ICTJ objects to Dodik’s lecture at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute

ICTJ objects to Dodik's lecture at Columbia University's Harriman InstituteNews Source: Columbia Daily Spectator

By Refik Hodzic, director of communications at the International Center for Transnational Justice.

I am objecting to the lecture which was hosted by the Harriman Institute yesterday.

While I fully respect the right of the Harriman Institute to invite speakers of its choice, I believe that the title of the lecture, “An American Foreign Policy Success Story: The Dayton Accords, Republika Srpska, and Bosnia’s European Integration,” begs several serious questions of the organizers (The Republika Srpska is one of two political entitites in Bosnia and Herzegovina).

The question of how Republika Srpska—with its record of a policy of extermination (a fact established in numerous International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia judgements) of its non-Serb citizens and continuing human rights abuses—can constitute “an American foreign policy success,” I leave to the relevant U.S. officials. While understanding how the Dayton Peace Accord can be seen as a success in the fact that it ended the war, I think that Richard Holbrooke’s statement that allowing Republika Srpska to continue to exist was the greatest mistake of the Dayton Peace Process sums up what a “success” it was.

However, I am not sure whether the organizers of this event at the Harriman Institute are aware that they are inviting a denier of the Srebrenica genocide to speak about Bosnia-Herzegovina’s integration into the European Union. Namely, Milorad Dodik, in his capacity as Republika Srpska’s prime minister and now president, has repeatedly denied—contrary to the judgements of the International Court of Justice, ICTY and the Declaration of the European Parliament—the Srebrenica genocide in statements like these: “Bosnian Serbs will never accept that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre was genocide,” (in Apr. of 2010) or “[The international community is attempting] to impose responsibility for the genocide—which did not happen—on an entire nation, and to keep quiet and intimidate all those who have a different understanding about the crime which happened in Srebrenica” (in Dec. of 2010).

It is baffling that Dodik would be invited to such a respected institution and provided with an outlet to voice his revisionist and hostile propaganda which is greatly damaging long-term stability in Bosnia and the region. However, drawing on the parallel of the invitation to the Iranian president Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia as a gesture encouraging dialogue, the least the Harriman Institute can do is adopt the same policy and acknowledge Dodik’s denial of Srebrenica genocide.

Secondly, Dodik needs to be understood to be a politician who relentlessly tries to undermine Bosnia-Herzegovina’s efforts to prosecute war crimes at the State Court. His actions against the State Court included a campaign of virulent public attacks, culminating in an openly racist statement in December 2008: “…it is unacceptable for the RS that Muslim judges try us [Serbs] and throw out complaints that are legally founded.”

A number of Human Rights Reports of the US Department of State document Dodik’s concerted efforts to undermine the State Court’s ability to investigate and prosecute, while OSCE’s “Report on the Independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina Judiciary” from December 2009 identifies Dodik’s actions as “clear interference in the ongoing criminal investigations.”

Without going into Milorad Dodik’s politics, which have contributed to further divisions and Bosnia’s stagnation on the road to inclusion in the EU, his record of genocide denial and damage to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s capacity to conduct war crime trials at the state level must not be ignored by Columbia University. If Dodik is to be given a platform from which to present his views, he must be asked why and on what basis he denies facts about Srebrenica genocide established beyond reasonable doubt by international courts and investigative bodies, and what his motives are for undermining the country’s capacity to try war crimes. If the Harriman Institute does not make an ongoing effort to address these questions, then its motives for providing him with high-profile public platform must also be questioned.