In one of his final actions as the international community’s top envoy in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), outgoing High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling put the state in charge of the Srebrenica-Potocari memorial centre, which commemorates Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II. He stepped in after the BiH Parliament failed to do so due to the absence of the Bosnian Serb prime minister.
“To allow for this law to remain forgotten because of mistakes in parliamentary procedure would be unthinkable,” Schwarz-Schilling said on Monday (June 25th).
The memorial centre will now be run through a governing board that reports to the BiH Council of Ministers. Security services will be provided by the State Agency for Investigations and Protection (SIPA).
Republika Srpska (RS) political leaders are crying foul. They argue that the envoy’s decision breaches the entity and state constitutions, as well as the Dayton Peace Accords. The RS government and parliament have asked the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) to annul the decision.
“RS does not argue about the existence of the memorial centre and it pays all due respect to the victims, but its existence cannot be a reason for territorial rearrangement of the entity and the state,” RS lawmakers said.
Bosnian Serb authorities have asked all institutions, especially the police, to continue their duties on the entire territory of the entity, including at Srebrenica-Potocari.
By contrast, most political parties in the country’s other entity, the Federation of BiH, welcomed Schwarz-Schilling’s decision. The president of the lower house of the BiH Parliament, Beriz Belkic, says the move meets a moral and human obligation towards Srebrenica victims and their families.
The Office of the High Representative has stressed that the decision has nothing to do with a controversial request for the municipality of Srebrenica to be granted special status outside RS jurisdiction. The fact that the state will govern the memorial centre does not imply extraterritorial status, it said.
The dispute comes just prior to the 12th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, which has been termed a genocide by the International Court of Justice. As many as 30,000 people are expected to pay their respects to those who perished in the July 1995 atrocity. Between 400 and 600 Srebrenica victims will be buried.
RS police said that they will secure the commemoration ceremony, just as they have for years, and that they do not expect any incidents. However, SIPA is also expected to participate, exercising the role given to it as a result of Schwarz-Schilling’s decision.