UN approves resolution to commemorate the 1995 Srebrenica genocide annually over Serb opposition

May 22, 2024, 10:25 PM | Updated: May 23, 2024, 6:28 pm

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations approved a resolution Thursday establishing an annual day to commemorate the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs, a move vehemently opposed by Serbs who fear it will brand them all as “genocidal” supporters of the mass killing.

The vote in the 193-member General Assembly was 84-19 with 68 nations abstaining, a reflection of concerns among many countries about the impact of the vote on reconciliation efforts in deeply divided Bosnia.

Supporters had hoped for 100 “yes” votes. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who voted against the resolution, told the assembly the combined abstentions and “no” votes — 87 — was more than the 84 votes in favor. It is also noteworthy that 22 countries skipped the meeting and didn’t vote, some reportedly because of the dispute over the commemoration.

The resolution designates July 11 as the “International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica,” to be observed annually starting in two months.

The resolution, sponsored by Germany and Rwanda, doesn’t mention Serbs as the culprit, but that didn’t stop the intense lobbying campaign for a “no” vote by Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik and the populist president of neighboring Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, who had a Serbian flag draped over his shoulders as he sat in the assembly chamber during the vote.

Vukic told U.N. members after the vote that all those involved in the Srebrenica massacre have already been convicted and sentenced to prison and said the only purpose of the resolution was “to put moral and political guilt on one side” — the people of Serbia and Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb half of Bosnia.

“Those people that wanted to stigmatize Serbian people, they did not succeed and they will never succeed,” he said. “Nothing could have ever united Serbian people better than what was happening here today.”

Russia’s Nebenzia called the resolution’s adoption “a Pyrrhic victory for its sponsors,” saying if their goal ”was to divide the General Assembly … then they’ve succeeded brilliantly.”

But the resolution’s adoption was welcomed by Zeljko Komsic, the Croat member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, family members of Srebrenica victims, U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk and by many Western and Muslim nations.

The United States was one of more than 40 co-sponsors of the resolution, and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations welcomed its adoption in a tweet, saying “we honor the victims and commit to a more peaceful, stable world.”

“We actually expected more countries to be in favor, but we are satisfied,” Sehida Abdurahmanovic who lost several family members during the genocide, told AP. “Those who abstained and voted against — we will put them on a pillar of shame that we are building at the memorial center.″

On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serbs overran a U.N.-protected safe area in Srebrenica. They separated at least 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys from their wives, mothers and sisters and slaughtered them. Those who tried to escape were chased through the woods and over the mountains around the town.

The Srebrenica killings were a bloody climax of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, which came after the breakup of then-Yugoslavia unleashed nationalist passions and territorial ambitions that set Bosnian Serbs against the country’s two other main ethnic populations, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks.

Both Serbia and Bosnian Serbs have denied that genocide happened in Srebrenica although this has been established by two U.N. courts.

Before the vote, Vucic urged U.N. members to vote “no,” calling the resolution “highly politicized.” He warned that it will open “Pandora’s Box,” and said it was not about reconciliation. He said it will only “open old wounds” and create “complete political havoc” in the region and at the U.N. He also strongly attacked Germany for trying to give “moral lessons” to the international community and to Serbia.

The determination in 2007 by the International Court of Justice, the U.N.’s highest tribunal, that the acts committed in Srebrenica constituted genocide, is included in the draft resolution. It was Europe’s first genocide since the Nazi Holocaust in World War II, which killed an estimated 6 million Jews and people from other minorities.

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Antje Leendertse introduced the resolution, saying her country wants to build a multilateral system to prevent a repetition of Nazi Germany’s crimes and to honor the memory of the Srebrenica victims and support the survivors. The resolution “is not directed against anybody, not against Serbia,” she said, adding that if anything it is directed at the perpetrators of genocide.

Leendertse noted that there is an official U.N. commemoration of the 1994 Rwanda genocide on April 7 every year — the day the Hutu-led government began the killing of members of the Tutsi minority and their supporters. The resolution is aimed at “closing the gap” by creating a separate U.N. day to commemorate the victims of Srebrenica, she said.

Menachem Rosensaft, the son of Holocaust survivors who is an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that designating July 11 as the official day of remembrance for the Srebrenica genocide “is a moral and legal imperative.”

The slain Muslim Bosniaks deserve to have their deaths and the manner of their deaths commemorated and Srebrenica was supposed to be a safe area but was abandoned by Dutch U.N. peacekeepers, leaving the Bosniaks who sought shelter there “to be murdered on the U.N.’s watch,” Rosensaft said.

Richard Gowan, U.N. director of the International Crisis Group, called the timing of the vote “unfortunate, given allegations that Israel is pursuing genocide in Gaza.”


Associated Press writers Eldar Emric in Srebrenica and Jovana Gec and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia contributed to this report.

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UN approves resolution to commemorate the 1995 Srebrenica genocide annually over Serb opposition