The “Srebrenica 25: Together Against the Virus of Denial” regional initiative is an excellent example of how denial may be countered, by using judicial records to sensitize and inform the public, and especially younger generations, about the recent past - said judge Carmel Agius, President of the IRMCT, in his message on the final day of the campaign at the SENSE Center in Pula
It is my privilege to join the SENSE Transitional Justice Centre and its regional partners as we commemorate the terrible events that occurred 25 years ago, over a number of hot and hellish days in July 1995. I am speaking of the systematic slaughter of almost 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces, in Srebrenica.
In the historic 2004 appeal judgement against Radislav Krstić, and subsequent judgements against high-level Bosnian Serb officials, both political and military, the Judges of the ICTY and later the Mechanism concluded, time and time again, that the crimes committed in Srebrenica constituted the crime of genocide, and must be condemned with the full force of the law.
These judgements were the product of extensive trial and appeal processes, including in-court proceedings held over months and years, the thorough assessment of many thousands of pieces of evidence, and testimonies from over a thousand victims, witnesses and insiders. Other international and domestic courts have also made the same unequivocal determination: that this was genocide.
And yet shockingly, even 25 years after the events, we still see politicians, academics, journalists, and others in the region call into question, misrepresent, or outright oppose the judicially-established facts, not only in relation to Srebrenica, but also other crimes committed during the conflicts of the 1990s.
While such behaviour by members of the public might be understood as a result of insufficient information or education, institutional denial is not rooted in ignorance. On the contrary, it is deliberate, and because of its ability to reach entire populations, is far more damaging and dangerous. In the short-term, this phenomenon re-traumatizes the victims and their families and seeks to negate their voices, indeed their very existence, while also undermining efforts to ensure accountability. In the longer-term, it can lead to a "culture of denial", which defines what may be publicly remembered and acknowledged, and where the denial of a crime or a perpetrator’s responsibility is viewed as an act of patriotism.
It pains me to say that in the former Yugoslavia we have been witnessing, with increased frequency, instances where convicted war criminals are officially honoured, even celebrated, through the naming of public buildings and streets, and invitations to lecture at military academies, for example. These actions are a malicious affront to those who have already suffered enough. Moreover, they have debilitating effects on communities’ abilities to heal and move forward, and to strengthen the rule of law.
It is crucial that countries in the region proactively combat all forms of denial, and especially those emanating from their public institutions. This is no easy task. It will take courage, resilience, and true leadership. The engagement of civil society organizations, such as the SENSE Transitional Justice Centre and its partners, is critical in this respect.
The “Srebrenica 25: Together Against the Virus of Denial” regional initiative is an excellent example of how denial may be countered, by using judicial records to sensitize and inform the public, and especially younger generations, about the recent past. I am truly heartened by your efforts, and I would like to congratulate all those involved in this powerful campaign. Collaborations such as yours give us all encouragement and hope that denial cannot – and will not – prevail.
I thank you, and I wish you every success in your important work.