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Bosnian Serb Entity's President Reverses International Overseer's Ban On Genocide Denial

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Bosnian politican and president of the Bosnian entity Republic of Srpska, Zeljka Cvijanovic, pictured in Banja Luka, July 23, 2021.

The president of the Serb-majority entity that makes up part of Bosnia-Herzegovina has implemented a decree to reverse a ban criminalizing the denial of genocide and other serious crimes stemming from the bitter ethnic wars there in the 1990s.

Republika Srpska President Zeljka Cvijanovic's edict on the “non-application of Inzko's law" was meant to go into effect on October 8 after it was published in the official bulletin the previous day.

Valentin Inzko was the international community's overseer as high representative to Bosnia until German Christian Schmidt took over the job on August 1.

In late July, Inzko amended Bosnia's criminal code to prohibit and punish the denial of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, saying “there is no reconciliation without the recognition of crimes and without responsibility.”

Inzko's move particularly upset elements who refuse to acknowledge that the killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995 by Bosnian Serb forces was genocide, including secessionists in Republika Srpska.

The legitimacy of Cvijanovic's decrees could still face legal challenges, including via the country's Constitutional Court.

Just last month, that court struck down as unconstitutional a law in Republika Srpska declaring its forests the sole property of Republika Srpska. The court said such properties belonged to the whole country.

A spokesperson for the Bosnian Constitutional Court told RFE/RL that by October 12 it had received no challenges to Cvijanovic's impending decrees.

A second decree by Cvijanovic that was published on October 8 prohibits “disparaging and mocking” the Republika Srpska, one of two entities along with the Bosniak and Croat federation that compose Bosnia.

The country is still governed and administered along ethnic lines established by the 1995 Dayton accords that ended the three-year Bosnian War following the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The Dayton accords established the Office of the High Representative to ensure compliance with civilian aspects of the agreements, but secessionists in Republika Srpska and some outside countries have been pressing hard for its abolition.

The Serb representative to Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Milorad Dodik, has said the Srebrenica genocide "did not take place" and has refused to work with "Bosnian institutions" since Inzko's ban was instituted.

Russia and China challenged Schmidt's appointment at the UN Security Council session in July.

Efforts to thwart Inzko's denial ban mark one of the most serious challenges to the high representative's authority in its history.

The first article of Cvijanovic's decree on the Inzko law states that "the decision of the High Representative shall not apply" to Republika Srpska. A second article states that Republika Srpkska authorities "will not cooperate with the competent authorities" of Bosnia to implement the ban.

The decree says it is pursuant to legislation "on non-application" of Inzko's law that was passed by the Republika Srpska's National Assembly on July 30.

Seventy of the 73 deputies present for that vote backed the challenge.

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