Fears that Serbia might have to pay war reparations sinks plans to
condemn 1995 slaughter.
By Danica Vucenic in Belgrade (BCR No 561, 23-Jun-05)
Serbia's parliament has backed away from plans to formally condemn war
crimes in Srebrenica, in what observers said is another sign of
Serbian unwillingness to accept responsibility for the past.
Observers believe parliament was afraid a declaration on Srebrenica
might affect the ongoing suit at the International Court of Justice,
ICJ, which Bosnia and Hercegovina brought against the Federal Republic
of Yugoslavia in 1993.
In the case, Sarajevo accused the Belgrade government of being an
accomplice to genocide. If Bosnia wins the case, Serbia and
Montenegro, as the successor state to the old Yugoslavia, will have to
Officially, however, parliament did not condemn the killing of up to
8,000 Bosniaks in the town in July 1995 because the various
parliamentary factions could not agree on what the declaration should
Some deputies wanted the text to specifically mention Srebrenica,
while others argued for a more general statement.
Many NGOs and political activists attacked the inaction as further
proof of Serbia's inability to make a clean break with the regime of
One activist said he was not surprised by the failure, as "an
acknowledgement of the Srebrenica crimes would implicate those parties
who sit in the parliament".
The minority government of Vojislav Kostunica governs with the support
of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, while the strongest
opposition party, with 83 deputies in the 250-seat assembly, is the
Serbian Radical Party, SRS, whose leader Vojislav Seselj is in the
Hague alongside Milosevic.
The original declaration, submitted several weeks ago, was the
initiative of eight NGOs and two deputies in parliament, Natasa Micic
and Zarko Korac.
Biljana Kovacevic Vuco, president of the Human Rights Lawyers
Committee, which drafted the text of the NGOs' declaration, told
Balkan Crisis Report, BCR, what they had hoped to see.
"The declaration suggested that the Serbian state should clearly
disavow the Srebrenica genocide and everything done in Serbia's name
in unambiguous terms," she said.
Andrej Nosov, of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, one of the
NGOs, said its adoption would have meant that Serbia admitted it
"conducted a policy of genocide, lost the war, was an aggressor, and
hence, had to accept moral and political responsibility".
Their initiative might have sunk without trace had it not been for the
recent release of shocking television footage showing members of a
Serbian paramilitary unit, the Scorpions, shooting dead several young
Muslim prisoners from Srebrenica in 1995.
The video, which shook Serbian public, was revealed at The Hague and
shown on Serbia's B92 television station in early June.
The first reaction came from the SRS, which tabled a draft resolution
condemning all war crimes committed on the territory of former
Yugoslavia, but without specifically mentioning Srebrenica.
Under pressure from the international community and the Serbian
public, Predrag Markovic, speaker of parliament, also took up the
Others also weighed in, leaving parliament with four different
versions of the declaration to consider.
Not surprisingly, disagreements soon arose about which should be adopted.
Kostunica's party, the Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, and the SPS,
made it clear they wanted only a blanket condemnation of all crimes,
regardless of who perpetrated them.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, DS, led by the Serbian President,
Boris Tadic, and the Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO, led by the state
union foreign minister, Vuk Draskovic, wanted to stress the crime in
Many observers, however, believe the real reason parliament abandoned
the declaration was not a failure to agree on the document's wording
but for purely financial reasons relating to the ongoing suit at the
Bosnia brought the charges following the discovery in 1993 of Serb-run
detention camps at Omarska and Keraterm, where numerous Bosniaks were
Kovacevic Vuco believes a resolution would have little effect on the
eventual outcome of the case.
"If the International Court of Justice rules in favour of Bosnia and
Hercegovina… we will have to pay reparations … and we cannot avoid it
by denying or refusing to adopt the declaration," she said.
Vojin Dimitrijevic, an expert in international law and director of the
Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, agreed, saying a Srebrenica
declaration would have been "is a moral act, which could not be used
in the International Court of Justice".
He said Bosnia's case will only succeed if it established a direct
link between the Srebrenica killings and the Yugoslav state apparatus
and proved that Belgrade not only provided financial support but that
its army and police also took part.
Zarko Korac, who submitted the NGO declaration to the parliament, said
it was shameful that Serbia was lagging behind the Bosnian Serb
entity, the Republika Srpska, RS, when it came to acknowledging the
significance of the massacre.
"This policy, which resulted in the massacre of 7,800 Bosniaks in
Srebrenica, was created in Belgrade," Korac told BCR.
"That is why it is so difficult [for us] to accept responsibility and
offer an apology - from the place where the whole project was
Danica Vucenic is a journalist for B92