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UN approves annual Srebrenica genocide commemoration

Members of the association Mothers of Srebrenica react to UN Srebrenica ruling, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, May 23, 2024.
Members of the association Mothers of Srebrenica react to UN Srebrenica ruling, in Potocari, Bosnia, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Copyright Associated Press
Copyright Associated Press
By Euronews with AP
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The UN has approved a resolution establishing an annual day to commemorate the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, despite fierce opposition from Serbs.

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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.

And now there will be a day each year to remember them - but it's 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 UN 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 favour. It is also noteworthy that 22 countries skipped the meeting and didn't vote, some reportedly because of the dispute over the commemoration. Russia is a mostly Slavic nation, as is Serbia, which is one of the few allies Moscow has in Europe.

The resolution designates 11 July 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 neighbouring Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, who had a Serbian flag draped over his shoulders as he sat in the assembly chamber during the vote.

Vučić told UN members after the vote that all those involved in the Srebrenica massacre have already been convicted and sentenced to prison. He 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 stigmatise 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.”

In response a prominent tower in Belgrade was lit up with the phrase "We will remember" - not to recommend the victims of the genocide, but to remember which UN members supported and which opposed the UN resolution.

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, UN 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 US 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 favour, 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.″

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 UN courts.

Before the vote, Vučić urged UN members to vote “no,” calling the resolution “highly politicised.” 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 UN. 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 UN’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.

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