings since World War II, amid intense opposition from Bosnian Serbs to any mention of 'genocide.'

Edith M. Lederer
A group of Bosnian Muslims, refugees from Srebrenica, walk to be transported from the eastern Bosnian village of Potocari to Muslim-held Kladanj, July 13, 1995.
A group of Bosnian Muslims, refugees from Srebrenica, walk to be transported from the eastern Bosnian village of Potocari to Muslim-held Kladanj, July 13, 1995.Credit: Reuters
Edith M. Lederer

AP - Western nations and Russia may be dueling over whether the UN Security Council should call the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war an act of genocide but at Wednesday's General Assembly commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Europe's worst mass killing since World War II there was no doubt.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the killing of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys genocide. So did Serge Brammertz, the prosecutor of the UN tribunal prosecuting the perpetrators, and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power who was in Bosnia as a freelance journalist at the time of the mass killings in July 1995.

But it was Abisada Dudic who brought tears to some, including Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor, when she described fleeing her home near Srebrenica as a child with memories of "fear, bloodshed and fire," and her family's hope that remains of loved ones will be found including an uncle last seen running into the forest to escape the Srebrenica slaughter.

"Calling what happened in Srebrenica by any name other than genocide, be it massacre, tragedy, catastrophe, whatever else, not only thwarts the possibility of reconciliation, it bolsters those denying the genocide and leading the secession efforts" by Bosnian Serbs, Dudic said. "It trivializes the pain and suffering of genocide victims. It re-victimizes the survivors, and it minimizes the enormity of the crime."

Bosnia's UN Ambassador Mirsada Colakovic, who presided over the commemoration, called denial "the last stage of genocide."

It's "a kind of double-killing in which the victims are first murdered, then the memory of the horrible deeds themselves is being destroyed," she said.

The commemoration took place against a backdrop of intense opposition from Bosnian Serbs and Serbia to any mention of genocide in a UN Security Council resolution marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrencia killings. Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has called it "a big horrific crime" but refuses to call it a genocide.

Britain has circulated a draft resolution that "condemns in the strongest terms the genocide in Srebrenica." It recalls that the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in 2004 and the International Court of Justice in 2007 both determined that the mass killings were acts of genocide.

Britain's UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, a former envoy to Bosnia, told the packed chamber that the UN's failure to protect innocent civilians in what had been designated as a UN safe area "still haunts this organization."

He said the resolution that the Security Council will consider next week doesn't seek "to bring up painful divisions nor point the finger of blame." It will commemorate the victims, show solidarity with survivors, and call for reconciliation, Rycroft said.

Russia, which has close religious ties to Serbia, has circulated a rival draft resolution which doesn't mention either Srebrenica or genocide.

Russia's deputy UN ambassador Petr Iliichev on Tuesday called the British draft "divisive," saying it focuses on "only one part of the conflict." The Russian draft, he said, is "more general, more reconciling."

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