Russia vetoed a UN resolution Wednesday that would have condemned the 1995 massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war as a “crime of genocide,” saying that singling out the Bosnian Serbs for a war crime would create greater division in the Balkans.
Two international courts have called the slaughter by Bosnian Serbs of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys who had sought refuge at what was supposed to be a UN-protected site genocide. But Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin objected to focusing only on Srebrenica, stressing that Bosnian Serbs and Croats had also suffered during the 1992-95 war that killed at least 100,000 people.
Britain drafted the resolution to mark the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre on Tuesday, but the vote was delayed to address Russian concerns.
The defeated resolution states that acceptance of “the tragic events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation” and “condemns denial of this genocide as hindering efforts towards reconciliation.”
Britain’s UN deputy ambassador Peter Wilson stressed that the resolution “did not point fingers of blame, score political points nor seek to reopen political divisions.” It also didn’t link the crimes at Srebrenica to the Serb people and recognized there were victims on all sides, he said.
Russia’s Churkin and China’s UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi appealed to the council not to put the resolution to a vote, citing divisions among its 15 members. But Wilson insisted that the vote go ahead, noting that negotiations had gone on for a month and had already been delayed by a day.
The vote was 10 countries in favour, Russia casting a veto, and four abstentions – China, Nigeria, Angola and Venezuela.
Leaders of the Bosnian Serbs and Serbia, who have close religious and cultural ties to Russia, have lobbied President Vladimir Putin to vote “no.”
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said after an emergency meeting of the government Tuesday night that the British resolution opened fresh divisions and “pushed us into the trenches of hatred.”
Wilson said after the vote that Britain was “outraged” by Russia’s veto.
“Russia’s actions tarnish the memory of all those who died in the Srebrenica genocide,” he said. “Russia will have to justify its behaviour to the families of over 8,000 people murdered in the worst atrocity in Europe since the Second World War.”
Bosnians reacted bitterly to Russia’s veto.
“This is a defeat of justice,” said Camil Durakovic, the mayor of Srebrenica. He added that the veto means that the UN is not recognizing a decision by its own judicial branch, the International Court of Justice, which has declared the tragedy genocide. “The World has lost. The World – and especially Serbia – will have to face the truth sooner or later.”
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, who was a 24-year-old journalist in Bosnia at the time of the Srebrenica massacre, told the council that “for all the brutality of a horrific war, this was a singular horror – it was genocide, a fact now proven again and again by international tribunals.”
“Today’s vote mattered,” Power said. “It mattered hugely to the families of the victims of the Srebrenica genocide. Russia’s veto is heartbreaking for those families, and it is a further stain on this council’s record.”
Russia’s Churkin began his speech before the vote asking for a minute of silence in memory of the victims of Srebrenica and everyone in the Security Council stood, many bowing their heads.
He said the council needs to ensure there is peace in Bosnia and should commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Dayton peace agreement later this year. Dayton was a peace deal brokered in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995 that recognized the territorial integrity of Bosnia but divided it in two mini-states along ethnic lines.
“Our vote against will not mean that we are deaf to the suffering of victims of Srebrenica and elsewhere,” Churkin said, adding that Russia will make every effort to implement the Dayton agreement and normalize relations in the Balkans.