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Srebrenica: Twelve Years after the Genocide and the Signing of the Dayton Accords
Monday, December 03, 2007

By Cliff Bond, Senior Advisor

In February of this year, the International Court of Justice issued a decision confirming that an act of genocide had been committed in the UN designated safe haven of Srebrenica in July 1995. The court decision came at a time when political tensions were already high in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A hotly contested election and a failed attempt at constitutional reform a few months earlier had led senior politicians to revert to war-time rhetoric not heard since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in late 1995. Many in the international community failed to appreciate how the decision would further sharpen inter-ethnic tensions and unleash a pent-up sense of humiliation and injustice among Bosnian Muslims for the failure to either prevent this atrocity or hold its principle perpetrators, indicted but still at-large Bosnian Serb wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, accountable.

In response to this deteriorating political situation and in view of my experience as a former U.S. Ambassador to Sarajevo, then-High Representative Christian Schwartz-Schilling, the senior international representative responsible for implementing Dayton, asked me in May to serve as his Envoy to Srebrenica. My one year mandate was to address concerns of Srebrenica’s residents and future returnees for justice, security and a better life. The Helsinki Commission kindly made me available to serve on a part-time basis for this purpose. Mid-way through this mandate I am pleased to report progress is being made by local authorities and the international community working constructively together to improve conditions in the Srebrenica region, albeit much more needs to be done.

At the beginning of our work in Srebrenica we faced the need to reduce political tensions on the ground. Without calming the situation and creating space for dialogue, progress and cooperation would not have been possible. Many factors contributed to a now-improved environment, but a decision to remove an Orthodox church constructed illegally on privately-owned Bosnian Muslim land in the village of Konjevic Polje, not far from Srebrenica, was certainly important. This had been a long standing dispute and action on it underscored that in every part of Bosnia and Herzegovina the rights of citizens, regardless of ethnicity, must be respected. Unfortunately, the decision is yet to be fully implemented. The sooner it is, the more confidence it will generate and the more trust will be built among the citizens of Srebrenica.

But this is a small step when compared with the continued liberty of many of those who planned and carried out the genocide at Srebrenica, which remains a source of frustration for the survivors. The actions of incoming High Representative Miroslav Lajcak in early July to accelerate investigations of the suspects of the Srebrenica atrocities was significant, as was the full cooperation in implementing these measures by the authorities of the Republika Srpska – the Bosnian Serb entity, which along with the Muslim-Croat Federation, make up the decentralized state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A decision to fund a team of international investigators and then to open a branch of the State Prosecutor’s Office in Srebrenica were also meant to reinforce this effort and speed up prosecutions. Taken together, these actions assured the public that the individuals who played a part in the crimes at Srebrenica will eventually be brought to justice.

Another significant step had been taken earlier by Lajcak’s predecessor, Christian Schwartz-Schilling. He acted to establish the legal authority for the Srebrenica-Potocari Foundation (a memorial and cemetery for the victims) at the state level and provided for its security through a state-level law enforcement agency. This addressed a fundamental concern of surviving family members for the Foundation’s future once the Office of the High Representative and the exceptional international presence ended in the country. This should be viewed as a human and moral gesture taken out of recognition of the tragedy that occurred, not as a political one, as some have chosen to portray it. The decision deserves the full support of all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Although the current situation in terms of public order around the Srebrenica region is good, returnees are understandably sensitive to the issue of security. We are working with entity authorities to establish and maintain more ethnically balanced policing in the municipality. Along with the speedier prosecution of war criminals, nothing would make returnees to the region feel more secure and protected.

When I came back to Srebrenica in May this year, I found it little changed since my first visit in 2001. In the past six months the authorities of the Republika Srpska have invested more than $25 million in infrastructure and other public service improvements in the region and deserve credit for the effective way in which this has been carried out. Additional funding will be dedicated for this purpose in the entity’s 2008 budget and municipal authorities will be involved in planning and identifying priorities for this spending.

The state-level Council of Ministers has also approved an approximately $7 million spending package for infrastructure development, business promotion and the improvement of public services. This is a good package of measures, and includes physical improvements to the town’s center, but it needs to be implemented as quickly as possible.

The Federation has also devoted some $2.5 million to support sustainable returns and directed some of its public enterprises to invest in the region.

A Development Conference was organized in Srebrenica by the U.N. Development Program, international donors and the municipality on July 3. Its object was less about raising more money, though it did, and more about better coordination among donors to produce a more visible impact of the considerable assistance already dedicated to the region. Donors need to better align their activities with the municipality’s own priorities and be more transparent and inform the public of their programs and results.

