The outgoing international high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina has imposed amendments to Bosnia's Criminal Code that prohibit and punish the denial of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, drawing an angry reaction from Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik who again called for the dissolution of the Balkan country.
The changes to the country's Criminal Code introduce prison sentences of up to five years for genocide deniers and for any glorification of war criminals, the Office of the High Representative for Bosnia (OHR) said on July 23, hours after the UN Security Council rejected a Russian proposal to scrap the post overseeing the implementation of the 1995 peace agreement that ended the Bosnian War.
The U.S.-brokered Dayton accords ended the 1992-95 war after more than 100,000 people died and established two entities within Bosnia -- a Muslim-Croat federation and the predominantly Serbian Republika Srpska -- held together by joint central institutions.
High representative Valentin Inzko, who has the authority to impose decisions or dismiss officials, explained the move in an open letter saying that “there is no reconciliation without the recognition of crimes and without responsibility.”
In a statement sent to RFE/RL, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo welcomed the move saying it would contribute to reconciliation.
“The Law on Amendments to the BiH Criminal Code is the starting point for more concrete talks that should be taken by local actors regarding practical implementation," it said.
The current Bosniak and Croat members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Sefik Dzaferovic and Zeljko Komsic, described the decision as “an act of civilization” that will strengthen peace in the country.
But Dodic, the Serbian member of the presidency, rejected it as “unfounded,” and reiterated his claim that the 1995 Srebrenica genocide in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces “did not take place.”
"Serbs must not accept this decision. This is a nail in the coffin of BiH. After this, Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot function,” he told a press conference, adding that he would propose to convene a session of the National Assembly to discuss a ban on the activities of Bosnia’s judicial institutions.
"[Republika Srpska] should start the process of dissolution, there is no dialogue in BiH," said Dodik, who has long been accused of hate speech aimed at Bosniaks, the glorification of war criminals, and genocide denial. He has also repeatedly criticized the OHR and the West as biased against Bosnian Serbs.
Mirko Sarovic, leader of the Serbian Democratic Party, warned that Inzko’s decision was “unnecessary and a step backwards on the path of BiH's progress and exit from international tutorship.”
Bosnia’s prosecutor's office already announced it would monitor statements by individuals or groups and act in accordance with the new amendments.
In New York, the UN Security Council rejected a draft resolution sponsored by Russia and China that would have immediately stripped the powers given to the high representative in 1997, saying such powers “are no longer required given the progress achieved by the Bosnian parties.”
It would also have eliminated the position entirely in one year.
The text needed nine of the council's 15 votes to pass, but only received two -- from Russia and China -- with the other council members abstaining.
Ahead of the vote, Western diplomats accused Moscow of trying to undermine the Office of the High Representative and Christian Schmidt, the German politician set to take over the position next month. Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky accused the high representative of becoming like “a czar.”
Schmidt was appointed as the next high representative in May by the 10-member Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, the international body guiding Bosnia’s peace process. Russia, which has long sought the termination of the post, was the only Steering Board member to oppose the appointment.
On August 1, the former German agriculture minister is scheduled to take over from Inzko, who has stepped down after holding the post for more than a decade.