Picture by Tamas Varga, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Twenty years after the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II, the world hoped that the United Nations would finally unanimously acknowledge the loss of 8,000 Muslim lives in Srebrenica as a genocide. Instead, Russia vetoed the bill and four other states abstained, thereby demonstrating that a third of the states present in the Security Council did not feel the need to recognize this horrendous event. The consequences of this failed resolution go beyond blatant insensitivity: There are legitimate long-term political consequences that will arise from this decision unless the UN acts swiftly to overturn its decision and recognizes the event as a genocide.

Governments, such as those in Burma and Syria, take note of the consequences that other states face when they engage in the systematic extermination of an ethnic or religious group within their country. A swift and harsh condemnation, followed by continued efforts to prosecute all relevant actors in the leading of that genocide, is likely to deter other leaders from pursuing genocidal acts. The fear of isolation from the international community and potential prosecution is enough to persuade most leaders that the targeted extermination of a group is likely not worth the effort.

However, if oppressive leaders notice that these acts are left unpunished, solely because the states in question have allies in the Security Council, then they are more likely to engage in these crimes, as doing so would yield no negative consequences. Both Burma and Syria will look to their allies in the UN for protection if they decide to continue with their campaign of targeted extermination. These allies must demonstrate their unwillingness to stand by these atrocities and condemn the actions of these governments or else they too will have the blood of millions of innocent lives on their hands.

Further, all of the nations that make up the UN must also realize that they share partial responsibility for the Srebrenica genocide. All 8,000 people killed were promised protection by the UN; yet, the moment the Bosnian Serb army arrived, the UN forces deserted those innocent people. While there were some extenuating circumstances, such as the UN forces being outmanned and outgunned, the UN must acknowledge that it should have done more to offer protection to this vulnerable minority.

This makes it all the more important that the UN then recognizes the Srebrenica genocide and understand its own failings in the event to ensure that such acts do not happen again. However, by downplaying the magnitude of the atrocity, the UN ends up skirting a majority of its responsibility by claiming that the event was not “that bad.” It is a slap in the face to those affected when the agency, which failed in its responsibility to the Muslim Bosniaks, decided which narrative would be remembered in history and essentially downplayed its own failings in the deaths of their family members.

Finally, even if the aforementioned arguments do not appeal to the UN, the body should at least recognize the genocide to offer closure to the families that bore witness to this event. By rejecting this resolution, the UN implicitly accepts the Serbian government’s version of the narrative, thereby eliminating the narrative of the innocents who could not fight back. Those affected will be unable to ever receive the apology or compensation they deserve, as their claim is suddenly wiped away by a body that decided that the preservation of political alliances is more important than serving the primary functions of the UN; namely, the seeking of truth and justice. It is time the UN calls the targeted extermination of a people, regardless of their faith or ethnicity, what it is–a genocide.