It is 17 years since the massacre in Srebrenica, which was declared by the International Criminal Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia an act of genocide.
This event took place in spite of guarantees made by the United Nations, which proclaimed this isolated enclave in eastern Bosnia a safety zone under its protection.
In July 1995, more than 8,000 Bosniak men were killed by members of the Army of Republika Srpska under the direct command of Gen. Ratko Mladić. Every year, families of the victims and survivors of the genocide in Srebrenica come to the memorial center in Potočari to bury the remains of those found and identified during the previous year.
Today, Srebrenica is part of Republika Srpska (one of the constituent entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina with a Serb majority) with less than one-third of its pre-war population. After the war, Srebrenica, on the basis of earlier political consensus, had a special voting-system status that granted all pre-war inhabitants of Srebrenica the right to vote in local elections, regardless of their current place of residence. This provided protection for Bosniak returnees. However, after changes in electoral laws, in the forthcoming local elections this October, voting rights will be granted only to persons with registered residence and identity cards in the municipality of Srebrenica.
Despite the return of Bosniaks to Srebrenica, many of them remain registered in the Federation (an entity with a Bosniak majority), due to different social privileges that have been guaranteed on the basis of residence. This has left an impact on the score between the real and those formally registered, especially in terms of the ethnic structure of the population. Under the estimates made on the basis of the results of the general elections in 2010, political parties that represent the Serb ethnic community have 2,000 more votes compared to the election results of Bosniak parties. The key issue in this regard remains the question of genocide denial, which is part of the official policies of all major political parties from the Serb community. Associations of victims strongly reacted to the possibility that candidates from genocide-denial parties may take over power in Srebrenica due to an inflated Serb representation.
The ‘I will vote for Srebrenica’ initiative
This chain of events led to the citizens’ initiative “I will vote for Srebrenica,” led by Emir Suljagić, with the aim of registering all the returnees and survivors, and to double the number of Bosniak voters in the forthcoming local elections in October. This initiative was legally backed by the government of the Federation with guarantees for the protection of social rights given to Bosniak refugees who were earlier registered in this entity. Registration has started.
The initiative has attracted activists from around the country, and the registration process began in late May. Problems began to appear with a number of administrative obstacles, made by the police department of Srebrenica -- under the control of the central government of Republika Srpska -- which has tried to limit and slow down the registration process.
According to the citizens of Srebrenica who took part in the registration process, they reported numerous unlawful checks, intimidation and errors in the procedure. But human rights violations will reach a peak with the leakage of personal data of individuals who registered in June. During the last month, only Bosniaks were subject to police investigations, which represents an act of discrimination.
These incidents were the subject of the “Overview on violations of civil and political rights in the municipality of Bratunac and Srebrenica for the period 01.06.-03.07.2012,” which caused a strong reaction from the international community and the arrival of the monitoring team to Srebrenica, with the mandate of the Council of Europe, to control procedures for ID registration in the Srebrenica Police Department.
The beginning of the election campaign is now very close, and candidates for the position of municipality mayor are preparing their strategies. On one side is Ćamil Durakovic, an independent candidate who was endorsed by all the Bosniak political parties, and on the other side is Vesna Kočević, a candidate from the Serb coalition. There is still a month-and-a-half till the final list of candidates, and political pressure is growing, especially through the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Republika Srpska and its minister, Stanislav Čađo. Tensions are rising, as the “Petrovdan days” are currently taking place in Srebrenica, organized by the Serb community in memory of the fallen soldiers of Serb nationality in the conflict in Podrinje and considered by Bosniaks as an act of provocation and propaganda. Parallel events will take place on the same day; Petrovdan Day and the Day of Genocide commemorate the events from the beginning of the inter-ethnic tensions in the 1990s.
It is July 2012, Srebrenica. Seventeen years later, we still witness violations of human rights, restrictions on freedom of movement and discrimination against members of the Bosniak ethnic community. While the local media employs and promotes hate speech, denial of the crime is done on a daily basis. Those who survived the genocide and the families of the victims ask themselves how next July 11 will look like after the local elections.
*Nedim Jahic is a journalist and human rights activist based in Bosnia and Herzegovina.