Efraim Zuroff
Featured Post

Not every war crime is genocide

Designating Srebrenica as a case of genocide will erode the significance of the very term that warns humanity about the dangers of war

Already in the opening paragraph of Menachem Rosensaft’s recent (April 24, 2024) op-ed in The Times of Israel, in which he insisted that the United Nations General Assembly must recognize the July 1995 massacre in Srebrenica of 8,000 Muslim males by Bosnian Serbian forces as a case “genocide,” he reveals the major flaws in his appeal. To support his case, Rosensaft, formerly general counsel for the World Jewish Congress, claims that, since he wants to believe that the October 7 slaughter of at least 1,200 Israeli citizens and residents by Hamas was a “genocidal act,” we have “an absolute obligation to recognize and commemorate genocides and other crimes against humanity.”

While one can easily identify with initiatives to commemorate genuine cases of genocide, neither the Hamas slaughter of October 7 or the murders committed in Srebenica qualify as cases of genocide. Each of these tragedies is yet another singular brief episode in military conflicts, which lasted far longer, and which in the case of Gaza continues to this day.

That is one of the major reasons why Professor Yehuda Bauer, the doyen of Holocaust historians, has insisted for years that what happened in Srebrenica does not qualify as a case of genocide.

If we were to classify these and similar events as cases of genocide, the term would be completely emptied of its current gravitas and significance, and lose whatever impact it still has to date. Thus, for example, September 11, could be classified as a case of genocide, as could the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, or for that matter the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or Dresden and Hamburg in World War II, as well as hundreds of other tragic incidents.

There are two additional issues which affected the events in Srebrenica, and have to be taken into account in assessing whether that war crime can be classified as a case of genocide.

The most important one is the treatment by the Serb forces of the noncombatant population, which had gathered in Srebrenica, which was designated as a refugee haven for Bosnian Muslims, who had fled from their villages in the wake of the conflict. Approximately 33,000 people had gathered in Srebrenica in July 1995, and they were supposed to be protected by a contingent of Dutch soldiers, who were UN peacekeepers, but who failed to protect them. Thus approximately 8,000 Bosnian males (some of whom were combatants) were massacred by the Serb forces, which of course, is undoubtedly a war crime. The Serbs often point to smaller massacres previously carried against them in the vicinity of Srebrenica by the Bosnian Muslim forces, but that is no excuse for what happened.

Not every war crime is, however, a case of genocide, and Srebrenica is a classic example, since all the women and children were spared by the Bosnian Serb forces. If the Bosnian Serbs were intent on committing genocide, they would have murdered all the Bosnian Muslims gathered in Srebrenica.

The resolution which is slated for a vote in the United Nations General Assembly should definitely not be supported, since designating Srebrenica as a case of genocide, will further weaken and erode the significance of a term which still continues to serve as an important warning to humanity about the dangers of wars and conflicts.

About the Author
Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of the Center's Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs.
Related Topics
Related Posts