Serbian lawmakers issued an apology to the Bosnian Muslim victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre on Wednesday, ending years of denial in move seen as an important step on Belgrade’s road to Europe.
In the early hours of Wednesday a small majority of Serbian lawmakers — 127 out of 250 seats in the House — voted in favour of text condemning the 1995 massacre of about 8 000 people and issuing an apology to the victims.
The resolution, however, stopped short of using the word genocide, although it referred to an International Court of Justice decision which does use the term.
“The Parliament of Serbia strongly condemns the crime committed against the Bosnian Muslim population of Srebrenica in July 1995, as determined by the International Court of Justice [ICJ] ruling,” the text says.
The lawmakers also formally extended “their condolences and an apology to the families of the victims because not everything possible was done to prevent the tragedy”.
Human rights activists and observers hailed the apology, which ends years of denial by Serbian politicians about the scale of the killings, but in Bosnia survivors slammed it as meaningless because it avoids the word genocide.
“This resolution means nothing to us and we will not accept it. We will hail a resolution … that mentions the term genocide,” Sabra Kolenovic, from the survivors group “Mothers of Srebrenica”, told Agence France-Presse from Sarajevo.
She dismissed the vote as a “political game” by Belgrade.
The timing of the historical declaration coincides with Serbia’s push to join the European Union with Belgrade hoping to achieve candidate status next year.
“This declaration will be seen [by the European Union] as an important document and a sign of Belgrade’s determination to continue the European route and a respect for ICJ decisions,” Natasa Kandic, who heads a Serbian human rights organisation, told AFP.
Facing up to its role
The ruling coalition that proposed the resolution said the landmark declaration could help Serbia finally face up to its role in the bloody 1990s wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia.
“[The resolution] was the most difficult step but I am convinced that we will now open the process of reviewing recent history; this will be long and painful,” ruling coalition member Nenad Canak said after the vote.
“This is not only a discussion about Srebrenica but also on the politics of Serbia from the early 1990s to 2000 in general, and that’s why the debate was so difficult,” opposition liberal democrat MP Zarko Korac said.
In the text the Parliament also vowed to continue its cooperation with the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and stressed the importance of “the discovery and arrest of Ratko Mladic so that he might stand trial before the ICTY”.
Mladic, the UN war-crimes court’s most wanted fugitive, was in charge of the Bosnian Serb troops who overran the UN protected enclave in July 1995. He is believed to be hiding in Serbia.
The massacre is the only episode in Bosnia’s bloody 1992 to 1995 war to have been ruled as genocide by the international courts.
In their ruling, ICJ judges cleared Serbia of responsibility for the actual killings but said Belgrade was responsible for doing nothing to prevent the massacre.
After separating the men from the women, Bosnian Serb troops led by Mladic summarily executed about 8 000 Muslim men and boys and buried the bodies in various mass graves.
Fifteen years after the killings, the remains of thousands of massacre victims have been exhumed from more than 70 mass graves around the town of Srebrenica, with more than 5 600 victims identified by DNA analysis. — AFP