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Bosnia's peace envoy outlaws genocide denial

July 24, 2021

The head of the international body set up to implement post-war peace has overruled Bosnia's parliament. It says politicians have failed to counter attempts to downplay the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

A Bosnian Muslim woman cries between the graves of her father, two grandfathers and other close relatives, all victims of Srebrenica genocide
At least 8,000 Muslim men and boys in were murdered in SrebrenicaImage: Getty Images/D. Sagolj

Denial of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide and the glorification of convicted war criminals will soon be punishable offenses in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

The top international official in Bosnia, Valentin Inzko, announced the measure on Friday, saying it was important to counter efforts by Bosnian Serbs to refute the scope of the massacre.

Inzko is the outgoing head of Bosnia's Office of the High Representative, which was created by the 1995 Dayton peace accord that ended the Bosnian War.

The official is supposed to support the country's reconstruction and to this end can intervene in political events, pass and repeal laws, and remove politicians from office.

Previous attempts by Bosnia's parliament to enshrine such a regulation in law has failed, mainly due to opposition from ethnic Serb politicians.

Denial a 'mockery of the rule of law' 

Inzko, an Austrian diplomat, said in a statement: "Apart from the fact that such behavior constitutes a mockery of the rule of law, I am deeply convinced that it is also sowing the seeds for potential new conflicts. Therefore, I believe that it is now necessary to regulate this matter with legal solutions."

"Hate speech, the glorification of war criminals and revisionism or outright denial of genocide and war crimes prevent societies from dealing with their collective past, constitute renewed humiliation of the victims and their loved ones, while also perpetuating injustice and undermining interethnic relationships. All of this causes frustrations, makes the society chronically ill and prevents the emergence of desperately needed reconciliation," he continued.

He added: "I have no right to leave such a situation to the tormented citizens of this beautiful country and to my successor."

July 31 implementation

The amendment to Bosnia's criminal code will take effect from July 31.

Denial of genocide will see the perpetrator receive up to three years in prison. If the denier is a public official, three additional years can be added to the sentence, and a further three years if the act is accompanied by threats or insults.

Ratko Mladic life sentence upheld

What was the Srebrenica massacre?

In July 1995, at least 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica during the Bosnian War.

The genocide happened after Bosnian Serbs seized control over the eastern enclave. They subsequently executed Bosniak men and boys before dumping their remains in mass graves that were later dug up and reburied in an effort to hide the crime.

Remains of the dead are still being unearthed and identified. Earlier this month, 19 newly identified victims of the massacre were buried.

The International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia declared the Srebrenica massacre as genocide. But Bosnian Serb officials and neighboring Serbia have refused to accept the designation.

jsi/mm (AP, dpa)