July 11th marked the 15th anniversary of the worst case of genocide in Europe since the Holocaust. In 1995, in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnian Serb forces systematically killed more than 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) in a UN designated safe area. For the past five years, Canada’s Bosniaks has been lobbying for a Srebrenica Resolution, which would mark July 11th as Srebrenica Remembrance Day in commemoration of these victims.
In early June, Bill M-416 in support of this resolution, was submitted into the House of Commons by NDP MP Brian Masse (Windsor West). Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to give full support. In order for the motion to pass, Harper requested that the word “genocide” be taken out, as well as for the number of victims (8,372) to be lowered to less than 7,000 and for the word “Bosniak” to be replaced with the more general term “Bosnian.”
Harper’s decision to torpedo M-416 when the event in question is a proven fact, was an ignorant move.
The case of Srebrenica is internationally recognized as an act of genocide. It has been declared so by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which puts Harper’s position in direct conflict with international law. The Hague Tribunal has already charged numerous Bosnian Serb war criminals with genocide including the late Slobodan Milosevic, Radislav Krstic, Radovan Karadzic currently on trial, and Ratko Mladic, who is a currently a fugitive.
The US Congress, the European Parliament, and numerous other governments have already passed Srebrenica Resolutions, condemning the genocide and creating remembrance days. The European Parliament has called the Srebrenica genocide “symbol of the international community’s impotence to intervene and protect civilians.” In July 2009, former Yugoslav republics Croatia and Montenegro adopted resolutions condemning the genocide and marking July 11th as Srebrenica Remembrance Day.
Harper is deeply mistaken in his belief that the number of victims should be lower than 7,000. Many specialized organizations such as the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), the Federal Commission for Missing Persons and even the ICTY all claim the number of Srebrenica victims in July 1995 to be above 8,000. Perhaps Harper got his facts confused with the 6,481 Srebrenica victims who have been identified according to ICMP as of July 09, 2010.
Bosniaks were specifically executed in order to “ethnically cleanse” the region for then Yugoslav President fanatical idea of a Greater Serbia. On June 10 2010, in the largest case ever held before ICTY, Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Bara, two high-ranking Bosnian Serb military officers were found guilty of genocide, extermination, murder, and persecution of Bosniaks in Srebrenica.
“[…]The plain intention, apparent from the evidence, to eliminate every Bosnian Muslim male who was captured or surrendered proves beyond reasonable doubt that this was genocide,” the trial chamber stated.
The aggression that happened in Srebrenica meets the definition of crime of genocide in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, issued in Paris on December 9, 1948.
There are over 50,000 Bosnians living in Canada today many of whom still bear emotional and physical scars from the war. This simple recognition would help the healing and reconciliation process by openly confronting the crimes of the past. This violation of human rights should be recognized and remembered in order to help prevent similar war crimes from occurring elsewhere in the world. By denying judicial facts, Harper is undermining the rule of law, which is unacceptable in a democratic society.
The Bosnian Canadian community will not accept Harper’s faulty requests, and will continue lobbying for Liberal MP Rob Oliphant’s (Don Valley-West) new bill C-533 supporting this resolution when Parliament returns in September. The time has long past for Canada to join the rest of the world in remembering the Srebrenica Genocide. Despite the fact that Canada is a major peacekeeping country and a contracting party of the 1948 Geneva Convention, Harper has yet to responsibly recognize the documented realities of the crime of genocide in Srebrenica.