Thursday, July 7, 2016

Aleksandar Vučić will soon acknowledge Srebrenica genocide. Or else.

The twenty-first anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide  is approaching.  Numerous judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”) have confirmed that the execution of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men by Bosnian Serb forces was genocide.  Yet every year tensions rise between Bosnia and Serbia due to Serbia’s refusal to acknowledge that the heinous crime committed at Srebrenica amounted to genocide.  This year is no different.  The mayor of Srebrenica, Camil Durakovic, announced recently that Serbian officials were no longer welcome at events commemorating Srebrenica due to Serbia’s genocide denial.

Serbia’s policy of denial may come to an end in the next few years, however, due to pressure from the European Union.  Serbia’s government has set its sights on full EU membership and has been pushing hard to open so-called “Chapter 23”and “Chapter 24”  negotiations on the Judiciary, Rule of Law and Human Rights.  In order to achieve full EU membership, Serbia will have to satisfy all of the conditions and benchmarks that the EU has set out in Chapters 23 and 24.  Little public attention has been paid thus far to a condition that Croatia was able to insert into the EU’s conditions that Serbia must fulfill in order to complete its obligations under Chapter 23:

The EU delegation will recall that full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) remains essential. While awaiting the spring report of the ICTY, the EU delegation will stress its expectations that Serbia will continue its recent record of cooperation with the ICTY and with war crimes prosecution offices in the region. It will urge Serbia to fully and unequivocally accept the ICTY's rulings. It will also call on Serbia to step up its efforts in domestic handling of war crimes in line with international humanitarian law and the jurisprudence of ICTY and to significantly improve its witness protection system. It will call for full political support and commitment to cooperation with war crimes prosecution offices in the region.

The condition that Serbia must “fully and unequivocally accept the ICTY’s rulings” is crucial.  It means that if Serbia wants to become a member of the EU, it can no longer continue to deny what the ICTY has established in multiple judgments:  genocide was committed at Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces.  Croatia and other EU member states will insist that Serbian officials acknowledge the genocide before Serbia will be allowed to close Chapter 23. 

Accordingly, one day in the not-too-distant future, we should expect to see Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić publicly acknowledge that genocide was committed at Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces.  If not, Serbia will remain outside of the EU as a result of its preference for genocide denial over EU membership.

Update:  On 14 July, Vucic announced that Serbia and the Republika Srpska will jointly commemorate the "deportation" of the Serbs from Croatia in Operation Storm.  For the same reasons as I explain above, he won't be doing this for long. The ICTY's judgment in the Gotovina case is final:  Croatian Serbs were not "deported" by the government of Croatia in Operation Storm.  Vucic will have to acknowledge this if Serbia wants to complete Chapter 23 and eventually join the EU.

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