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Srebrenica Genocide Denial: A Clear and Present Danger 

By Menachem Z. Rosensaft

Imagine the international outrage if murals of Adolf Hitler were to be prominently displayed throughout Germany, or if a Berlin student dormitory were to be named after Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the systematic annihilation of six million Jews in the Holocaust. 

Imagine further the across-the-board condemnation of any German government delusional enough to claim as a matter of policy that the Holocaust was not a genocide, and that the Jews brought their mass slaughter upon themselves. 

Precisely this type of scenario has been playing itself out in Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity within the precarious multi-ethnic state of Bosnia and Herzegovina that emerged from the 1995 Dayton Accords, with regard to the genocide perpetrated by Bosnian Serb troops more than twenty-six years ago against Bosniaks—Bosnian Muslims—in and around the town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia. 

The underlying relevant facts are relatively clearcut. During the brutally fought 1992–1995 Bosnian War, paramilitary Bosnian Serb forces engaged in a savage campaign to expel non-Serbs from the predominantly ethnic Serb part of Bosnia. In 1993, the United Nations Security Council designated “Srebrenica and its surroundings as a safe area which should be free from any armed attack or other hostile act.”1 

Over the course of several days beginning on July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb troops commanded by General Ratko Mladic´ murdered approximately 8,000 Muslim men and boys between the ages of 12 and 77 from the Srebrenica enclave. Mladic´’s forces also forcibly expelled around 25,000 Bosniak women, children, and elderly men from Srebrenica. 

The 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention provides that killing members of “a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group,” with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part,” that group “as such” constitutes the crime of genocide under international law.2 

To date, six Bosnian Serbs, including Mladic´ and the erstwhile Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadžic´, have been convicted of genocide by the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in connection with the Srebrenica killings.3 In 2007, the International Court of Justice held that “the acts committed at Srebrenica . . . were committed with the specific intent to destroy in part the group of the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina as such; and accordingly that these were acts of genocide.”4 Along the same lines, in its judgment convicting Karadžic´ of genocide, the ICTY Trial Chamber wrote that the “only reasonable inference” to be drawn from the killing of the Bosniak men and boys of Srebrenica “is that members of the Bosnian Serb Forces orchestrating this operation intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslims as such.”5 

Rather than acknowledging responsibility for the carnage, ultra-nationalist Republika Srpska politicians and their acolytes have spent the past twenty-six years denying that what took place at Srebrenica constituted a genocide and instead are shamelessly fabricating an alternate—and false –scenario. 

In 2020, the Srebrenica-Potocˇari Memorial Center issued a report on Srebrenica genocide denial that documents the revisionist initiatives by politicians and pseudo-academics to distort history.6 The efforts range from attempts to dispute the death toll to blaming the victims for the slaughter by claiming that it was a reaction to Bosniak provocations. 

Some of the more than 6,500 gravestones at the Srebrenica- Potocari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1996 Genocide.

Thus, Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, calls the Srebrenica genocide a “fabricated myth”7 and has declared categorically that “genocide did not happen, Serbs must never accept this.”8 

And Republika Srpska President Zeljka Cvijanovic has pointedly suggested that the killing of Bosniaks at Srebrenica was retaliation for prior anti-Serb “war crimes against Serbs” purportedly committed by Bosnian Muslim forces.9 

It gets worse. The perpetrators of the Srebrenica genocide are lionized in present-day Republika Srpska. Enormous murals of Ratko Mladic´ throughout Republika Srpska and in Serbia glorify Mladic´ ,10 and a student dormitory was named with great fanfare after Karadžic´.11 

This is the functional equivalent of turning Adolf Eichmann into a folk hero. 

Last July, a purportedly “independent” commission appointed by the Republika Srpska authorities and headed by a controversial Israeli academic, Gideon Greif,12 issued a more than 1,000-page long report that shamelessly, and under the guise of pseudo-scholarship, categorically rejects the proposition that a genocide was perpetrated at Srebrenica.13 

The report, which I critiqued at length shortly after it was made public,14 is an abomination that not only blatantly ignores one ICTY judgment after another, but depicts as gospel the writings of largely discredited Srebrenica genocide deniers, without addressing the writings of historians and legal scholars who have reached diametrically different conclusions. 

The report engages in the age-old rationalization of blaming the victims for the racial, ethnic, or religiously motivated decimation committed against them, and, for good measure, disparages as illegitimate and politically biased not just the ICTY but just about all war crimes trials beginning with Nuremberg. The report goes to considerable and unbearable lengths to dismiss as “victor’s justice” and “retributive justice” not just the ICTY but the very rationales on which the International Military Tribunals at Nuremberg and Tokyo were predicated. 

Yet another distasteful aspect of the Greif Report is its authors’ apparent determination to hold the Bosniaks responsible for the actions of the Republika Srpska troops, essentially blaming the victims. A large part of the report is devoted to the genocide perpetrated by the Ustaša against Serbs and Jews during World War II, as well as lengthy accounts of purported Bosniak aggressive actions beginning in 1991. According to this particular argument, Bosnian Serbs killed Bosniaks at Srebrenica not as part of a genocide but either (take your pick) as retaliation or to prevent future military actions by the aforesaid Bosniaks. 

