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INFO::: Transitional Justice > Srebrenica > No Comment


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The NIN weekly, June 3, 2005 (excerpts)



The Genocidal Circle Completes


By Ljiljana Smajlovic


Eight non-governmental organizations from Belgrade requested the Serbian Assembly to adopt a declaration obliging the state of Serbia to acknowledge the judgments that have "clearly defined the character of the crime of genocide committed in Srebrenica," to "candidly address" the victims of the Srebrenica genocide and to "confess" that the "crime of genocide has been committed on our behalf." Local human rights activists (Natasa Kandic, Borka Pavicevic, Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco, Miljenko Dereta and others) enjoy international support: the International Helsinki Federation, under the auspices of which acts the local Helsinki Committee for Human Rights - has teamed up with their request.

The IHF's message of support to its Belgrade colleagues overstepped the cautiously worded domestic "Declaration on the State of Serbia's Obligation To Undertake All Measures Aimed at Protecting the Rights of the Victims of War Crimes, Particularly the Rights of the Victims of the Srebrenica Genocide." The document that mostly revokes generally recognized principles and values of the protection of human rights and freedoms ends up by demanding moral confession that the crime "has been committed on our behalf." The IHF wants the Serbian authorities (actually, "Prime Minister Kostunica, the President of the Parliament and other representatives of the government") to confess to domestic and international publics that "Serb forces" have committed the Srebrenica genocide and, in this context, to apologize to the families of the victims. The IHF explicitly quotes the "Serb forces" that have committed the genocide in Srebrenica: the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), the Yugoslav Army (VJ), the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS), local Territorial Defence (TO) units, local and Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) police units and paramilitary groups.

It is common knowledge that The Hague tribunal has already ruled one case of genocide: General Radoslav Krstic has been sentenced for aiding and abetting genocide in Srebrenica. The ex-Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, is also charged with genocide. Of course, it's nowhere near proving that units of the VJ or MUP have taken part in genocide, as claimed by the IHF. On the contrary. This is where the prosecution wages its major battle, while international legal experts who have spoken their mind on the issue, have expressed serious doubts about the strength of the evidence presented so far in The Hague when it came to Milosevic's personal involvement in the Srebrenica crime, let alone that of VJ or MUP troops. As it seems, the prosecution now hopes and prays that the tape they have apparently just acquired through Ms. Natasa Kandic's Center would prove that one MUP unit has been involved in the Srebrenica massacre.

The prosecution claims that that the tape shows members of the "Scorpion" unit that was allegedly under the control of the Serbian MUP.

Regardless of whether or not the tape will be proved authentic, it is already evident that the declaration on Srebrenica, put forth by eight non-governmental organizations, stands poor chances to be adopted by the Serbian Assembly. The very fact that MPs from the Democratic Party's (DS) list, Natasa Micic and Zarko Korac, have set their heart on this task is a kind of anti-propaganda ("They've only omitted Carla del Ponte," commented Ivica Dacic) of the document the DS vice-president, Dusan Petrovic, had not even set his eyes on (though, like most citizens, he deems it "necessary that Serbia faces up the past.").

Being proposed by the organizations that always join hands in the defense Vladimir Popovic and Cedomir Jovanovic, the declaration will probably have even smaller chances before the Serbian Assembly. The European Movement that has recently gave a helping hand to Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco and Vladimir Popovic's joint project against Aleksandar Tijanic also backed up these organizations.

The declaration's prospects are further diminished by the fact that Belgrade is a party to a suit before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where Bosnia-Herzegovina sues Yugoslavia for genocide and announces to request huge war reparations whereby generations of citizens of Serbia and Montenegro would have to finances its reconstruction. Legal experts, interviewed by the NIN, take that even confession that genocide has been committed "on our behalf" (which, literally, does not imply acknowledgment of responsibility for crime, but rather a kind of moral stand taken by political collectivity) could harm Belgrade when and if Bosnia-Herzegovina's charges are sustained by the International Court of Justice. There are still chances that the Court drops the charges on the grounds of non-competence. Anyway, Serbia-Montenegro's legal representatives disagrees that genocide has taken place in Srebrenica and founds his future defense on the thesis that genocide never took place, as there have not been genocidal intent, i.e. the plan to exterminate Muslims as people.

Of course, one should not rule out the possibility that the International Court of Justices rules contrary to the judges of The Hague, who have already decided in the Krstic case that genocide had been committed in Srebrenica.And, yet one should not much count on such an outcome, and Belgrade, like any party in a difficult lawsuit, should be on its guard and avoid making a rod for its own back and arming the other party with arguments against itself.

Would that be ethical? And, do Serbs - in whose name Srebrenica has been "liberated" - have any moral obligations towards the victims that would overpower all national concerns and reasons? That is written between the lines of the request submitted by non-governmental organizations that probably genuinely believe that moral acknowledgment would more help than disadvantage the Serbian side before the international public for sympathy of which Serbs must strive, but also before the International Court of Justice. The argument that acceptance of moral responsibility for the crime committed "in our name" would not weaken our international and legal position, and would, moreover, back up the claim that this state and its government are breaking political and moral continuity of Milosevic's era might be defendable. Anyway, even should this government, tomorrow, all of sudden and of its own free will, confess genocide, that would be no evidence whatsoever from a legal point of view. No court of law would admit a confession in itself as evidence, particularly not a confession made by the side that has not been involved in crime at all.

Namely, it is widely felt over here that some non-governmental organizations are acting as if they were branches of the American Sixth Fleet, and that their moral propositions and political moves are always close or identical to the interests of our enemies. This is not mere paranoia only: such belief is based on empirical knowledge of always the same organizations raising more hue and cry about Serbian crimes than those against Serbs, and is based on the perception that digging up Serbian crimes is morally, politically and financially more profitable for them. On the other hand, bringing to light crimes the victims of which were Serbs would hardly secure them donors and powerful, influential friends who would promote and advertize their findings at international panels. The eight non-governmental organizations suggesting that the Assembly should recognize genocide keep low profile at the anniversary of NATO bombardment, join not the Amnesty International thundering that bombardment of the Radio & Television of Serbia was a war crime, rather than an attack on "a legitimate military target," protest not when by some miracle the pits with bones of Serbian civilians shot in Kosovo are discovered only after The Hague's deadline for raising indictments for war crimes. Moreover, they show up at the political scene as most concerned supporters of specific political options, and totally out of the context of the struggle for universal human rights.

Their popularity hardly benefits from the fact that they rant and rail against ideological opponents and demonstrate not a high threshold of tolerance for different views, even when those different views reflect the best liberal traditions. So it happened that last week those allegedly liberal and enlightened intellectuals and human rights activists thundered against Serbian President Boris Tadic, who, look, dared say that "in any country, citizens have the right to freely express their stand, even when it contradicts the country's official politics." Tadic had no doubts that the panel organized at the Belgrade Law School was adverse for the country or that denial of the Srebrenica crime was disgusting. He just stood up for the freedom of expression in Serbia.





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