UN 'appeased' and unwittingly aided genocide
by Colum Lynch
A long-awaited internal investigation, released on 15 November 1999, concludes that the United Nations appeased and unwittingly abetted the Bosnian Serb military in 1995 as it carried out the worst mass murder in Europe since World War II.
The extraordinary admission is contained in a report assessing the degree of UN responsibility for the deaths of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in July 1995, when Bosnian Serbs took over the `safe area' of Srebrenica, which had been under the protection of a UN battalion of 117 Dutch peacekeepers.
The report says the UN's willingness to negotiate with Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic amounted to `appeasement.'
`It was with the deepest regret and remorse that we have reviewed our own actions and decisions in the face of the assault on Srebrenica,' the report says. `Through error, misjudgment and an inability to recognize the scope of evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder.'
The 155-page report, based on a review of classified UN cables and interviews with more than 100 officials, provides a chilling play-by-play of one of the darkest episodes in United Nations history. `The tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt us forever,' it added.
On 6 July 1995, as Bosnian Serb forces began a five-day assault on the town, senior UN commanders repeatedly rejected appeals from the Dutch peacekeeping force for NATO air support, while the UN's local officer refused to release weapons to the Bosnian Muslims to defend themselves. When assistance finally came, it was `too little, too late,' according to a UN cable.
The blame for the fall of Srebrenica was not the UN's alone, according to the report. It says the 15-nation UN Security Council, of which the United States is a member, was the chief architect of a policy that was doomed to fail from the start. The out-gunned, lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers also come under criticism for failing to fire on the town's besiegers or to warn of the enormous danger facing the enclave. And the major powers, including the United States, refused to provide intelligence on Serbian troop movements, the report says.
But the report reserves its harshest criticism for the UN leadership, particularly former Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; his senior commander, Lt. General Bernard Janvier of France; and his top envoy, Yasushi Akashi of Japan. They were the UN's most vigorous opponents of the use of air power against the Serbs.
Current Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was in charge of UN peacekeeping through much of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, also shared the blame. While his personal role in the events in Srebrenica is not clearly addressed in the report, it says he has accepted general responsibility for the UN's failure in Bosnia.
`We gave the Security Council the impression that the situation was under control, and many of us believed that to be the case,' Annan is quoted as saying. `The day before Srebrenica fell, we reported that the Serbs were not attacking when they were. We reported that the Bosnians had fired on UNPROFOR [the UN Protection Force] blocking position when it was the Serbs. We failed to mention urgent requests for air power.'
The report also challenges a long list of UN decisions during the conflict. The UN now acknowledges that its arms embargo undermined the Bosnian army's ability to defend itself. The report says the UN's persistent reluctance to use air power against the Bosnian Serbs was a mistake. And the report repudiates a long-cherished assumption that the UN can be evenhanded in the face of an aggressor.
The use of force, not diplomacy, is the only appropriate way to confront a determined aggressor, a lesson that was to be repeated later in Bosnia and Kosovo, the report says.
`In Bosnia and in Kosovo, the international community tried to reach a negotiated settlement with an unscrupulous and murderous regime,' it says. `In both instances it required the use of force to bring a halt to the planned and systematic killing and expulsion of civilians.'
This report appeared in The Washington Post, 15 November 1999
Annan's report on Srebrenica is available on-line at the following addresses: