Message “There was no…” appeared on a billboard in the Bosnian town of Rogatica after the outgoing high representative Valentin Inzko has imposed a ban on genocide denial. Followed by the line “we know” , the posters indirectly communicate that the genocide did not occur in Srebrenica in 1995 in a careful attempt to avoid violation of the newly introduced regulations. Austrian diplomat decided upon the contentious modification of the criminal code of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) as a final decision made during his 12-year-long term, prompting series of responses from regional, but also international, political officials. The amendment comes approximately a month after Montenegro passed a resolution recognising genocide in Srebrenica and condemning its public denial. The parliament also voted to sack Justice Minister Vladimir Leposavić for denying the crime of genocide which took place in this Bosnian town . Taking into account continuous ethno-national tensions in the region and the fragility of political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the imposition of the ban by the Office of the High Representative (OHR) was rather foreseeable. It was also expected that the familiar nationalism will take a new form following the introduction of the recently developed regulations. The situation raises a question what has the international community learned from the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina and whether criminalisation of the genocide denial is necessary for socio-political recovery.
Six world powers witnessed the creation of the Dayton Peace Accords which defined the capacities of the OHR. This unique diplomatic mission is tasked with monitoring of the implementation of the Dayton Agreement, aiming to provide a functioning political framework for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The capacities and capabilities of the OHR are continuously being met with significant criticism for variety of reasons. Lack of involvement and poor exertion of the Bonn powers, particularly during Inzko’s mandate, were often discussed in regards to the efficiency of the institution . Alternatively, OHR is criticised for the perceived forced modelling of Bosnia and Herzegovina and interfering in the country’s domestic affairs. This view is also supported by Russia and China which call for the mission’s closure, but whose resolution was rejected by the UN Security Council in July 2021 . Similarly, the organisation has been a target of numerous attacks due do its extensive capacities, namely the ability to remove elected officials which were found in violation of the Dayton Accords, as well as the power to bypass domestic legislative representatives and impose laws. While invocation of Bonn powers is deemed insignificant by some, others perceive it as act of imperialism perpetrated by the international community. As previously mentioned, Valentin Inzko was particularly criticised for his passive approach and lack of will to utilise these capacities, especially when length of his term is taken into consideration. However, during his final days in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Inzko engineered necessary amendments to the country’s criminal code which represented a new attempt in post-conflict recovery.
The modified legislation prohibits public justification, trivialisation and denial of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes confirmed by the final judicial decision in accordance with the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, International Criminal Court, or a court in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Public distribution of said opinions is forbidden, as well as glorification of the war criminals by recognising or awarding said individuals making it a punishable offence with at least three years in prison. This means that the persons who are sentenced with genocide, crimes against humanity or a war crime cannot have public areas (such as streets, parks, buildings etc.) named after them. The discussed amendment to the article 145a further defines the punishment for mentioned crimes to be an imprisonment which ranges from three months to five years .
The decision resulted in polarised reactions. Bosniak politicians, numerous Croat officials, and organisations supporting war survivors have welcomed Inzko’s decision. However, political actors from Republika Srpska (RS) do not share the same sentiment, characterising the criminalisation as biased and discriminatory against one constituent peoples. They have rejected the ban and responded with a legislation that prohibits referring to the RS as a “genocidal construction” . Moreover, since the country operates on the principle of power-sharing between the dominant ethnic groups, Bosnian Serb representatives decided to block state institutions, stating that “Serb political representatives will no longer participate in the work of the common institutions of Bosnia . . . and will not make any decisions until this issue is resolved” . The obstructions persisted even when wildfire broke out in Jablanica, prompting the authorities to request the assistance of the Armed Forces in form of an air support. The consensus of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian presidency to engage the army was absent, given that Milorad Dodik blocked the appeal. A criminal complaint was filed against him for the abuse of office by the mayor of the municipality of Jablanica, Damir Šabanović .
The boycott lasted just over five weeks, after which Dodik attended presidency meeting, but voted against all the discussed proposals, including the ones concerning foreign policy, such as appointment of the ambassadors. Šefik Džaferović, as a Bosniak member of the presidency, called for recently named High Representative Christian Schmidt to assist the state-level institutions and evoke Bonn powers if necessary . Milorad Dodik also threatened with dissolution since “there is no dialogue in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, further asserted that the genocide did not happen , and initiated a petition which rejects the ban .
While it can be argued that the legislation to outlaw genocide denial did lead to political uncertainty, it nevertheless showed some positive effects. The results of the research conducted by BIRN BiH, demonstrated a decline in genocide denial following the enforcement of the ban. Srebrenica Memorial Centre had similar conclusions, observing that the genocide denial increased at the time of the announcement of the amendment to the criminal code, but later decreased when the criminalisation came into force. While both institutions are acknowledging that absolute elimination of genocide denial is impossible, they are optimistic regarding its reduction. It was also detected that, apart from Dodik, several other politicians have violated the legislation in the media, including Mladen Grujičić, mayor of Srebrenica, as well as Draško Stanivuković, mayor of Banja Luka . Furthermore, development of the legislative framework now enables citizenry to address the transgressions of the regulation with the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Shortly after the imposition of the amendment, several cases were opened, including the one against Dodik. However, current Bosnian Serb member of the presidency announced that he has “no intention to respond to the [summon by Bosnia’s prosecution]” .
It has been confirmed that the billboard in Rogatica was set illegally. The Facebook page which shared the picture of the controversial poster is assumed to be linked to the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats , Dodik’s political party. However, it is important to note that the denial of the crime of genocide in Srebrenica is not a recent trend, but an issue that has been attempted to be curbed for years in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Inzko’s imposition of the legislation comes after numerous failed attempts made by domestic political actors with an aim to outlaw both the genocide denial and celebration of war criminals. “My conscience dictates that I have no right to end my term while the convicted war criminals are being glorified“, Inzko has stated, further noting that such acts, along with the genocide denial, “makes society chronically ill and prevents the emergence of desperately needed reconciliation” . While the long-awaited decision was enthusiastically approved by many, it also led to a political instability. A series of political actions, as well as retaliatory measures, ensued in the aftermath of the outlawing genocide denial. Whether Inzko’s course of action will generate a potential for reconciliation or result in even greater national crisis will be seen in the following months.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice have concluded that the Srebrenica massacre, where 8732 Bosnian Muslims were killed, was an act of genocide. In 2021, the remains of 19 newly identified victims were buried with the youngest victim that was laid to rest this year being Azmir Osmanovic who was 16 years old  when he was murdered in what is perceived to be the worst atrocity on the European soil since the Holocaust in the Second World War.