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Canadians launch petition to ban Srebrenica genocide denial | Bosnia

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When Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic stated in an interview with broadcaster Deutsche Welle in November that the massacre in Srebrenica was not a genocide, Bosnians weren’t surprised.

The denial of the genocide began as soon as it occurred in Bosnia’s UN-protected enclave in 1995, but many have remarked that it has become increasingly mainstream in Serbian political and academic circles.

That explains why an online petition has been launched in Canada by the Institute for Research of Genocide (IRGC), requesting the Canadian government to enact a law making Srebrenica genocide denial a punishable offence.

If the petition is adopted, Canada would join nine other countries in Europe including Switzerland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Macedonia in prohibiting genocide denial.

The systematic murder of over 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) in Srebrenica by Serb forces in July 1995 was ruled as an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice.

Theodor Meron, the presiding judge at the ICTY, stated in 2004 that “by seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed a genocide.”

“They targeted for extinction of the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of Bosnian Muslims in general,” he said.





Even after 23 years of the genocide in Srebrenica, remains of victims are still being discovered [Samir Yordamovic/Anadolu Agency]

Fourteen Serb war criminals were convicted of genocide and other crimes at the ICTY including former Military Commander Radislav Krstic, former President of Republika Srpska Radovan Karadzic, and Bosnian Serb Military Leader Ratko Mladic.

IRGC says Canada as well as 30 other countries have adopted legally binding resolutions. Yet, genocide denial remains widespread among the Serb population.

“I do not think that the terrible crime, the massacre in Srebrenica, was a genocide,” Brnabic said in her interview with Deutsche Welle in response to comments that Serbia‘s chances of joining the European Union are slim if the country refuses to recognise the genocide.

“It wasn’t done in the name of Serbian people. Serbs cannot be collectively blamed for what happened there,” Brnabic said.

Convicted war criminals glorified as heroes

According to a poll this year, 66 percent of Serbs in Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb-run entity, deny the genocide, while 74 percent of Serbs consider convicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic to be a hero.

Earlier in December, the chief prosecutor at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) Serge Brammertz told the UN Security Council that glorification of war criminals and denial of war crimes in former Yugoslavia continues.

He added that judicial cooperation in war crimes cases between the countries in the region is at its lowest level in years.

“Positive steps are undermined by irresponsible comments from other officials denying what has been established beyond reasonable doubt by the international courts, and portraying as heroes men who committed the most serious violations of international law,” Brammertz said.





A Bosnian Serb vendor selling a T-shirt depicting convicted Serb war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. It reads ‘Serb Heroes: Is It a Crime To Defend Serb People’ [Milan Radulovic/AFP]

Not only are convicted war criminals and war crime suspects glorified, but they continue to hold public offices in Bosnia and Serbia.

Earlier this month, a veterans’ association of the Republika Srpska army sent a request to Milorad Dodik, the newly-elected Serb member of Bosnia’s presidency, to appoint Milan Jolovic as Bosnia’s minister of defence.

Jolovic was the commander of the notorious “Drina Wolves” paramilitary unit that participated in the mass killing of Bosniaks in Srebrenica.






WATCH: Serbian ‘radical’ Vojislav Seselj convicted of war crimes (1:49)

“We believe that Jolovic is a true patriot. He proved during the war that he will represent the interests of Republika Srpska in the best possible way,” the letter by the veterans read.

Meron, president of MICT, has expressed “deep concern” that convicted war criminals are glorified as heroes.

“The challenges are severe,” Meron wrote in a 2017 pogress report to the UN Security Council.

Serbian General Vladimir Lazarevic, Bosnian Croat Dario Kordic and Bosnian Serb Momcilo Krajisnik were convicted for “horrific crimes against humanity”, yet they were given a hero’s welcome upon release from prison with government officials in attendance, the report noted. 

“All three, as senior officials and commanders, participated in ethnic cleansing and campaigns harming millions and devastating communities. The mentality that can regard those men as heroes is difficult to understand,” Meron wrote.





A mural of Mladic is seen on a building in Gacko, Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina [Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Revisionism

Denial of facts established in the Tribunal’s judgments are widespread in the education system throughout former Yugoslavia, the report noted, where students are taught “widely different and irreconcilable versions of the recent past”.

In June 2017, Dodik, then president of Republika Srpska and a vocal genocide denier, banned any teaching about the Srebrenica genocide as well as the siege of Sarajevo, denying for the first time that Bosnian Serb forces besieged and targeted civilians in the capital for years.

“It’s impossible to use here the textbooks … which say the Serbs have committed genocide and kept Sarajevo under siege,” Dodik was quoted as saying in local media.

“This is not correct and this will not be taught here.”

Author and genocide researcher Hikmet Karcic told Al Jazeera that genocide denial was limited to specific Serbian academic circles and lesser-known political parties. Now, it’s more mainstream, he said.

“[It has also become mainstream] among certain leftist circles in the West which is consistent with their support for [ex-Serbian president Slobodan] Milosevic in the nineties,” Karcic said.

“Islamophobia today is growing and is increasingly connected with genocide denial, relativisation and in some cases even justification.”

No Serbian president has yet recognised the massacre in Srebrenica as a genocide. Even the Serb-elected mayor of Srebrenica, Mladen Grujicic, denies it.





Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite state presidency, Milorad Dodik, is a vocal Srebrenica genocide denier [Talha Ozturk/Anadolu Agency]

Death threats

Canada has already adopted two resolutions recognising the Srebrenica genocide, launched by the IRGC.

However, its Director Emir Ramic noted that the process of adopting the first resolution took five years as the Conservative Party – under the influence of the Serbian and Russian lobby – had rejected the resolution.






Will Milorad Dodik break up Bosnia?

Ramic’s work with the institute has made him a target of death threats and verbal abuse for years by genocide deniers.

He told Al Jazeera that the threats intensified as discourse changed from denial and relativisation to glorification and triumphalism.

However, he says it has made him all the more determined to make sure a law is enacted banning the denial of Srebrenica genocide. If adopted, Canada would make a major contribution in the fight against genocide denial worldwide, Ramic told Al Jazeera.

“Denying the genocide in Srebrenica is very dangerous. We need to learn from history, recognise [what happened in Srebrenica] and call it by its real name,” he said.





Pro-Mladic supporters in Belgrade wave flags reading ‘Serbian hero’. The rally was organised by the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party in May 2011 [File: Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images]

“Human rights are under attack worldwide,” Ramic added. “Bosniaks, as the only people in Europe who survived aggression and genocide [since the Holocaust], are exposed to unacceptable discrimination not just in the motherland, but in the diaspora as well.”

“The aggression and genocide in Bosnia have shown that … there aren’t adequate mechanisms in place to protect freedom and human rights.”

The IRGC’s petition will be collecting signatures until January 10. Parliamentarian Brian Masse, who sponsored the drive, will then petition the government to reply within 45 days.

“We’ve seen this with Holocaust denial, we’ve seen this with denial for Rwanda and of course with Srebrenica,” said Masse on the necessity of a law.

“It’s very hurtful for the victims and families of the survivors to continue to wrestle with something based on facts, so the initiative will help inpreventing denial and create awareness that we will never forget.”

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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