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The myth of Russian veto on the UN resolution on Srebrenica: How Russia saved the Serbs from non-existent accusations of being “genocidal people”

United Nations Security Council; Photo: UN

One of the most frequently used arguments in support of the importance of Russian support for Serbia is Russia’s veto on the British resolution in the UN Security Council in 2015, which allegedly labelled the Serbs as a “genocidal people”. This claim is often cited even by the highest representatives of the government in Serbia. However, it is not based on facts.

On July 8, 2015, during the vote in the UN Security Council, in the context of the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, the adoption of the resolution initiated by the United Kingdom was prevented. After several days of debate, Russia used its right of veto and prevented the UN Security Council from adopting such an official condemnation document for the first time.

Bearing in mind the extensive activity of Serbia at the time against the draft resolution, its non-adoption was presented to the public as a diplomatic victory, the move of Russia, as former President Tomislav Nikolić put it, a “true and sincere friend”, was highlighted, but this was followed by a constant exaggeration of the importance of the Russian veto and reinterpreting the content and intentions of the proposed resolution.

Official Statements and Media Spins: Creating the Myth of the 2015 Russian Veto

Newspaper headlines such as “Serbs are a genocidal nation and Serbia must admit it – this is the latest monstrous resolution on Srebrenica from London” best illustrate the narrative that was promoted in the Serbian public around that document from 2015.

During President Aleksandar Vučić’s visit to Moscow in December 2017, he awarded a posthumous medal to Vitaly Churkin, the former Russian ambassador to the UN, who voted against the British draft resolution, saying that Churkin was to be thanked that the Serbs did not, besides only one African tribe, declared a genocidal people. Vučić also thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose decision prevented the Serbs from receiving the label of a “genocide nation”.

When Putin visited Serbia in 2019, Vučić once again reminded in the same way of the role of the Russian president and added that Serbia will never forget and that one of the reasons for Putin’s popularity in Serbia is the fact that Moscow saved Serbia from the stigma of genocide.

Vladimir Putin and Aleksandar Vučić; Photo: Tanjug / Tanja Valić

The former pro-Russian interior minister and current director of the Security Intelligence Agency in Serbia, Aleksandar Vulin, also often emphasized in public how, according to the United Kingdom resolution from 2015, the Serbs were presented as a genocidal people responsible for mass liquidations and rapes.

Even recently, during a guest appearance on RTS in the spring of this year, speaking about the current complex circumstances for Serbia’s relations with Russia, President Vučić repeated that he personally spoke with Putin about help in the UN in 2015 and that because of this the Serbs were not labelled as genocidal the people.

What was exactly written in the proposed UN resolution on Srebrenica?

Without delving deeper into the obvious political reasons and motives for exaggerating the significance of the Russian veto on the draft resolution on Srebrenica in 2015, for which Serbia lobbied at the time, it is baseless to talk about the fact that Russia prevented the Serbian people from being attributed the stigma of a genocidal nation because such a thing was not even mentioned in the draft UN resolution on Srebrenica.

Moreover, by reviewing the official document, which was sponsored by the United Kingdom, Jordan, Lithuania, New Zealand, and the USA, it is noticeable that neither the state of Serbia nor the Serbian people are mentioned by name or directly. Already in the starting point of the resolution, it is stated that there were innocent victims on all sides during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the first four points of the resolution, key aspects related to the UN condemnation and confirmation of the qualification of genocide in Srebrenica were expressed. It should be recalled that as many as seven drafts of the official resolution were prepared as a result of a long consultative process and numerous compromises in the relationship between Western countries and Russia, which also proposed its own resolution on the general condemnation of all crimes in BiH, without an individual focus on Srebrenica.

The first point of the resolution, which, after three postponements, was put to vote on 8 July 2015, in the UN Security Council, condemns the genocide and all violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in the strongest possible terms. According to the second point, the Security Council “Condemns in the strongest terms the crime of genocide at Srebrenica as established by judgments of the ICTY and ICJ and all other proven war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the course of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” A little further, it “expresses its sympathy for and solidarity with the victims on all sides of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including those in Srebrenica, and for their families.”

In the third point, it is emphasized that the UN Security Council “agrees that acceptance of the tragic events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation, calls upon political leaders on all sides to acknowledge and accept the fact of proven crimes as established by the courts“, and then it additionally ” and in this context, condemns denial of this genocide as hindering efforts towards reconciliation, and recognizes also that continued denial is deeply distressing for the victims.”

According to the resolution, political leaders on each side were called to accept the facts of the crimes established by the (international) courts. Also, in a conciliatory spirit and as a result of adapting the text, the ” fundamental importance of reconciliation based upon dialogue, acceptance of past actions by all sides in the conflict and commitment to justice and support for the victims, as a basis for strengthening security, stability, and prosperity both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the wider region” was highlighted.

Srebrenica; Photo: Flickr / RNW.org

In addition, the draft resolution emphasized support for the implementation of the Dayton Agreement, noted the errors and omissions of the United Nations Security Council in the possible prevention of genocide in 1995, and welcomed efforts to learn lessons and work to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

It is also necessary to point out that Vitaly Churkin, as the Russian representative in the UN, in his arguments pointed out exclusively that the draft resolution was not balanced, thus the document, as politically motivated, would not serve progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina and that it is not desirable for it to negatively affect efforts to achieve peace.

Tibor Varady, professor of international law and former representative of Serbia at the International Court of Justice, once pointed out that too much attention was paid to the British resolution and that greater tensions in the region were created by the request that Russia use the veto, than by the content of the document, which also does not blame Serbia.

It is also important to remember that in the judgments of international courts, the responsibility of individual persons and subjects is determined exclusively, not of collective entities. While collective responsibility is occasionally emphasized in the political discourse, for the sake of the goals of stigmatization and labeling, the concept of collective guilt does not exist from the international law point of view and international legal practice.

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