The Greif report also repeatedly casts the Bosniaks as aggressors and the Bosnian Serbs as victims in a rewriting of history reminiscent of Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ justifications of the Nazis’ anti-Jewish policies. Accusing Albert Einstein and the German Jewish writers Emil Ludwig and Lion Feuchtwanger of waging an “atrocity campaign” against Germany, Goebbels declared in April of 1933 that “the German nation was ready to leave [the Jewish] question in abeyance if Judaism will leave the German nation alone.”15 

Eight and a half years later, in November 1941 with the early stages of the Holocaust underway, Goebbels wrote in the weekly newspaper Das Reich

“If international finance Jewry should succeed in plunging the world into war once again, the result will be not the Bolshevization of the world and thereby the victory of the Jews, but rather the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe. . .. Every Jew is our enemy in this historic struggle . . . The Jews must be removed from the German community, for they endanger our national unity.”16 

This is precisely the type of obscene argument we see in the Greif Report as a subliminal justification for what occurred in Srebrenica: the Bosniaks brought the genocide (which the report denies was a genocide) on themselves—don’t blame Mladic´ , don’t blame Karadžic´ , don’t blame the Republika Srpska soldiers who shot thousands of unarmed men and boys to death. It’s so much simpler and so much more convenient to blame the Bosniaks instead. 

If a student in my course on the law of genocide were to present this type of argument in a term paper, they would not receive a passing grade. 

The grim reality is that the Srebrenica slaughter was one of the twentieth century’s most notorious manifestations of genocide. There can also be no question that it was perpetrated by adherents of an indigenous extremist ethnonationalist ideology. This mindset and its proponents are still very much in evidence. 

Accordingly, the ongoing brazen attempts to deny and distort the Srebrenica genocide do not merely showcase the moral and ideological bankruptcy of genocide deniers. Far more ominously, they constitute a very clear and present danger in that they remind us of the resilience and resurgence of the political extremism that provided fertile ground for genocide in the first place. 

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School, is the general counsel and associate executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress. He is the author of Poems Born in Bergen-Belsen (Kelsay Books, 2021).


ENDNOTES 

1. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, UNSC Res 819, UN Doc S/Res/819, 16 April 1993. 

2. Convention On The Prevention And Punishment Of The Crime Of Genocide (adopted 9 December 1948, entered into force 12 Jan 1951) UNTS 1021 

3. See generally, Menachem Z. Rosensaft, “Ratko Mladic´ ’s Genocide Conviction and Why it Matters,” Tablet Magazine, November 22, 2017, https://www. tabletmag.com/sections/news/ articles/ratko-mladics-genocide-conviction-and-why-it-matters. 

4. Case Concerning Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro), International Court of Justice, Judgment of 26 February 2007, ¶ 297. 

5. Prosecutor v. Radovan Karadžic´, Judgment, Trial Chamber, 24 March 2016, IT-95-5/18-T, ¶ 5669. 

6. “Srebrenica Genocide Denial Report 2020,” Srebrenica-Potocˇari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide, May 2020. 

7. Zamira Rahim, “Srebrenica massacre is ‘fabricated myth’, Bosnian Serb leader says,” Independent, 14 April 2019. 

8. “‘It’s getting out of hand’: genocide denial outlawed in Bosnia,” Associate Press, July 24, 2021 (https://www.theguardian. com/world/2021/jul/24/genocide-denial-outlawed-bosnia-srebrenica-office-high-representative). 

9. Željka Cvijanovic´ , “President of the Republic of Srpska addresses at the international scientific conference ‘Srebrenica, Reality and Manipulation’”, 12 April 2019, http://www.predsjednikrs.net/en/ president-of-the-republic-of-srpska-addresses-at-the-international-scientific-conference-srebrenica-reality-and-manipulation-4/ 

10. Mersiha Gadzo, “Ratko Mladic´ ’s ideology lives on in Republika Srpska,” Al Jazeera, 24 November 2017; Erna Mackic, “Ratko Mladic´ Monument Erected in His Bosnian Hometown,” Balkan Insight, 3 September 2018; “Mural dedicated to War Criminal Ratko Mladic´ in Bosanka Gradiska,” Sarajevo Times, 20 June 2020. 

11. Daria Sito-Sucjc, “Defiant Bosnian Serbs honor Karadzic before Hague genocide verdict,” Reuters, 20 March 2016. The plaque honoring Karadžic´ at the dormitory was removed in late 2020 at the request of Karadžic´ ’s daughter. Vladimir Kovacevic and Lamija Grebo, Tribute to Radovan Karadzic´ Removed after Daughter Intervenes,” Balkan Insight, 10 December 2020. 

12. Menachem Z. Rosensaft, “From a Respected Holocaust Historian to a Genocide Denier,” Haaretz, February 1, 2022, https://www. haaretz.com/israel-news/. premium.HIGHLIGHT-how-a-holocaust-historian-became-a-genocide-denier-1.10578793 

13. Concluding Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Sufferings of All Peoples In the Srebrenica Region Between 1992 and 1995, https:// incomfis-srebrenica.org/report/ 

14. Menachem Z. Rosensaft, “Deceptive Report Escalates Srebrenica Genocide Denial Campaign,” Just Security, July 29, 2021, https://www.justsecurity. org/77628/deceptive-report-escalates-srebrenica-genocide-denial-campaign 

15. “Defends Attitude or Reich on Jews,” The New York Times, April 30, 1933, Section E, Page 2. 

16. Joseph Goebbels, “The Jews Are Guilty!” Das Reich, 16 November 1941, German Propaganda Archive, Calvin University, https://research. calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/goeb1.htm