Leposavic must resign or be dismissed

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) assesses that the Government’s silence regarding the statement of the Minister of Justice, Human and Minority Rights, Vladimir Leposavić, in which he denied that genocide that occurred in Srebrenica, calls into question the Government’s proclaimed commitment to Europeanization of society and building of human rights culture. Leposavić’s answer to the MP’s question made Montenegro’s commitment to respect international court decisions and binding international documents meaningless, and caused damaged to the multi-ethnic harmony, the process of transitional justice and reconciliation, and fuelled the heated atmosphere in Montenegrin society.

Regardless of whether it is his genuine opinion or an attempt to politically flatter those on whom the further continuance of certain members of the Montenegrin Government will largely depend, including him personally, the non-recognition of the Srebrenica genocide by Minister of Justice Leposavić is scandalous. Moreover, he is a lawyer who should be aware of the mandatory and consistent compliance with binding norms of international law and court judgments of international courts, regardless of his standpoint about them. In fact, international courts prosecuted and condemned this most massive crime committed on European soil since the end of World War II.

Such Leposavić’s attitudes limit in advance the fulfillment of the benchmarks set under Chapters 23, one of the most challenging and complex chapters that also address war crimes, and on which progress in all other aspects of EU negotiations directly depends. The CCE also points out that since Leposavić took office as the Minister of Justice, Human and Minority Rights, no meeting of the Working Group for Chapter 23, of which CCE is a member, has been held, nor has the head of this important working group been appointed.

The CCE reminds that in Montenegro, the process of dealing with the recent past was systematically suppressed by the previous government as well, which has been constantly warned for years by part of the civil sector and the most relevant international addresses. However, through the activities of the Coalition for RECOM, some progress has been made, which Leposavić’s statement, as a government official, suppresses. The former Government met the minimum requirements of the international community and regional partners without the genuine intention to investigate and prosecute those responsible for war crimes and to encourage the development of a culture of remembrance of the 1990s. Unfortunately, such attitude is now highlighted and even regressed through the work of the new Government of Montenegro, as numerous controversial issues from the past are address in a manner that is not factually based. In brief, the dangerous game with the past continues for the sake of gaining political points of the part of the electorate, while as a society we are going backward.

The most unfortunate is that statement of Minister Leposavic confirms that it should be constantly and repeatedly reminded that the crimes committed in Srebrenica were subject to nine trials before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). It was determined that members of the Bosniak Serb army under the command of Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić committed genocide in Srebrenica and that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia supported the Bosniak Serb army. In 2007, the International Court of Justice found that Serbia was responsible for the fact that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) – Serbia and Montenegro – did not prevent this genocide. Although Bosnia and Herzegovina filed a lawsuit against Montenegro also before the International Court of Justice for violating the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Serbia remained the only one in the lawsuits for formal and legal reasons, assuming the state continuity of the former FRY. In addition, in 2017, The Dutch Court of Appeal established that the Netherlands was also responsible for the death of 300 Bosniaks who were killed in Srebrenica within the UN-declared ‘safe zone’ at the UN base in Potočari because its soldiers within the UN failed to prevent these people from being killed.

On the other hand, the minister’s questioning of the ICTY credibility since it was established by a resolution is a logic according to which other international courts would not be recognized. Democratic states, in addition to recognizing the credibility of international courts, do not diminish their own responsibility for crimes. An example of this is the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which was also established by a resolution, and the position of French President Emanuel Macron towards the responsibility of France for not preventing that genocide. Leposavić’s logic raises the question of whether the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is also obligatory, because it is not a treaty, although it is binding on UN member states. Namely, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a resolution, as well as numerous other mechanisms that serve to ensure compliance with international standards in the protection of human rights and freedoms.

It is clear that some expectations from the Hague Tribunal (ICTY) have not been met, and that there are many complaints to its inconsistent penal policies. However, it is indisputable that the Hague Tribunal has done a lot, as well as that it has left basis that should be further used by the national judiciaries of the countries in the region. Despite certain deficiencies in the work of the Tribunal, we cannot talk about distinguishing criminals and victims by nationality, and in particular, it should not be a statement of the Minister of Justice, Human and Minority Rights.

Following the above-mentioned, the CCE considers that Leposavić, as a high state official, must bear responsibility for denying the Srebrenica genocide, disrespecting international decisions and international institutions such as the Hague Tribunal (ICTY) and posing obstacles on the path to Europeanization of Montenegro.

If Leposavić is not aware of the damage he has done to Montenegro internally and externally and if he does not resign because of that or the Prime Minister does not dismiss him, the CCE calls on the members of the Parliament of Montenegro to do so.

CCE believes that there is a sufficient majority in the Parliament that will not allow the deniers of the Srebrenica genocide to be members of the Government of Montenegro.

Tamara Milaš, Human Rights Programme Coordinator