EU strives to change Bosnian genocide denial law implemented by Austrian diplomat
LONDON: Senior EU officials are working behind the scenes to “correct” a law recently introduced in Bosnia and Herzegovina that criminalizes denial of the 1995 massacre of more than 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica.
An EU official has privately admitted that the feud over the law risks sparking new conflict in the region.
The country, which was once part of Yugoslavia, is in one of its worst diplomatic crises in decades. Serbian politicians, including their leader Milorad Dodik, have been accused in recent months of trying to divide the country by withdrawing Serbian involvement from state institutions, including the military.
The dispute revolves around a decision taken in July by Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, at the time high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, to ban genocide denial. The High Representative oversees the agreement that brought peace to the country after the Bosnian war.
Dodik argues that there is an imbalance of power in the three-member presidency that serves as the country’s head of state, and that Inzko’s actions are part of the problem and were undemocratic.
While Dodik’s attempts to transfer power to the Serbs and move away from multi-ethnic institutions have been condemned by the international community, leaked documents reveal that a senior EU official concluded that the Inzko genocide had contributed to the crisis.
Just before leaving office, Inzko made genocide denial an offense punishable by up to five years in prison. He cited the Bosnian Serb assembly’s refusal to withdraw honors from three convicted war criminals as part of his reasoning.
Oliver Varhelyi, the European Commissioner for Neighborhood Enlargement, gave a “frank assessment” that Inzko “was to blame for the current political crisis” in the country and the “delegitimization” of the office of the high representative. One of Varhelyi’s responsibilities is to strengthen EU relations with aspiring member Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He said on November 25: âAlthough the Inzko amendments cannot be challenged from the point of view of the substance of the law, the fact that it was imposed on the last day of (High Representative) Inzko’s tenure was problematic. .
âMainly because it was an important decision, it should have been based on a thorough discussion with everyone on board. The question now was how to fix this.
The Srebrenica massacre of over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian War in 1995 is considered the most recent genocide on European soil. But while the word genocide is widely used internationally to describe events, it remains a controversial issue within the state.
The complicated post-war peacemaking process resulted in the granting of significant power to the Office of the High Representative responsible for implementing the peace agreement – including the right to impose laws and to dismiss officials if they threaten to undermine the post-war ethnic balance. and reconciliation efforts.
In the leaked documents, Varhelyi made it clear that he sees a way out of the diplomatic crisis. He urged Serbian parliamentarians to suspend plans to regain state powers in the areas of tax administration, justice, intelligence and the national army for six months to allow negotiations to take place .
Resolving the genocide law dispute is vital, he added, for Dodik to recognize Inzko’s successor.
A spokesperson for the European Commission said: âThe process of reconciliation requires acknowledging what happened, honoring the victims and genuinely promoting reconciliation by addressing the roots of hatred that led to the genocide. Local ownership of the process is also essential.