Israeli Holocaust historian to head new Srebrenica commission

Professor Gideon Greif will lead new probe into 1995 massacre, as a second Israeli academic investigates ‘suffering of Serbs in Sarajevo during the war’

Professor Gideon Greif. (Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Professor Gideon Greif. (Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

An Israeli historian has been appointed to head a new, controversial commission set up by the Republika Srpska government, a Bosnian Serb-controlled entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, probing war crimes committed in Srebrenica in 1995 during the Bosnian war.

According to Bosnian media, Professor Gideon Greif was tapped to lead a new commission into the Srebrenica massacre after the Bosnian Serb parliament quashed last year a 2004 report by the previous Serb government, which acknowledged the 1995 killings by Bosnian Serbs of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in the eastern Bosnian enclave.

Greif is a Holocaust expert and a professor for Jewish and Israeli History at the University of Texas in Austin. His 1999 book on Sonderkommandos (Jews who were charged with disposing of the corpses of their fellow Jews after they were killed in the gas chambers) in Auschwitz, entitled “We Wept Without Tears,” served as the inspiration for the 2016 Oscar-winning film “Son of Saul.”

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said in August 2018 that the 2004 report is biased, does not mention Serb victims, and called for a new commission. “The Srebrenica crime is a staged tragedy with an aim to satanize the Serbs,” Dodik said without elaborating.

Milorad Kojic, head of the Center for Research of War, War Crimes and Search for the Missing of Republika Srpska, said at a press conference on Thursday that the new commission will “determine the truth about the suffering of all peoples in and around Srebrenica between 1992 and 1995.”

A second commission was set up to investigate “the suffering of Serbs in Sarajevo during the war,” according to a report in Balkan Insight on Thursday, and will be headed by Israeli academic Rafael Israeli, a professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The US has criticized the establishment of the commissions, with the US embassy in Sarajevo calling to “respect court decisions and bravely face and accept the truth, regardless of how painful it was,” according to local news.

Over the course of almost two weeks in July 1995, nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed at the hands of Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica, a town in Republika Srpska. The atrocity is widely known as the Srebrenica massacre.

The killings were eventually ruled a genocide by two international courts: the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

A number of senior Bosnian Serb officials are serving terms in prison for the massacre and other crimes in the 1992-1995 war, including wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, and former military commander and warlord Ratko Mladic, once dubbed the Butcher of Bosnia.

Though the international court has labeled the Srebrenica killings as genocide, Serbs have never admitted that their troops committed the ultimate crime and nationalist politicians have viewed Mladic and Karadzic as heroes.

Post-war Bosnia is divided into two semi-independent entities — a Serb-run Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

They are linked by a loose central government and tripartite presidency that includes representatives of three major communities.

Republika Srpska is predominantly made up of Orthodox Christian Serbs who account for a third of Bosnia’s 3.5 million inhabitants.

Muslims comprise half the country’s population, while Catholic Croats are the third major ethnic group, representing 15 percent of the total.

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