Bosnian Serbs have rejected a ban on genocide denial imposed by the outgoing United Nations high representative and passed a law under which those who call their entity “genocidal” risk lengthy jail terms.
A week before the end of his mandate, Austrian diplomat and UN High Representative Valentin Inzko on July 23 used his powers to impose the genocide-denial ban, angering Bosnian Serb leaders.
The UN official in Bosnia holds certain executive powers in the Balkan country that was the scene of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.
The massacre happened in July 1995, a few months before the end of the war that left about 100,000 dead, when Serb forces rounded up and killed more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys after they captured the town of Srebrenica.
The massacre was deemed genocide by several verdicts of international courts, but Serb leaders usually deny it amounted to genocide, instead calling it a “great crime”.
In the past, some Bosniak Muslim leaders have described the Bosnian Serb entity as a “genocidal construction”.
On Friday, the parliament of the Serb-run entity, Republika Srpska (RS), passed a law on “non-implementation” of the high representative’s decision and another providing for penalties of up to 15 years in prison for “violating the reputation of the Republika Srpska”.
“The institutions of the Serb Republic will not cooperate with … bodies of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the implementation of the decision of the High Representative,” the parliament said in a statement.
“We will never again allow anyone to call us ‘genocidal’… and to humiliate us,” President of the RS Parliament Nedeljko Cubrilovic told the media after the vote.
The political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Milorad Dodik, reiterated his stance that “there was no genocide” in Srebrenica.
Last week, Inzko added several amendments to the Bosnian Criminal Code, including providing penalties of between six months and five years in prison for those who “publicly approve, deny, grossly minimise or attempt to justify the crime of genocide, crime against humanity and war crime”.
While Bosniak officials hailed Inzko’s move, Serb officials said it could further divide the country.
“He [Inzko] brought the country to the biggest crisis since the end of the war,” the parliament statement quoted Cubrilovic as saying.
Inzko, who was been high commissioner in Bosnia for 12 years, will hand over the seat on Sunday to Christian Schmidt.
The UN Peace Implementation Council appointed the former German agriculture minister as Inzko’s replacement, but the decision has been challenged by Russia and China, which believe it should have been approved by the UN Security Council.
The high commissioner can impose laws and fire officials. The powers stem from the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war.
The Dayton accord left Bosnia divided between the Bosniak and Croat-led Federation entity and the Serb-run Republika Srpska entity, linked by a relatively weak central government and tripartite inter-ethnic presidency.