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June 28, 2010

by John and Douglas Carey,

In this issue: unsafe UN “safe areas”.

          Last week seven former Bosnian Serb military or police officials were convicted for their parts in the massacre of Muslim men and boys fifteen years ago. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY) meted out sentences ranging from five years to life imprisonment, for offences during and following the fall of the UN protected zones of Srebrenica and Žepa in July 1995.

          The court found that at least 5,336 Muslims and possibly as many as 7,826 were executed following the fall of Srebrenica, and that there were two Joint Criminal Enterprises in eastern Bosnia in July 1995. One JCE was to murder the able-bodied Bosnian Muslim men from Srebrenica. The other was to forcibly remove the Bosnian Muslim population from Srebrenica and Žepa. Could the UN have prevented this slaughter?

I have researched UN records from the period in an effort to find out why the UN, with armed peacekeepers on the scene, was not able to prevent this unspeakable tragedy. One answer was given on July 28, 1995, by UN General Bernard Janvier, who declared that, “je répete qu’il n’y a jamais été demandé aux forces des Nations Unies de défendre les zones de sécurité at d’ailleurs les moyens qui étaient nécessaires pour cela n’ont pas été accordés à travers les résolutions antérieures. En revanche, avec l’aide de l’OTAN nous pouvons dissuader de toute attaque contre les zones de sécurité.”

          Let us see if the excuse given by General Janvier holds up in light of the record. Let us see if it was true that UN forces were never tasked to defend the safe areas and were not given the means to do so.

First, there was an agreement dated April 18, 1993, signed by Lt.-Gen. Ratko Mladić, head of the Bosnian Serb armed forces and now a fugitive indicted by the ICTFY, as well as by the Bosnian commander Gen. Halilović and by Lt.-Gen. Lars-Eric Wahlgren representing the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR). The agreement called for the demilitarization of Srebrenica, where “No armed persons or units except UNPROFOR will remain within the city once the demilitarization process is complete.”

          Two days earlier, on April 16, 1995, a unanimous Security Council, acting under UN Charter Chapter VII, had demanded in resolution 819 (1993) “that all parties and others concerned treat Srebrenica and its surroundings as a safe area which should be free from any armed attack or any other hostile act [and] the immediate cessation of armed attacks by Bosnian Serb paramilitary units against Srebrenica and their immediate withdrawal from the areas surrounding Srebrenica; [and] that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) immediately cease the supply of military arms, equipment and services to the Bosnian Serb paramilitary units in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

          The resolution also “condemns and rejects the deliberate actions of the Bosnian Serb party to force the evacuation of the civilian population from Srebrenica and its surrounding areas as well as from other parts of the Re-public of Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of its overall abhorrent campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’; * * * ”

A Security Council follow-up mission reported that “The water supply must be resumed. Today this is – if possible – of greater human value and priority than the withdrawal of the Serb forces. Cutting off the water supply is a criminal practice and the Council should demand its immediate cessation. Not to do so would be tantamount to condemning the people of Srebrenica to abject conditions and more human misery. Not to allow surgeons to enter and stay in Srebrenica is also a grave violation of international humanitarian law.” S/25700 at 8.

          “Srebrenica is one of the oldest cities in Europe and one with a truly ecumenical vocation. It is a symbol of plurality where Serbs, Croats, Jews and Muslims, have coexisted for centuries. This capital of all the peoples of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina should immediately become a safe area. The one-year siege must be terminated. The multicultural character of the city must be guaranteed. It will be a message of hope to the whole country.” Id. at 9.

          On July 9th, 1995, the Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina requested an emergency meeting of the Security Council, saying: “1. There has been an attack on the safe area in Srebrenica, combining tanks, artillery and infantry forces. Yesterday, more than 1,000 shells hit the centre of the enclave. 2. The United Nations observation posts surrounding Srebrenica have been attacked, some have been besieged, and others have been aban-doned.” S/1995/548 at 2.

          The Foreign Minister recalled a NATO decision of April 22nd which stated in paragraph 9 inter alia, “that, with immediate effect, if any Bosnian Serb attacks involving heavy weapons are carried out on the United Nations designated safe areas of Gorazde, Bihac, Srebrenica, Tuzla and Zepa, these weapons and other Bosnian Serb military assets, as well as their direct and essential military support facilities, including but not limited to fuel instal-lations and munitions sites, will be subject to NATO air strikes, in accord-ance with the procedural arrangements worked out between NATO and UNPROFOR following the Council’s decisions of 2 and 9 August 1993.”

