Addressing a “Tragic Legacy”: The Dayton Peace Accords

Addressing a “Tragic Legacy”: The Dayton Peace Accords

Philosophy Professor David Pettigrew

December 14, 2020, marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in Paris. Following three weeks of negotiations, the Dayton Peace Agreement — also known as The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina — was signed in Dayton, Ohio, on November 21, 1995, and formally signed in Paris, on December 14, 1995, bringing an end to the international aggression against Bosnia and the resulting genocide.

Philosophy Professor David Pettigrew has long been involved in advocating for the victims of atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While his efforts are part of a personal commitment to human rights and social justice, Pettigrew’s work on Bosnia also has an academic dimension, expressed through his lectures, publications, film screenings, and other work. He also teaches a holocaust and genocide studies course at Southern.

Pettigrew recently published an op-ed essay in Al Jazeera Balkans on the Dayton Accords, following his co-organizing of the online international symposium, “Bosnia: 25 Years After the Dayton Accords 1995-2020,” which took place on November 5-6, 2020. His essay — “Confronting the Tragic Legacy of the Dayton Accords” (the text of which is below) — sets forth fundamental structures for the possibility of transitional justice for Bosnia and the region. The things he proposes will provide the possibility for long-awaited constitutional reform that would respond to the destabilizing influence from Republika Srpska and as well as to rulings from the European Court of Human Rights. This essay was also featured as a lead essay (in German) in the “Memorandum on the Dayton Peace Accords,” which was published by the Society for Threatened Peoples [Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker], an NGO based in Germany.

Since the essay’s publication, Pettigrew was interviewed on FACE TV/Sarajevo by Senad Hadžifezović, a prominent journalist and TV show watched in the region and around the world. It was posted on YouTube and so far has more than 50,000 views. He also presented virtually a paper for KRUG 99 for their special session on the Dayton Peace Accords, and was again interviewed, this time by Al Jazeera Balkans, for publication in Sarajevo.

Among other invitations for interviews and participation in a podcast and a webinar, Pettigrew was also invited by Ben Moore, director of The Center for Bosnian Studies at Fontbonne University,  to participate in a panel discussion, “Bosnian Studies: Scholars’ Perspectives on an Emerging Field.”

Pettigrew’s essay follows.

“Confronting the Tragic Legacy of the Dayton Accords, 1995-2020”

As we reflect on the legacy of the Dayton Accords, it should not escape our attention that Bosnia and Herzegovina was the victim, from 1992 to 1995, of international aggression from Serbia and from Croatia. Indictments and convictions at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have identified Serbian and Croatian nationals, including Presidents Tudjman and Milošević, as members of Joint Criminal Enterprises responsible for orchestrating the aggression. At the end, “Mladić addressed a letter to Milošević, copying General Perišić, to express his gratitude for the ‘invaluable’ assistance that the VRS (Army of Republika Srpska) had received from FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) authorities”. Mladić said he could not have done it without them.

Of course, Milošević was eventually indicted for genocide and other war crimes in 2001 as part of his own designs on “Greater Serbia.” Perhaps we should also recall that Bosnia had already sued Serbia for Genocide in the International Court of Justice in March 1993. Eventually, the ICTY Chamber found that the criminal enterprise in the Prlić case involved Croatian nationals “whose goal was to permanently remove the Muslim population from Herceg-Bosna.” However, in spite of being eventually implicated in Joint Criminal Enterprises, both Tudjman of Croatia and Milošević of Serbia were signatories to the Dayton Accords in 1995. Milošević was representing Serbia, as well as representing the leadership of Republika Srpska, by virtue of a “Patriarch Paper,” since Mladić and Karadžić were already indicted for war crimes and were unable to attend.

There were, however, representatives of the Bosnian Serbs at Dayton who had not yet been indicted. These included Momčilo Krajišnik and General Zdravko Tolimir. But both Krajišnik and Tolimir were also eventually indicted and convicted of war crimes. Hence, the problematic character of the negotiating team should have provided some foreshadowing of the fate of the peace agreement. In the years following the Dayton Accords, both Croatia and Serbia have worked to undermine Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state. Each has encouraged separatist/secessionist initiatives in Bosnia (Herceg-Bosna and Republika Srpska), arguably pursuing their territorial goals from 1992. Their tactics to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty have included anti-Muslim and nationalist propaganda.

There has also been the internal source of destabilization: Republika Srpska. It was Milošević who oversaw the legitimation of Republika Srpska at Dayton, one of the two entities “demarcated” by the agreement. The founders of Republika Srpska had officially declared the geographic territory of Republika Srpska and subsequently sought to secure the territory as ethnically homogeneous. The ICTY Trial Chamber in the Karadžić judgment determined that there was a common plan “to permanently remove the Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory.” Indeed, having officially declared the ethnically homogeneous territory, the founders of Republika Srpska carried out their aggression from 1992-1995 against the civilians of Bosnia, committing atrocities that have been judged to be war crimes, including genocide. However, in spite of the atrocities for which perpetrators had already been indicted–the ICTY had been formed in May 1993–at Dayton, the Bosnian Serbs were “rewarded” in the sense that Republika Srpska, the territory they had declared and violently transformed in name and deed, was recognized and legitimized as an official entity within Bosnia, an entity that would undermine Bosnia’s national sovereignty for the next 25 years.