Nothing will change economic conditions for the better in Srebrenica more than the generation of new jobs. Small but still important first steps have been taken to expand Bosnian Muslim employment opportunities in public services and enterprises in the area, and this is a positive step. More certainly needs to be done on this score. The real potential for job creation, however, is in the private sector and through attracting new investment to the region. This is why we organized a major investment conference on November 6. The conference demonstrated that investor opportunities and interest exist in Srebrenica, and an American and Slovene firm announced plans to invest in the municipality at the end of the conference. There have been additional expressions of investor interest since, but now local authorities must work, with the support of the international community, to translate this potential into actual investment and more jobs.

Despite an agreement signed by the Federation and the Republika Srpska earlier this year on improving access to health services, returnees to Srebrenica complain that they are still unable to get the treatment and benefits to which they are entitled. This is also true of other social services, which like health care are the competency of each entity. The problems arise as refugees return from one entity to another. Entity authorities must cooperate in finding a solution to this as a matter of urgency, not only for Srebrenica, but for other returnee communities throughout the country.

Unless you have spent time in Srebrenica, you cannot appreciate how isolated the community is. Currently most villages in the area have no access to radio or television signals, and this only strengthens a sense of isolation and abandonment. Thankfully, the Dutch and U.S. governments are working to establish radio and television coverage throughout the area. A U.S. firm, Cisco Systems, will also soon provide wireless broadband Internet access to the community, allowing Srebrenica’s schools and youth to connect with the outside world.

All of these positive initiatives will only succeed if a constructive dialogue is maintained among the members of the Srebrenica community. Dialogue requires courage and confidence and will be essential in the months ahead if we are to reach agreement on such issues as developing Srebrenica’s natural resources, including its mineral springs which were a major pre-war tourist attraction, bringing other business to the region and providing a better ethnic balance to its police and other public services, including in the senior ranks.

In my work over the last six months, I have found the people of Srebrenica, after all that they have been through and in the midst of continuing real hardship, are capable of working together to build a better future. In this they can serve as an example to the political leaders of their country who must work together to achieve the constitutional and other reforms that can secure Bosnia and Herzegovina’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community.

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    In August 1975, the heads of state or government of 35 countries – the Soviet Union and all of Europe except Albania, plus the United States and Canada – held a historic summit in Helsinki, Finland, where they signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. This document is known as the Helsinki Final Act or the Helsinki Accords. The Conference, known as the CSCE, continued with follow-up meetings and is today institutionalized as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, based in Vienna, Austria. Learn more about the signature of the Helsinki Final Act; the role that the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe played during the Cold War; how the Helsinki Process successfully adapted to the post-Cold War environment of the 1990s; and how today's OSCE can and does contribute to regional security, now and in the future.

  • Declare Putin’s War Genocide

    A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers introduced a resolution characterizing Russia’s actions in Ukraine as an act of genocide on Friday.  A draft of the resolution, seen by Foreign Policy, argues that atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the direct targeting of maternity hospitals and medical facilities, and the forcible transfer of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to Russia and Russian-held territory meet the criteria laid out in Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  Congressional resolutions are commonly used by lawmakers to express strongly held sentiments by members of the House of Representatives or Senate. Although the resolution is not legally binding, it sends a strong message of condemnation of Russia’s actions and indicates ongoing efforts by members of Congress to provide continued support to Ukraine beyond military aid.  In April, U.S. President Joe Biden characterized Russian atrocities in Ukraine as an act of genocide. “We’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies, but it sure seems that way to me,” he said, speaking to reporters in Iowa. Biden’s remarks were echoed by the Canadian and British prime ministers while French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declined to use the term, underscoring long-standing differences within the international community as to what constitutes genocide.  As a crime, genocide is distinct from other mass atrocities, and it is defined in the United Nation Genocide Convention as “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Since 1989, the U.S. State Department has recognized eight genocides, most recently declaring attacks on the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as genocide. U.S. designations of genocide can take years of gathering and analyzing evidence, and senior Biden administration officials noted that the president’s remarks in April did not constitute a formal U.S. policy shift. Arguing that events in Ukraine could constitute genocide, the resolution points to statements made in Russian state media and by senior officials, including by Russian President Vladimir Putin, that undermine Ukrainian statehood and sovereignty; the congressional resolution alleges that the atrocities were carried out with a specific purpose. Proving that the crimes are carried out with deliberate genocidal intent can often be difficult to prove in law.  A number of Russian soldiers and units—which were accused of committing war crimes in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, specifically torture, rape, and summary executions of civilians—were awarded in April by Putin, who designated the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade as Guards and praised them for their “mass heroism and valor, tenacity, and courage.” The resolution is set to be introduced by Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen and is expected to be co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of House members who sit on the Helsinki Commission, an independent U.S. government agency tasked with promoting human rights and security in Europe. In April, the commission wrote to the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to endorse a declaration passed by the Ukrainian parliament characterizing Russia’s actions as genocide and urging the assembly to pass a similar resolution.

