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Statement of Helsinki Commissioners on Balkans War Crimes Convictions

WASHINGTON—Leaders of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today expressed their support for the convictions handed down by the United Nations war crime tribunal to high level Bosnian Serb army officers involved in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre of approximately 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in what the tribunal has declared a genocide. The two major perpetrators received life sentences.

“This conviction should remind the world that there was absolutely nothing inevitable about the massacre at Srebrenica,” said U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission. “The ethnic cleansing that occurred in Bosnia was orchestrated by individuals who are now finally facing justice for their crimes. Others awaiting trial or who believe they may have escaped prosecution should take this as a sign that they too will answer for their crimes against humanity.”

Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) today co-sponsored legislation  (H. Res. 1423) introduced by Commission Ranking Republican Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) to commemorate the July 1995 genocide and support establishing July 11 as Srebrenica Remembrance Day in the United States.

“The wheels of justice may not always turn as fast as victims families would like, but the convictions of Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara show the strength of the International War Crimes Tribunal to hold people to account,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “Considering the fact judges in this case wrote that the crimes were carried out by orders from Radovan Karadzic, who is currently in The Hague, I hope we will soon see justice served in his case as well.”

The convicted men also served under Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader who has also been indicted but remains at large.  Helsinki Commission leaders have actively called for intensified efforts to locate, apprehend and transfer Mladic to the war crimes tribunal.

“As called for in the House resolution, I urge all countries to meet their obligations to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at all times, vigorously pursuing, apprehending, and transferring to The Hague without delay all persons indicted by the tribunal, including Ratko Mladic,” Congressman Smith said. “No sentence will bring back a son or a father, but we must still pursue justice on their behalf and work to hold accountable those who have committed these crimes.  Securing justice and accountability puts human rights abusers on notice that they will not be able to commit their heinous crimes with impunity.”

H. Res. 1423 further reaffirms Congressional support for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence and territorial integrity and the right of all people living in southeast Europe, regardless of national, racial, ethnic or religious background, to return to their homes and enjoy the benefits of democratic institutions, the rule of law, and economic opportunity, as well as to know the fate of missing relatives and friends.

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