ANALYSIS - What Bosnia's new genocide denial ban means

The outgoing High Representative’s decision is sound and welcome after more than a decade of largely self-imposed political irrelevance

Dr. Hamza Karcic   | 27.07.2021
ANALYSIS - What Bosnia's new genocide denial ban means

The author is an associate professor at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Sarajevo


A few days before his term as high representative in Bosnia is due to expire, Valentin Inzko finally flexed his political muscle. The soft-spoken Austrian’s twelve-year tenure as the High Representative would have been largely insignificant were it not for this decision on July 23 this year. Having presided over the decline of the Office of the High Representative –an international body that oversees the civilian implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords– Inzko was destined to be remembered as perhaps a well-meaning but certainly inconsequential European bureaucrat.

His decision on July 23 to impose legislation banning genocide denial in Bosnia is his most significant decision over the past twelve years.

Genocide denial in Bosnia is a major obstacle to moving forward. Over the last decade, there has been a marked increase in efforts to deny the genocide perpetrated against Bosniaks. Several attempts by Bosniak members of the state-level Parliament to pass the legislation were thwarted by vetoes from Bosnian Serb MPs. The Dayton Peace Accords granted members of Republika Srpska’s state-level Parliament a veto over the body’s decisions. This essentially meant that a law banning genocide denial would not have been adopted for the foreseeable future.

Inkzo has now imposed the legislation. This historical peculiarity –that the High Representative is able to impose legislation and decisions in Bosnia bypassing domestic politicians – had not been exercised in over a decade.

The Law on Amendment of the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina amends Article 145a to include the following: “Whoever publicly condones, denies, grossly trivializes or tries to justify a crime of genocide, crimes against humanity or a war crime established by a final adjudication pursuant to the Charter of the International Military Tribunal appended to the London Agreement of 8 August 1945 or by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia or the International Criminal Court or a court in Bosnia and Herzegovina, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin, when the conduct is carried out in a manner likely to incite to violence or hatred against such a group or a member of such a group, shall be punished by imprisonment for a term between six months and five years.”

This is the first time that a state-level legislation criminalizing genocide denial has been imposed and is applicable on the whole territory of Bosnia. In essence, Inzko’s decision means that the amendments seek to preserve the judicially-established truth both at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and domestic courts in Bosnia. Equally important, any denier who downplays or denies judicially-established crimes against humanity and war crimes can be prosecuted under these new amendments. While several media outlets declared that this legislation banned Srebrenica genocide denial, Inzko’s legislation also includes judicially-established truths that extend beyond Srebrenica.

Inzko’s decision was welcomed by associations of genocide victims and survivors, Bosniak politicians, the mufti of Bosnia, the EU’s office in the country and intellectuals. Bosnian Serb member of the tripartite Presidency Milorad Dodik held a press conference during which he rejected Inzko’s legislation, denied the Srebrenica genocide and threatened to secede from Bosnia.

Dodik announced that the Republika Srpska entity’s parliament will convene next week to decide on further steps. Dodik’s opponents, including Banja Luka’s young mayor, also criticized the new legislation. The supposedly moderate opposition’s stance on this legislation indicates that differences between Dodik and his younger political rivals are, at best, negligible. Interestingly enough, a top Bosnian Croat politician also condemned the decision –itself a reflection of the political alliance with Dodik- while Croatia’s foreign minister welcomed it.

While the new amendments to the law are now on the books, it remains to be seen whether and how they will be implemented. The key role will be played by the State Prosecutor’s Office and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many analysts and journalists have harshly criticized the State Prosecutor’s Office in particular, claiming that its approach is selective and politically biased. Now, the State Prosecutor’s Office will be tasked with implementing the new legislation.

In sum, the outgoing High Representative’s decision is sound and welcome after more than a decade of largely self-imposed political irrelevance. Inzko’s legacy as the High Representative will now be mostly marked by this ban on genocide denial. It remains to be seen how the new legislation will be implemented and whether the State Prosecutor’s Office will step up to the plate.

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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