  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest May 2022

  • Lithuania Becomes First to Designate Russia as Terrorist State

    Lithuania's parliament on Tuesday designated Russia as a terrorist country and recognized its actions in Ukraine as genocide. Why it matters: In doing so, Lithuania has become the first country in the world to designate Russia as a sponsor and executor of terrorism, Ukraine's Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security tweeted. State of play: Lithuania's unicameral parliament adopted the two-pronged resolution unanimously, per a statement posted to its Facebook page. "The war against Ukraine by the Russian Federation is a genocide of the Ukrainian nation carried out by Russia. The Russian Federation is a country that supports and executes terrorism," the statement read. What they're saying: The resolution stated that Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukrainian cities such as Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Borodyanka and Hostomel, Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) reported. The parliament "recognizes the full-scale armed aggression – war – against Ukraine by the armed forces of the Russian Federation and its political and military leadership ... as genocide against the Ukrainian people," it added. The resolution also stated that Russia, "whose military forces deliberately and systematically target civilian targets, is a state that supports and perpetrates terrorism." The big picture: Last week, Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told the U.S. Helsinki Commission that Russia had committed nearly 10,000 war crimes over the course of the war. Russian forces have deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure such as hospitals. Last month, Sima Bahous, the United Nations executive director for women, told the UN Security Council that reports of human trafficking, rape and other sexual violence in Ukraine were increasing. President Biden said last month that Russia was committing genocide in Ukraine.

  • Russia's Swiss Enablers

    Long known as a destination for war criminals and kleptocrats to stash their plunder, Switzerland is a leading enabler of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his cronies. After looting Russia, Putin and his oligarchs use Swiss secrecy laws to hide and protect the proceeds of their crimes. Close relations between Swiss and Russian authorities have had a corrupting influence on law enforcement personnel in Switzerland and have led to the resignation of numerous officials, including the head prosecutor of Switzerland. A recent Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigation found that Credit Suisse catered to dozens of criminals, dictators, intelligence officials, sanctioned parties, and political actors, and identified problematic accounts holding more than $8 billion in assets. According to the Financial Times, Credit Suisse also asked investors to destroy documents linked to yacht loans made to oligarchs and tycoons. This briefing examined the relationship between Switzerland and Russia in light of Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Panelists discussed how a compromised Switzerland affects U.S. national security and whether the United States should rethink its strategic bilateral relationship with Switzerland. Related Information Panelist Biographies How the Swiss Law Enforcement Capitulated to the Russians in the Magnitsky Case - Bill Browder

  • Ukraine's prosecutor general testified about alleged Russian war crimes at U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing

    Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova testified at the hearings of the Helsinki Commission on alleged war crimes of Russia in Ukraine, Venediktova said in a Facebook statement on Thursday. "The Helsinki Commission of the US Congress held a hearing on Russia's war crimes in Ukraine. I testified at the hearings about the horrific atrocities committed by the Russian army on our land: the deliberate bombing of civilian objects, killings and torture, the use of rape as a weapon," Venediktova said. The Helsinki Commission is a US government commission that "promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries," according to its website. Commissioners include US Senate, House of Representatives and executive branch members. The Ukrainian prosecutor general claimed that the Russian army had committed more than 9,800 war crimes in 70 days of war. She added that the unblocking of Mariupol and the end of the occupation of territories would open even more horrific cases for Ukraine to investigate. She said that "the red lining at the hearings were signs of genocide of the Ukrainian people and the prosecution of the main serial war criminal of the 21st century."  "The deportation of our children in order to erase their identity and bring them up as Russians is a direct proof of the plan to destroy Ukraine. The overriding task of the world community is to develop an effective international mechanism of justice and responsibility for Russia's crimes in Ukraine, which will become a tool now and a safeguard for the future," Venediktova said. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko has claimed that Russian forces deported almost 40,000 people from Mariupol to Russia or the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic. Russia also said that it has "evacuated" over one million people to Russian territory since Feb. 24. There is no way to verify the Russian data on evacuations. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said that thousands of citizens are being deported to Russia forcibly.

