A UN resolution condemning the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica as a "crime of genocide" was vetoed Wednesday by Russia, earning denunciations by the US and Britain and by international human rights groups like Amnesty International.
The systematic killing by Serb regulars and paramilitary of some 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslims who fled the town of Srebrenica, a supposed UN-protected “safe haven,” was a turning point in the Bosnian war, and a moment of conscience that forced the West to act on a European crisis that it had until then watched from the sidelines.
Russia said the resolution, which was timed in advance of the 20th anniversary of the massacre on Saturday, would create further divisions in the Balkans by singling out the Bosnian Serbs for a war crime.
But the veto is being seen as part of Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to challenge and push back against the West, and the New York Times said it marked “a new low in relations among world powers.”
The British-drafted resolution urged that, "Acceptance of the tragic events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation.” However Russian UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said the genocide term was "confrontational and politically-motivated."
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, who was a witness to the Bosnian war as a journalist, countered by saying, “This is a veto of a well-established fact,” and is “heartbreaking” for the families of the victims.
Peter Wilson, the British envoy, accused Russia of denying facts established by a special international tribunal. “It is denial, and not this draft resolution, that will cause division,” Mr. Wilson said. “Denial is the final insult to the victims.”
President Vladimir Putin instructed his ambassador to exercise Russia’s veto power at the Security Council after he was lobbied by Serbian and Bosnian Serb leaders, Moscow’s traditional Balkan allies.
Russia was the sole country among the 15 Security Council members to vote against the resolution at a meeting that began with a minute’s silence to remember the victims. Ten members supported the resolution and four abstained, including China.
The Srebrenica atrocity followed five years of violence in the Balkans largely fomented as a result of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s policy to carve an ethnic “Greater Serbia” out of the former Yugoslavia.
In the past 20 years two international tribunals have prosecuted combatants on “genocide” charges. But the Security Council resolution would have been the first formal definition of “genocide” for a crime that was the worst in Europe since World War II. The phrase “ethnic cleansing” was coined by a US diplomat during the early phases of the Bosnian tragedy to describe a then-Serbian policy to drive Bosnian Muslims out of their homes and villages.
Two of the arch protagonists of the Srebrenica massacre, Gen. Ratko Mladic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic are being tried at the Hague for crimes including genocide.
The massacre took place after UN Dutch peacekeepers vacated one of the UN designated “safe havens” in Bosnia.
The Bosnian war, coming after the fall of the Berlin Wall, caused bitter debates within the transatlantic community about the legacy and meaning in Europe of the phrase “never again,” regarding the genocide of the Jews in the Holocaust. The breakup of Yugoslavia suggested that ethnic nationalism in Europe had not been quelled by 50 years of an ideological standoff between communism and democracy.
On the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica event, the Monitor reported from the Hague, where the UN tribunal for war crimes during the Yugoslav war was taking place:
The genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica started, but did not end, on July 11, 1995. It took eight days.
On July 13, for example, Serbian forces deported 20,000 thirsty and dazed women and children. On July 16, Drazen Erdemovic of the 10th Sabotage Unit was ordered at 10 a.m. to shoot unarmed Muslim men brought by truck to a farm in Branjevo. His squad shot a dozen at a time until 3 p.m., leaving 1,100 dead. So far, Mr. Erdemovic is the only foot soldier to plead guilty for his action at the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal here.
Now 10 years later, many witnesses and survivors are eager to remind the world that Srebrenica was not, as it is sometimes presented, an isolated horror conducted by a clutch of crazy hillbillies – nor simply the worst slaughter in Europe in 50 years.
Amnesty International director for Europe John Dalhuisen said Thursday the rejected UN resolution was "about much more than just recognizing Srebrenica as a genocide. It was also about acknowledging the urgent need to provide justice to the victims and long-term support to survivors, including of sexual violence, and clarifying the fate and whereabouts of the over 8,000 still missing from the war.”