Following the legitimation of Republika Srpska in 1995 as an entity in Bosnia, the authorities have undertaken concerted efforts, in spite of Annex 7, to prevent non-Serbs from returning to the homes from which they were forcibly expelled, thus continuing efforts to achieve the goal of ethnic homogeneity. Such efforts have included the intimidation of returnees through hate speech, genocide denial, the glorification of convicted perpetrators, and suppression of memorials for the victims.  In addition, Milorad Dodik, now member of the Presidency of Bosnia, and former President of Republika Srpska, undermines Bosnia’s existence by challenging decisions of the national court and threatening secession. Republika Srpska seeks to prevent Bosnia from functioning as a state, undermining any hope of restorative justice that would lead to reconciliation. Genocide denial and threats of secession have been wielded by the leadership of Republika Srpska with impunity. The failure of the international community to respond to these destabilizing provocations have led to the public celebration of the genocidal atrocities, a phenomenon Hariz Halilović has referred to as a “triumphalism” that retraumatizes the victims and threatens a repetition of the atrocities.  Sadly, “triumphalism” is part of the legacy of the Dayton Accords.

In 2014, a plaque glorifying Mladić, for example, was installed on a hill from which his forces assaulted the civilians of Sarajevo, and in 2016, a plaque commemorating Karadžić was affixed to a student dormitory in Pale. A monument that glorifies the perpetrators has stood in the middle of Višegrad for years. Sculptor Miodrag Živković has created numerous nationalist monuments glorifying the Serb forces that committed the very atrocities that have been judged to be genocide and other war crimes.  These provocative monuments to the perpetrators, such as in Bijeljina, which is dedicated to “The Fallen Serb Fighters,” are a form of genocide denial that insults the memory of the victims. This again, is part of the tragic legacy of the Dayton Accords.

When I spoke with Richard Holbrooke, the lead negotiator at Dayton, in a brief conversation in 2009, I identified the recognition of Republika Srpska as a legitimation of a genocidal geography, and as a dehumanizing zone of discriminatory exclusion that continues the founding genocidal impulse by its very existence. I proposed that the political existence of Republika Srpska needed to be challenged through constitutional reform that would reverse that dehumanizing zone of exclusion. He said he agreed with me completely, but he doubted it would be practical. He described the founding leaders of Republika Srpska as opportunists, thugs and criminals. In his book To End a War Holbrooke had already expressed his frustration with recognition of Republika Srpska, stating that “to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina into two independent parts would legitimize Serb aggression.” In 2005, in his Foreword to Derek Chollet’s book, The Road to the Dayton Accords, Holbrooke wrote “I still regret…agreeing to let the Bosnian Serbs keep the name ‘Republika Srpska’ for their entity. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic was right when he told me it was a ‘Nazi name’.”

The Dayton Accords attest, then, to the failure of the international community to recognize and stop a genocide in progress, from 1992-1995; the failure to create a just peace at Dayton; and the failure to support state-building in Bosnia in the past 25 years. As Republika Srpska wields genocide denial, challenges to the constitutional court, and threats of secession with impunity, the international community’s failure has betrayed the possibility of a meaningful future for the next generation and has undermined the possibility of restorative justice.

As we mark 25 years since Dayton, it is imperative that the international community confront this tragic legacy.  One crucial initiative would be for the High Representative, who has the responsibility to oversee the peace, to use his BONN powers to implement a law against genocide denial and against the glorification of convicted war criminals. This would be important for the survivors who are traumatized by these threatening and dehumanizing acts.  A legal framework for such legislation can be found in the Council (of the European Union) Framework Decision of 28 November 2008, on “combating … expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.” The Framework Decision indicates that “Member States shall … insure” that “publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide is punishable.” Switzerland and Belgium have passed such laws against genocide denial. These laws, based on a tradition of laws against Holocaust denial such as exist in Austria and Germany provide a conceptual model for this long overdue legislation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Denial of a genocide is an act of hatred and discrimination, since it minimizes or justifies the barbaric crimes suffered by the targeted group, minimizing not only the crimes but also the suffering, and in this way the denial entails a threat that the crime could be repeated. The denial identifies the group as unworthy of empathy or protection against harm and renders the group vulnerable to a repetition of the harm. Such laws in Bosnia would need to criminalize the denial of not only the Srebrenica genocide, but of all war crimes that were committed, along with hate speech, as well as the glorification of war criminals and celebration of the atrocities.

Finally, it is imperative for the international community to resist and condemn threats of secession and destabilization and to recognize Bosnia’s sovereignty by expediting its membership in the European Union and its entry into NATO. A law against genocide denial, EU membership, and entry into NATO, should be the focused goals now in order to address the tragic legacy of Dayton and to support long overdue state-building in Bosnia.

David Pettigrew, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy
Southern Connecticut State University
Member, Steering Committee, Yale University Genocide Studies Program