  • Swiss Attacked for Going Easy on Seizing Russian Billions

    The $7.6 billion in Russian assets seized to date by Swiss authorities is “insulting,” outspoken Kremlin critic Bill Browder said at briefing on Russian money in Switzerland.  It’s “a lot of money in absolute terms but Switzerland is one of the main destinations for dirty Russian money,” said Browder. Given the Swiss Bankers Association has said there’s as much as 150 to 200 billion Swiss francs ($202 billion) in Russian assets in the country’s banks “I would almost say it’s slightly insulting,” he said.  Browder, who has also highlighted what he perceives to be Swiss prosecutors’ soft approach to investigating Russian financial crime, called on the U.S. to review its cooperation framework with its Swiss counterparts, during the hearing organized by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday. “Based on my experience, it would lead me to believe the Swiss are knowingly turning their head the other way when it comes to some of the other oligarchs,” said Browder. The Swiss government said a month ago it had blocked 7.5 billion Swiss francs ($8 billion) in Russian assets in the country to date, as it issues sanctions that mirror those imposed by the European Union on those seen as close to Vladimir Putin.  That figure represented a jump of 30% from their previous tally two weeks earlier and Swiss officials say the number will continue to rise as more assets hidden behind shell companies or in the names of associated are painstakingly uncovered.  Switzerland surprised the world in early March by departing from its tradition of neutrality and saying it would fully embrace the European Union measures against Russia.  But critics including Browder contend that the country needs to go much further. Read more: Swiss Hunt for Russian Wealth Criticized Despite $6 Billion Haul Erwin Bolliger, the chief of the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs which is enforcing the sanctions, has tried to explain the gap by pointing out that are plenty of legitimately-held Russian investments in Switzerland. “There is merit in Bill’s suggestion to review the law enforcement relations between the U.S. and Switzerland,” said Mark Pieth, a law professor at the University of Basel and corruption expert, said at the hearing. Up until now, Switzerland’s approach to clamping down on dirty Russian money in the country has shown a “lack of courage,” Pieth said.

  • Officials Detail Russian War Crimes, but Still Weighing ‘Genocide’ Label

    Experts and officials from the U.S. and Ukraine detailed the war crimes being committed by Russia amid its assault on Ukraine at a hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on May 4, but were less certain about whether those actions constitute genocide. “The State Department has assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes across Ukraine based on a careful review of available evidence and information including open source information, but also classified sources,” said U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack. “We saw credible reports of individuals killed execution style with their hands bound, as you mentioned. We saw bodies showing signs of torture, and we heard horrific accounts of sexual violence against women and girls,” she added.  Van Schaack did not weigh in on whether Russia was committing genecide, despite President Biden applying that label during a speech last month. The U.S. has not made an official determination regarding genocide yet. The State Department has funded and deployed a team of prosecutors, investigators and other professionals to help Ukraine investigate the ongoing crimes, Van Schaack added.  “This team is advising and supporting the office of the prosecutor general as they collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of atrocities with a view towards pursuing criminal accountability,” she said.    Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said her office has seen the most atrocities in the Kyiv region, which the Russian military withdrew from last month to focus on its attacks on the country’s eastern regions.  “We saw numerous civilians shot right on the street near and in their houses, corpses with clear signs of torture. We also discovered a torture chamber with bodies piled on the ground,” she said.  Venediktova noted that her office charged 10 Russian soldiers with war crimes, and was investigating whether the Russian atrocities are genocidal.  “This is just a drop in the ocean of cases that we have,” she said.    Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale University who specializes in Central Eastern Europe and the Holocaust, said he believes Russia’s actions fit into the five categories established by the 1948 Genocide Convention.   “In my view all five of these actions have been carried out — now, just to be clear: In order for genocide to have taken place, we don’t need all five, we only need one. But I think it is the case, and terrifyingly so, that all five are in fact the case in Russian occupied Ukraine,”  Snyder said at the hearing.  The five genecidal acts in the 1948 convention are attempting to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including killing members of the group; imposing measures to prevent births from the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm; creating conditions that could bring the destruction of the group; and transferring children by force to another group.  Snyder said Russia has been forcibly moving Ukrainian children to Russia.  “This one is often overlooked, but I think it is quite important. More than 1 million people, according to Russian data, have been deported from Ukraine to Russia and among that million we’re talking about well over 100,000 children and those children in Russia are being deprived of their nationality,” Snyder said.  Russian President Vladimir Putin’s belief that Ukraine does not exist is “pre-genocidal”, Synder argued.  “When Mr. Putin says, as he had said repeatedly, that there is no Ukranian state or no Ukranian nation, scholars of genocide would recognize that as pre-genocidal language. That is when you say a group doesn’t exist, what you’re doing is preparing for its destruction,” he said.

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