Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution Wednesday commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys and recognizing it as an act of genocide.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, called the resolution a “confrontational and politically motivated” attempt by its sponsors, including the United States and Britain, to blame one side for the many atrocities committed during the 1990s Balkans conflict.
The vote was the latest controversy between Russia and the United States and its European allies. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement that the veto was “a further stain on this Council’s record” and called it “madness” to deny what happened in Srebrenica.
The Security Council has never formally recognized the massacre as a genocide. Previous U.N. statements and member states have done so, and they have taken responsibility for the failure to protect Srebrenica, which had been declared a U.N. safe zone and was protected by peacekeeping forces.
An international gathering is to be held in the Bosnian city Saturday to honor the victims of what former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan called the worst genocide in Europe since World War II, carried out by Bosnian Serb forces beginning July 11, 1995.
As he opened the Security Council meeting, Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said, “We gather in humility and regret to recognize the failure of the United Nations and the international community to prevent this tragedy.”
Officials from countries supporting the resolution said it was the subject of intense negotiations this week to avoid a veto. It named no group as responsible for the Srebrenica genocide, and the text acknowledged responsibility for atrocities during the war by all sides.
But Russia, one of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power, balked at using the term “genocide,” said officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the closed-door negotiations. China, Venezuela, Angola and Nigeria abstained, while the 10 other members voted in favor of the resolution.
International tribunals long ago placed the blame for the Srebrenica killings on an autonomous Bosnian Serb republic that existed at the time; its political and military leaders are facing war crimes trials. The Dayton Accords in late 1995 brought an uneasy end to the three-year Bosnian war.
Russia has retained close ties with Serbia, whose leaders have charged that attempts to highlight the Srebrenica genocide undermine their nation’s reputation and impede reconciliation efforts in the Balkans.
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said Russia proved itself a true friend by preventing attempts to “smear the entire Serbian nation as genocidal,” according to news reports from Belgrade.
Churkin, the Russian envoy, opened his Security Council remarks by asking for a moment of silence to “honor the dead of Srebrenica,” and he said Russia fully recognized the tragedy that took place there.
“We tried to make sure the document was balanced,” he said of the resolution, and “proposed an alternative option.” Instead, he said, its authors had opted for wording that was “not constructive, confrontational and politically motivated,” an approach that he said “singled out one party for a war crime.”
Power, who wrote extensively as a journalist and author about genocide in the Balkans and elsewhere, said in her statement after the vote that “this Council did everything in its power to get Russia on board,” including “not even mentioning the perpetrators.” But Russia, she said, considered a reference to genocide a “redline” and vetoed “a well-
established fact documented by hundreds of thousands of pages of witness testimony, photographic evidence and forensic evidence.”
“A number of countries today have chosen to remain neutral” by abstaining in the vote, Power said, asking “how any country could use the privilege of permanent membership on this Council to negate what happened.”
Britain, whose delegation drafted the resolution, expressed outrage. “Genocide occurred at Srebrenica. This is a legal fact, not a political judgment,” said Peter Wilson, the country’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations. “On this, there is no compromise.”