          On July 11, 1995, Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serb army. Dutch peacekeepers withdrew to Portocari, north of Srebrenica, where 20,000 refugees were crowded. The headquarters of the Dutch battalion on Portocari and the hospital in Srebrenica where the Dutch were helping the wounded were shelled. After Serb forces ignored a warning to stop firing on Dutch peacekeepers, two NATO planes bombed a column of Bosnian Serb tanks. This was apparently the only use of NATO air strikes.

          The next day, July 12th, the Security Council adopted unanimously resolution 1004 (1995) which demanded that Bosnian Serb forces leave the safe area of Srebrenica immediately, respect the safety of UNPROFOR personnel, and release all such personnel who had been detained. US Ambassador Madeleine Albright told the Council that every one of its members had been “forced to address raw aggression and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia for years now. * * * The resulting exodus of tens of thousands of displaced persons north to Potocari is the sole responsibility of the Pale leadership [referring to the Pale hilltop Serb headquarters from which snipers were killing civilians below] The brazen treatment of the Dutch peacekeepers by the Bosnian Serbs is outrageous. These actions fall squarely within the jurisdiction of the war-crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.” S/PV.3553 at 10. Here, the US Ambassador is asking for criminal justice but not for armed defense of safe areas.

          Also on July 12th the NATO Presidency issued a declaration which “Demands an immediate halt to the Bosnian Serb forces’ offensive and their withdrawal from Srebrenica, as well as full observance of the safe area status by all parties;” and “[e]xpresses its grave concern at the bombardment of Zepa and demands that it stop immediately.” S/1995/574. NATO is not now threatening armed intervention, even from the sky, to protect safe areas.

          On July 18th the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amre Moussa, wrote to the President of the Security Council that: “2. The protection of the safe areas in Bosnia is a responsibility that falls directly on the Security Council under the terms of resolution 836 (1993), in which the Council explicitly extends the mandate of the United Nations Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia in order to enable it to protect these areas. The Organization has not, however, provided the forces in Question with the necessary manpower or equipment to perform the tasks assigned to them in the proper manner. This is despite the readiness expressed by many States Members of the United Nations, including Egypt, within this framework.” S/1995/589 at 2.

Moussa is putting his finger on a practical reason why UNPROFOR cannot do what its name implies in the way of protecting the safe areas.

          On July 14th Bangladesh wrote the Secretary-General and the Council President, saying that it was seriously concerned about the situation in Bihac, “where more than 1,200 Bangladeshi soldiers are deployed as part of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) [citing Council resolu-tions] which clearly laid down the UNPROFOR mandate to protect the safe areas and to authorize the use of air power [and] the recent London conference on Bosnia on 21 July 1995, [which] also decided to take all necessary measures, including air strikes, to ensure the safety of enclaves in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We would, therefore, urge that the Security Council take forthright action for immediate deployment of the Rapid Reaction Force to all enclaves at present under attack, including Bihac, as well as to launch air strikes to deter Serb aggression against these United Nations-designated safe areas.” S/1995/606.

          “All necessary measures” is standard UN language authorizing the use of force, but it is the London conference, not the UN, that is here described as contemplating force.

          On July 25th, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the former Yugoslavia, Yasushi Akashi, stated that, “For the last week, the safe area of Zepa has been under sustained shelling and repeated attack by Bosnian Serb forces as they attempt to repeat the intimidation and forced relocation of thousands of civilians we recently witnessed in Srebrenica. * * * In the last two months, only two UNHCR convoys have gained access, and food stocks are exhausted. Now, the people of Zepa are faced with an onslaught of artillery, tank, and mortar fire. For the injured, elderly, and infirm there is no escape from the enclave, and very little medical care if wounded.”

          On the 26th Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali stated that he “fully supports the decision taken by the North Atlantic Council . . . and agrees with its conclusion that an attack by Bosnian Serbs on Goradze should be met by a firm and decisive response, including through air strikes.” He went on to say that he “is deeply concerned by current attacks on Sarajevo and on the Bihac pocket and notes that the North Atlantic Council has asked the NATO Military Authorities, in consultation with the United Nations Peace Forces, to formulate proposals on the possible use of air power in these situations also.” SG/SM/5693. But what could air power have done to prevent the mass executions? What was needed was over-whelming ground force; anything less would have resulted in massive UN or NATO casualties on top of the civilian deaths.

          Radovan Karadic, former Bosnian Serb President, is in ICTY custody, while former General Ratko Mladic is still at large. Since the ICTY is scheduled to cease operations by a certain date, arrangements must be made for Mladic to be tried by a proper tribunal even if he eludes capture until after that date.

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