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Canada could legislate against denial of Srebrenica genocide

NDP MP Brian Masse’s efforts backed by petition to Parliament
News by
Lela SavicJANUARY 27, 2019
Photo: Douglas Sprott

In a move that raises questions about freedom of speech, some Canadians are asking their government to ban denial of the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

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An estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in Srebrenica by the Bosnian Serb Army in July 1995 during the war in former Yugoslavia.

“It would be important and relieve some sadness from my heart, other survivors and all of those who have lost a member of their families in Srebrenica,” says 57-year-old Canadian Sejmo Mekanic, a survivor of the Srebrenica genocide who now lives in Hamilton.

Mekanic was imprisoned for five months by the Bosnian Serb Army in Susica, a concentration camp in the municipality of Vlasenica. He says he still has nightmares about what he went through and that denying it was a genocide shows a lack of humanity.

The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, the International Court of Justice and member states of the European Parliament have also recognized the killings as genocide. Canada too has passed two motions on the matter. In 2010, it recognized July 11 as Srebrenica Remembrance Day in Canada. In 2015, the Srebrenica genocide and Srebrenica Remembrance Day were added to the Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Awareness Month held annually in April.

These motions were supported by Canadian MP Brian Masse, who now demands a third motion be passed on the matter. A petition on the Parliament of Canada website asking that the government “enact legislation that prohibits the denial of the Srebrenica genocide” gathered 2,000 signatures from Canadians, well over the 500 required to be eligible for certification and presentation in the House of Commons. The petition was certified and will be read at the House in the coming month.

Ongoing denials

In Serbia and Republika Srpska (a political entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina), many politicians continue to state that they will never recognize the Srebrenica massacre as genocide. Last year in November, through a resolution, the European Parliament asked Serbia to stop denying the genocide in Srebrenica.

Emir Ramic is director of the Institute for Research of Genocide Canada. He initiated the petition to Parliament and says genocide denial is a problem in Canada. “Many Canadian-Serbian organizations and even some political figures in Canada have denied that the events that took place in Srebrenica constitute a genocide.”

He points to Canadian General Lewis Mackenzie as an example. Mackenzie, former commander of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia, wrote a 2009 article in the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies in which he stated, “I don’t consider it a genocide which is controversial because if you are committing genocide, you don’t put all the women and children on buses and send them off to a safe haven on their side of the border which is what the Serbs did. You kill the women first when you’re committing genocide because you are trying to remove a section of that particular culture.’’

Ramic hopes that by adopting a motion against Srebrenica genocide denial, the Canadian government will also ban denial of other genocides. He says the best way to prevent genocides is to punish denial of previous ones.

Genevieve Parent, a criminologist and professor at St-Paul University, has studied the effects of denial in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. She says sanctioning denial is a recognition of the sufferings of the survivors and can prevent further violence. “If people continue to praise war criminals and deny genocide with impunity, it opens the door to newer generations for statements such as, ‘let’s finish what was started.’”

Free speech debate

NDP MP Brian Masse says legislating to prohibit genocide denial is a natural evolution of the work that was done to get the Srebrenica genocide recognized in Canada and is important for the healing of survivors living in the country. He suspects the motion will spark a debate regarding freedom of speech but will also educate people about what happened in Srebrenica.

“These discussions will shed light on the overwhelming facts regarding the mass slaughter. It would bring about the veracity of the evidence that was presented at The Hague,” he said.

If the motion is adopted, Canada will join nine other countries in Europe in prohibiting genocide denial. Switzerland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Macedonia, Luxembourg, Latvia and Lithuania all have such laws.

Last year in Bosnia, a similar motion asking the government to legislate genocide denial of Srebrenica was proposed to the government by a Bosnian MP. It was vetoed by a Bosnian Croat MP and all Bosnian Serb MPs.

In the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Austria, Germany and Romania, denial of the Holocaust and Nazi crimes is banned.

Precedents in Europe

Swiss politician Donatello Poggi was accused in 2012 by the Swiss government of Srebrenica genocide denial. He had written two opinion pieces, in the Swiss newspapers Corriere del Ticino and Ticino Libero, stating that the massacres of Srebrenica did not constitute genocide. Poggi was convicted of racial discrimination, given a two-year suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay a fine.

French politician Jean Marie-Le Pen was fined three times for Holocaust denial in France, €183 000 in 1987, €6,000 in 1999 and €30 000 in 2016.

In 2008 Wolfgang Fröhlich, was sentenced for six years of imprisonment in Austria for Holocaust denial.

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