Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Remembering Srebrenica

Today in Europe they are remembering the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8000 Bosniak men and boys were murdered. It was Europe's worst post-war massacre, and has rightly been described as a scar on the conscience of Europe.

What was done to stop it? Precious little. The international community's response to the collapse of Yugoslavia was woeful. The European Union, uncertain of its role, could not agree on any coherant policy to prevent or mitigate a war in their "backyard". The general lack of enthusiasm, particularly from Britian, limited their efforts to malign neglect. A similar story can be told at the international level. The US, as in WWII, initially did not wish to get involved. To its credit, as the war progressed, it did try to get the arms embargo on the former Yugoslavia overturned, which would have given the Croats and Bosnians some chance to defend themselves against the Yugoslav army - but they were hamstrung by Britain. And with the international community divided, the UN was unable to act.

The victims of Srebrenica were initially protected by Dutch peacekeepers under the UN flag. But the UN Security Council had refused to authorise force, and the lightly-armed peacekeepers were subject to rules of engagement which allowed them to fire only in the defence of themselves, rather than the civilians they were supposed to be protecting. When Bosnian Serb forces under General Ratko Mladic captured Srebrenica, they could (legally) do nothing to prevent the slaughter that followed. Their efforts were restricted to the post-takeover attempt to evacuate refugees to prevent a humanitarian crisis - which, while something everybody wanted, was tantamount to participating in ethnic clensing. When the Serb forces began murdering those left behind, the Dutch did nothing. A report into their inaction eventually caused the entire Dutch government to resign in 2002.

What has been done since to bring the perpetrators of the massacre to justice? Quite a lot. The UN established an International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, and it has set about issuing indictements and trying suspects. So far 56 have been convicted and another 80 are being tried or awaiting trial - including former Yugoslav President Slobodon Milosevic. Mladic and the former President of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadzic, are still at large, but the net seems to be gradually tightening. Increased diplomatic pressure from Europe has resulted in a large number of indicted war criminals surrendering or being handed over to the court; hopefully Mladic and Karadzic will soon be among them. Their trial and (hopefuly) conviction will not of course bring their victims back to life - but it will be better than nothing.


> The general lack of enthusiasm, particularly from Britian

sounds like it was a case of having to have a committee to see if you should save a drowning child. It really should not matter if some individual country lacks enthusiasm.

> But the UN Security Council had refused to authorise force.

those rules of engagement seem to make them war watchers rather than peace keepers.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/12/2005 07:05:00 PM

It should be remembered that it was the US and Britain that finally used military force to stop Milosevic. And it was Blair who prompted Clinton into action.

Aslo interesting to note who opposed all this. Fisk, Pilger, Chomsky, Monbiot, etc etc. How things have not changed.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/12/2005 09:19:00 PM

Here is a nerdy admission. On the day of the Srebenica massacre, I followed the news as it clicked through on (those were the days) Teletext, then attended the Auckland University Model United Nations as Bosnia-Herzegovina, where I appealed straight out for a Nato intervention. I was then, and still am, a liberal-internationalist interventionist when it comes to genocide. But here's the rub. I still don't trust any state that wants to invade a country to 'save it from themselves' to actually do so. The only ones that can be trusted to pull it off within actual Geneva Convention/UN Charter parameters of acceptable military behaviour, reconstruction and withdrawal, are the ones that don't want to, the ones that have no vested interest, who see no material gain to be looted from that beseiged foreign field, and who are forced, shamed into intervening by the international community. That's why Iraq I & II and Afghanistan, cannot be compared to Bosnia, or Kosovo - or (most bitterly) Rwanda. Don't even try it.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/13/2005 12:04:00 AM

Ae britains and americans really so much more evil than sweeds? I dont think so - and if sweeden or any other such country became interventionist it would soon become hated jsut like any other. the problem is that if you stay out the world sees it as on hte whole "not your fault" if you prevent the bad things but cause some other bad things yoursel;f (which you cant help but do) it IS your fault - the puiblic expects perfection and it is easy enough for your oponents to deny you that.

Anyway will to act is fundimental to trust to act because if the dutch lets say wont protect innocent people when they are there why should they even bother to go anyay?

There are some nasty trade offs anyway
for example if you try to behave by all the rules more of your peopel will die - if you try to defeat lets say an afganistain while obeying all the rules and being as humane as expected yopu will just kill all your men and have a infinitely protacted war and save hardly anyone.
If you break all hte rules you will win easily an have a large amount of innocents die. Most countries choose a midle ground - because it is the only rational place to stand except for retreat.

reconstruction is even worse since if you declare reconstruction as your goal hten your oppositions goal becomes to "prevent reconstruction, ie blow up water pipes and so forth. you cant stop them, at least not without human rights abuses, so again you loose.

> and withdrawal

and this is hard too because you can only withdraw in defeat because you cant achieve your aims.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/13/2005 07:55:00 AM

And finally - generally (with a very short term outlook, ie this particular event and not its implications for other events) its better to sit on your hands than withdraw in defeat and let hte masssacare hapen anyway

Posted by Anonymous : 7/13/2005 07:57:00 AM