The Story of a Normal Meeting Decision, the Weaponizing of Genocide, and the Weird – EJIL: Speak! – Nexus Vista

This publish is a narrative of the weird. Its, maybe unlikely, topic is the adoption of United Nations Normal Meeting (UNGA) Decision (A/78/L.67/Rev.1), which established 11 July because the Worldwide Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica.

As its title signifies, the decision was meant to commemorate the victims of the crime of genocide dedicated in July 1995 in Srebrenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina, B&H), when greater than 8,000 Bosniaks (principally males and boys) have been killed by the forces of the Military of Republika Srpska, led by Ratko Mladić. This genocide was established within the proceedings earlier than the UN judicial establishments, the Worldwide Prison Tribunal for the previous Yugoslavia (ICTY), in 2004, 2019 and 2021, and the Worldwide Courtroom of Justice (ICJ) in 2007. For the reason that decision builds upon these judicially established information, one would ordinarily anticipate that it might have been welcomed by consensus of the UN Member States within the Normal Meeting, as a step to commemorate the victims and safe remembrance. However that isn’t the world we stay in.

The decision was adopted by a majority that was slimmer than anticipated. It precipitated fairly a stir each in New York, the place it was negotiated and adopted, and within the Western Balkans, particularly in Serbia and Republika Srpska, the Serb majority entity of B&H. Particularly, public opinion in Serbia and the Republika Srpska was manipulated, by concerted efforts of highly effective state-controlled media, into believing that the decision would tarnish all Serbs as a “genocidal folks”. The decision commemorating genocide turned an instrument of weaponizing genocide to energy nationalism. And all this was finished for home political goals.  

I’ll right here let you know this story because it was first informed to the Serbian public. A selection collection of images and a video will illustrate the story. I’ll describe its plot, its fundamental characters and the battle that it created. I’ll then present how this story was staged on the UNGA, with this mise-en-scène bringing a further set of characters. Lastly, I’ll talk about the epilogue of the vote and the choreography of its reception in Serbia. I may also contact upon how this story of the Srebrenica Remembrance Decision matches into broader narratives about worldwide legislation in Serbia and past.

The plot

The textual content of the decision was modelled after related resolutions on the genocide in Rwanda, which have been adopted within the UNGA by consensus (in 2003, 2018 and in 2020). The identical goes for the UNGA Decision Establishing Worldwide Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of This Crime from 2015. All of them resonate with the UNGA follow of preventing impunity for mass atrocities by remembrance and schooling.

The decision on the Srebrenica Remembrance Day was initiated by Germany and Rwanda, and co-sponsored by the US and 32 different (principally Western) states. Other than condemning the denial of the Srebrenica genocide and calling upon states to undertake completely different academic measures to forestall denial, distortion, and prevalence of genocide sooner or later, the decision additionally referred to as upon the Secretary-Normal to ascertain an outreach programme on the Srebrenica genocide.

After the draft decision was tabled, and the general public opinion in Serbia and Republika Srpska began being informed that the decision focused the Serbs as a “genocidal folks”, the draft decision was amended. New textual content proposed by Montenegro was included, saying “that felony accountability below worldwide legislation for the crime of genocide is individualized and can’t be attributed to any ethnic, non secular or different group or group as a complete” (emphasis added).

Finally, the decision was handed, however the voting report and dialogue indicated a pointy divide among the many Member States: 84 have been in favour, 19 voted towards, and 68 abstained, whereas 22 states didn’t vote. That is the primary time within the UNGA’s historical past {that a} decision of this nature produced such a break up within the membership, if I’m not mistaken (for all remembrance days resolutions adopted by the UNGA, see right here).

The Srebrenica decision was from the very starting strongly opposed by Serbia and the Serb entity in B&H. This might solely be anticipated. (This was additionally the case in 2015, when there was an try to undertake a decision on Srebrenica on the UN Safety Council, which Russia vetoed.)

Denial of the genocide in Srebrenica, or at the very least ignoring it, prevails in political and normal public discourse in Serbia (see this piece by Ivan Janković for extra background and context). In Serbia and the Balkans (and never solely there), “genocide” is a magic phrase (as defined by Vojin Dimitrijević). That phrase evokes robust feelings, not least due to extermination of the Serbs by Croatian fascists throughout World Warfare II, and has been usually misused in up to date public discourse to stir hatred and victimization. Genocide will not be a phrase for use frivolously, as all political gamers are conscious. For instance, the earlier political majority in Serbia, much more liberal than the present one, made certain to not explicitly embrace the phrase “genocide” within the Declaration on Condemnation of Crime in Srebrenica adopted by the Serbian parliament in 2010. The declaration “strongly condemn[ed] the crime dedicated towards the Bosniak inhabitants in Srebrenica in July 1995, within the method decided by the judgment of the Worldwide Courtroom of Justice” (emphasis added). It intentionally averted the phrase “genocide” however pointed to the ICJ Judgment which confirmed that Srebrenica was genocide. The Declaration was “expressing condolences and apologies to the households of the victims as a result of every part was not finished to forestall this tragedy.”

