Bosnia’s Peace Envoy Imposes Ban On Genocide Denial

Valentin Inzko, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Office of the High Representative (OHR), has imposed a decree that punishes anyone who “publicly condones, denies, grossly trivialises or tries to justify” the genocide or war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian Civil Conflict. Potential perpetrators may be met with a prison sentence of up to 5 years. This was announced on the 26-year anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8,000 Bosniak Muslims were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces, and during Inzko’s last days in office following his May 27th resignation. Inzko justified his policy in a letter to the Bosnian presidency and state institutions, “I would like to emphasize that there can be no reconciliation without the recognition of crimes and culpability”, as quoted in POLITICO

This decision has been supported by both Bosniak officials and the U.S embassy in Sarajevo. Reuters reported that Šefik Džaferović, the Bosniak member of Bosnia’s presidency, said Inzko had “fulfilled his obligation to the victims, his conscience, but also to the Dayton peace agreement.” According to Al-Jazeera, the U.S Embassy in Bosnia agreed “genocide denial and war criminal glorification are unacceptable and undermine the mutual trust,” noting that Inzko’s move presents “a starting point for more concrete debate and steps by local actors when it comes to practical implementation.” While Bosniaks and the embassy hope this landmark step will foster a new era in paving over the still-fresh scars of the war, the decree has not been happily received by the Serbian side of the country.

The current president of Republika Srpska and active genocide denier, Milorad Dodik, has condemned the announcement from Valentin Inzko. He is quoted in Bosnian news portal Klix as saying “Inzko does not have the right to do this”, declaring that the “Republika Srpska rejects this decision, the genocide did not happen, Serbs must never accept this”. This is consistent with his previous statements, in which he referred to the events in Srebrenica as a crime, not genocide.

Both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia have ruled the Srebrenica massacre a genocide. However, Dodik’s stance on the events in Srebrenica is shared by Serbia, with many top Serbian politicians also denying that a genocide occurred there. This decree comes in the wake of the UN Security Council rejecting a recent resolution put forward by Serbian allies Russia and China, which would have stripped the power of the OHR in Bosnia. Dodik has criticised the Office and the West for being politically biased against Serbia. Certainly, this decision will not ameliorate those sentiments.

Inzko is the most recent holder of the position of the OHR, created in the wake of the Bosnian Civil War to “oversee the civilian implementation of the Dayton Agreement.” The Bosnian Civil War was ended by the internationally-supported Dayton Agreement. Simply, the agreement divided the country into two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina representing Bosniaks and Croatian people, and the Republika Srpska, representing the Serbs of the newly found nation. Additionally, it also created an executive branch with a rotating presidency. Every election year, a Bosniak, Croat, and Serb are elected as presidents, who then rotate into executive power throughout their elected term.

Due to the polarizing nature of the Srebrenica massacre, this decree from the OHR has major implications for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dodik plans to fight this decision, arguing that the “situation can be solved with decisions from the Bosnian institutions of Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the Presidency…In any case, a solution which will reject this through the legislative institutions of Bosnia will be provided by the Constitution of Bosnia.” In addition to his plan to reject Inzko’s decree, Dodik has called for the Republika Srpska to seek an exit from Bosnia and Herzegovina, saying in Klix that “[an] exit is what we are negotiating for, and if there is no deal, there will be a blockade.” 

Bosnia and Herzegovina is still a very divided nation and the reactions from both entities speak to this fact. Schools in the country are sometimes divided along ethnic lines, in a policy known as “two schools under one roof”. In Travnik, in Central Bosnia, the Croat and Bosniak schools are separated by a fence and the students are taught separate curricula. In Srpska, the Bosnian flag is rarely, if ever, flown and signs are written in Cyrillic, as is standard in Serbian, while the rest of the country uses Latin script. It is hoped that this decision will allow Bosnia to move forward from this divided existence, but the reaction from Dodik and Bosnian Serbs puts this hope in grave danger and may endanger the hopes for the existence of the Bosnian state and the safety of the Bosnian people.