The battle and characters

The draft decision entered Serbian political discourse in March (see extra right here). Not a phrase within the draft stated something about any collective guilt of the Serbian folks, and it in the end even explicitly reiterated particular person felony accountability for genocide. However the decision was nonetheless continuously misrepresented within the media. The now deputy Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vulin, a former head of the Serbian Safety Intelligence Company, who’s on a US sanctions record for “corrupt dealings facilitate Russian malign actions in Serbia and the area”, labelled the draft decision as “the finalisation of the conspiracy towards Republic of Srpska and Republic of Serbia and [noted] that Germany, which performed genocide in two wars, is the primary sponsor of the decision that purported to declare Serbs genocidal folks”.

This level was additionally repeated by President Vučić, Serbia’s strongman chief. It turned the main target of a weeks-long marketing campaign through which the President was heroically struggling to forestall the adoption of the decision that may make all Serbs “genocidal.”

The marketing campaign culminated a day earlier than the vote within the UNGA on 22 Might 2024. Serbian flags have been displayed on all vital roads in Serbian cities. Billboards have been erected at each main intersection in Belgrade. They said: “We’re not a genocidal folks. We bear in mind…” (“Ми нисмо геноцидни народ. Памтимо …”). The message was signed “Proud Serbia and Srpska” (“Поносне Србија и Српска”).

The identical message appeared on the official Instagram account of the Authorities of Serbia. The best constructing in Belgrade, the 168-meter tall Tower Belgrade (Kula Beograd), a part of the “Belgrade Waterfront” growth (Beograd na vodi), performed the identical message in letters operating on its high-tech home windows. (“Belgrade Waterfront” is a extremely controversial funding mission and a logo of Vučić’s rule. It’s being constructed by an investor from the United Arab Emirates (UEA), and President Vučić himself apparently has wonderful relations with the political authorities of the UAE).

Authorities pleasant media incessantly portrayed the entire scenario as probably apocalyptic for the Serbian folks, and the President as a tireless fighter, selflessly sacrificing himself for Serbia and its folks (it is a frequent framework for depicting every part that President Vučić does).

Earlier than leaving for New York, the President, accompanied by Milorad Dodik, his Republika Srpska counterpart, went to Serbia’s greatest church, the St. Sava Temple is Belgrade, to hope for the lifetime of Serbia and for the Serbian Patriarch, the top of the Serbian Orthodox Church, to offer him energy to struggle. On the day of the adoption of the decision, at midday of 23 Might 2024, bells tolled in all of the temples of the Serbian Orthodox Church, with the Patriarch’s blessing. He referred to as for “a prayer, calmness, mutual solidarity and persistence in doing good, regardless of the fully false and unjust accusations to which they’re uncovered within the Group of the United Nation”. Beforehand, he made references to genocide in Srebrenica in his conventional Orthodox Easter tackle.

On the UNGA stage

The President then travelled to New York. He promised the Serbian public that he would work tirelessly regardless of the percentages, as a result of he was a fighter, keen to struggle to the very finish. He informed them that the vote will present who our pals have been, and who would “stab us within the again”. He uncovered large and highly effective states for his or her “terrifying arguments” and for utilizing “colonial strategies” in pressuring smaller and weaker states to vote for the decision. He stated that “we” don’t stand “an opportunity to win”. However, he additionally supplied consolation, albeit a small one – claiming the vote would shock the (Western) large and highly effective states. The Chinese language, amongst others, would oppose the decision “as they know worldwide legislation.” “Now we have to defend freedom, our freedom, our folks, our face, our nation. And that’s what we’re doing,” Vučić informed us (for all in authentic quotes on this paragraph, see right here).

24 Might 2024 was the day of the vote.

In his tackle within the UNGA earlier than the vote (video of the 82nd plenary assembly of the 78th session of the UNGA, at 13’45’’), President Vučić began with the declare {that a} horrible crime (word: not “genocide”) occurred in Srebrenica and that he went there to pay respect to its victims in 2015 (video UNGA assembly, at 14’46’’). He then continued to supply completely different arguments why Serbia opposed the decision, the primary one being that it was “politicized”. He additionally criticised the timing, lack of transparency and inclusiveness in its drafting course of. President Vučić’s additionally accused Western states, particularly Germany, of double requirements and hypocrisy (alongside the strains that the big variety of Serbian victims in each world wars have been by no means commemorated, particularly drawing consideration to these killed by the Nazis, and that no dialogue was allowed on the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999). He accused Germany (Serbia’s greatest buying and selling companion) of pressuring and threatening different states to safe help for the decision (video UNGA assembly, 21’40’’).

President Vučić was adamant that this decision won’t contribute to peace and reconciliation within the area. Quite the opposite, he claimed that it’s going to open outdated wounds (video UNGA assembly, at 20’50’’ and 23’35’’). Particularly, he was questioning the necessity for this decision when the person obligation had already been established, implying that Germany had ulterior motives in pushing for it. Lastly, he stated that Serbia opposed  this decision “to not defend itself however to defend the world and rules of worldwide legislation” (emphasis added) (video UNGA assembly, at 25’15’’).

On the assembly on the decision within the UNGA, quite a lot of states spoke to clarify why they voted the best way they did. Among the many extra notable speeches there was that of the Russian ambassador. He didn’t dwell an excessive amount of on worldwide legislation, aside from disputing the authorized classification of the crime in Srebrenica as genocide by the ICTY (resulting from a supposed lack of genocidal intent) and ICJ. He was extra eager about exposing supposed Western hypocrisy and exhibiting how Germany didn’t have ethical authority for pushing for this decision (video UNGA assembly, at 1h25’20’’). Moreover, he claimed that this was a politically motivated endeavour and the abuse of the GA (video UNGA assembly, at 1h20’43’’). Russia additionally identified to the shortage of consensus, and claimed that the decision wouldn’t result in reconciliation and peace within the Balkans however would solely improve the tensions (video UNGA assembly, at 1h21’27’’).

In reality, the shortage of consensus and detrimental results of the proposed decision on the peace and reconciliation within the Balkans have been essentially the most outstanding arguments raised by these not supporting the decision. The problem of the shortage of consensus was additionally raised by Muslim-majority states that voted in favour of the decision (e.g. Egypt, Iran, Sierra Leone, Saudi Arabia).

The identical goes for the UAE, which, curiously, abstained from voting. This was a most peculiar tackle. The Emirati consultant began with a horrific story of a two-day outdated child killed within the genocide in Srebrenica. He continued with a declare that the genocide in Srebrenica was a settled reality and that the UAE all the time stood with their “brothers and sisters who suffered unimaginable harms in Bosnia and Herzegovina” (video UNGA assembly, at 53’18’’). He stated that the UAE strongly endorsed the content material of the decision and opposed any try to deny genocide in Srebrenica, however that the UAE would nonetheless abstain. Right here I can solely remind the reader of the Belgrade Waterfront mission constructed by an Emirati investor, and speculate that the UAE’s robust financial and political ties with the ruling regime in Serbia have probably swung its vote.

One other most peculiar speech was that of Hungary, ran by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, President Vučić’s intolerant pal. Hungary’s consultant attributed its abstention to the detrimental impact that the decision would supposedly have on the soundness of the area, however ended her speech in expressing “deep appreciation for the president of Serbia”, recommended him for selling growth in his nation and for the truth that the Hungarian group can all the time depend on him (video UNGA assembly, 2h38’34’’). Hungary’s stance on the decision was thus not even ostensibly principled, however had a purely transactional vibe. Hungary was additionally amongst these states who selected to not point out that magic phrase genocide – she regretted “occasions” in Srebrenica.  The identical stands for China, which referred to Srebrenica as a “tragedy”, for Syria as an “incident”, for Azerbaijan as “crimes” and for Venezuela as “atrocities”.

Because the voting outcomes have been being introduced, and because it transpired that fewer states voted in favour of the decision than those that voted towards, abstained or had not voted in any respect – despite the fact that that is legally irrelevant and the decision was duly adopted – it turned obvious that President Vučić would use this end result to declare a victory of types. And so, in a weird show, Serbia’s President draped himself in a Serbian flag whereas sitting at Serbia’s desk on the Normal Meeting.

(This {photograph} is from his official Instagram account. The caption says: “For us, give up is rarely an choice! I’m pleased with free Serbia and the heroic Serbian folks!” The emojis communicate for themselves.)

In his speech after the vote, the beflagged President repeated his fundamental arguments on the decision being an try of the large and highly effective to politicize the problem, (video UNGA assembly, 2h46’34’’), desirous to pin the ethical and political guilt on one nation (video UNGA assembly, 2h48’40’’), to stigmatize it, an endeavour through which they failed (video UNGA assembly, 2h49’15’’). He expressed gratitude for the chance to talk “publicly and loudly” for small and proud nations towards “these very highly effective, with out insulting anybody” (video UNGA assembly, 2h49’45’’). President Vučić repeated that he bowed his head “earlier than the victims, admitting all of our errors, all horrible crimes that a few of our compatriots dedicated.” (video UNGA assembly, 2h50’08’). He concluded by thanking everybody who didn’t vote in favour of the decision, but additionally those that voted in favour for “opening our eyes” (video UNGA assembly, 2h51’28’’). Particular thanks went to the Serbian folks, who “have been united greater than ever. Noting might have united Serbian folks higher than what has taking place right here immediately” (video UNGA assembly, 2h49’43’’).

And again dwelling once more…

Through the UNGA assembly, ministers within the Authorities of Serbia gathered within the Presidency constructing, watching the video feed from the Meeting ground.  As they did so, they all draped themselves in Serbian flags .

And because the President was making ready to handle the nation from New York after which journey again dwelling, his surrogates predictably interpreted the outcomes of the vote on the decision as a victory (despite the fact that, once more, the decision was really adopted by the UNGA). His supporters organized automobile processions with torches and flags in Belgrade, Novi Unhappy, Niš and Kosovska Mitrovica.  Headlines within the tabloid press greeted President Vučić on his return from New York with headlines corresponding to: “Defeat of the West! Vučić’s heroic battle and an incredible ethical victory: The world stood by Serbia!”, “Chess mate: Massive Success of Our Diplomacy” and “Triumph. Serbia defended the reality and its honour”. The entire vibe was that of a significant victory on the World Cup, or one thing of the type.

As after any large win, the victor needed to thank those that made the victory potential. Right here we return to the home windows of the Emirati-built Tower Belgrade. One line of textual content was operating horizontally, one other vertically, in Serbian Cyrillic script. The names of these states that didn’t help the decision scrolled horizontally (e.g. Cuba, the Democratic Folks’s Republic of Korea, and so on), whereas the textual content scrolling vertically stated “thanks, pals.” And all these pals have been thanked with out discrimination, no matter whether or not they voted towards, or abstained, or just didn’t vote in any respect. The pace of the scrolling textual content gave at the very least the current creator a “pleased, go fortunate” feeling.


The one true winner of this episode appears to be President Vučić, who used it for home political functions. However there’s a broader lesson right here too. Though one can not dispute Vučić’s effectiveness in arguing towards the decision each at dwelling and overseas, the failure of the decision’s sponsors to muster broader help can’t be attributed solely to his lobbying, or to his highly effective non-Western allies. Part of the accountability additionally rests on the sponsors of the decision themselves. They pushed for the decision though it was turning into fairly apparent that it might not achieve wider help, not to mention consensus. It appears to me that the decision’s sponsors weren’t steering the method in a means that might make sure the end result that the victims of Srebrenica deserve.

Furthermore, for Vučić, politically the decision was a present from heaven. Its adoption got here within the midst of the marketing campaign for native elections in Serbia. (These elections included a repeat of the vote for the Belgrade Metropolis Council, which the opposition claimed have been rigged in December 2023, a declare confirmed within the ODIHR report and within the decision of the EU Parliament). So, as an alternative of specializing in the problems of sewage, clear ingesting water, public transportation, urbanism, childcare, air pollution (burning questions in some municipalities in Serbia), the native elections have been framed across the nice battle towards the stigma of genocide. And – it labored. Whereas I’m not claiming that the nationalistic mobilization across the decision was the decisive issue right here – the regime’s management rests on a number of pillars – President Vučić’s coalition retained energy in all however a number of cities and municipalities in Serbia.

As proven above, President Vučić talked about worldwide legislation on a number of events in New York, if solely in passing. Nonetheless, his tackle within the UNGA echoed Russian official narratives on worldwide legislation based mostly on whataboutist arguments about Western hypocrisy, Western double requirements and abuse of worldwide legislation (the identical narrative was current within the addresses of Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua). His “genocidal folks” story, which had no precise grounding within the textual content of the decision and was designed to govern home audiences, constructed upon dominant home narratives on the world, Serbia’s place in it and on worldwide legislation. Particularly, the dominant narrative on worldwide legislation in Serbia incorporates anti-Western sentiment, continuously castigating the West as hypocritical (a story laborious to counter resulting from NATO’s unlawful use of drive in 1999). Perceptions that worldwide legislation is selective (e.g., that it doesn’t apply to the large and highly effective however is all the time used to punish small and proud states; that struggle crimes prosecutions are yet one more software for victimizing Serbs, and so on.), have lengthy prevailed. These sorts of narratives exist in educational discourse, not simply among the many normal public (readers is likely to be within the examine of public worldwide textbooks within the area of the previous Yugoslavia that Marko Milanović and I’ve revealed in The Oxford Handbook of Worldwide Regulation in Europe). The story introduced on this publish, that of the UNGA decision on a Srebrenica Remembrance Day, neatly matches into these preexisting narratives.

In the meantime, 4 days after the UNGA assembly, and 4 earlier than the native elections in Serbia, President Vučić and the German Ambassador to Serbia, H.E. Ms. Anke Konrad, laid the cornerstone for a brand new manufacturing unit, one other German funding in Serbia.


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