bosnia report
No. 4 February - March 1994
 
The G-Word
by From the Editors

It is revealing that the term `genocide' has seldom, if ever, appeared in Government pronouncements on Bosnia. The reason for such unseemly reticence is obvious: mention of genocide and war crimes is highly impolitic - even if the International Court of Justice has provisionally ruled that Serbia is guilty of genocide against Bosnia, under the terms of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention. Put bluntly, in Ireland as elsewhere in the EU, governmental talk of genocide might increase public pressure for a European policy which actually sides with the victims of aggression and their state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, rather than one of spurious even-handedness which bolsters the aggressors, and whose de facto aim is twofold: i) denying Bosnia the means of self-defence and ii) pressuris- ing the weaker party - the state subject to genocide - into accepting an unjust and unworkable partition/annexation of an historic nation with long-established borders.

Non-governmental human rights organisations - unrestrained by the political cal- culus which attempts even to whitewash the impact of genocide - suffer from no such reticence. They have been at pains to refute the calumny that all sides have been engaged in genocide:

" . . . the Serbian authorities in de facto control of certain territories in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the United Nations Protected Areas bear primary responsibility for the policy of ethnic cleansing carried out there. The com- mand of the Yugoslav National Army and the political leadership of the Republic of Serbia also share responsibility for this policy which could not have been continued until the present time without this active support . . . The Muslim side is the principle victim of the conflict. This population lives in fear of being exterminated . . ." (Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Special Rapporteur to the UN Commission on Human Rights)
"The Security Council's continuing emphasis in negotiations in the absence of a willingness to enforce an end to human rights violations . . . has perpetrated a falseÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌà idea that all sides are equally to blame . . . What is taking place in Bosnia-Herzegovina is attempted genocide - the extermination of a people in whole or in part because of their race, religions or ethnicity." (Human Rights Watch)
Indeed, Mr Mazowiecki (former Prime Minister of Poland) was so disturbed by the EU-UN `peace process', that he publicly asserted that the Vance-Owen plan for the partition of Bosnia had encouraged fresh campaigns of ethnic-cleansing. And in May 1993, when the UN limited its ambitions to the protection of a few safe areas, he threatened to resign as chief UN human rights investigator. Comparing partition proposals to the 1938 sacrifice of Sudetenland and the appeasement of Nazi Germany, Mr Mazowiecki said the Vance-Owen plan (which was much less draco- nian than the current EU plan) failed to guarantee that Bosnian Serb territorial gains and ethnic cleansing would be reversed, nor to give any commitment that those guilty of war crimes would be brought to justice.

The quality of a politician lies in the quality of his or her concern. What are we to make of a supine Tanaiste who fails to speak out clearly on genocide for fear of political ramifications? Whose Bosnian policy seeks a `solution' by pressurising the victims of that genocide - the Bosnian democrats - into accepting a `peace of injustice' whose whole tenor contravenes key principles of the UN Charter and the CSCE Final Act, not to mention the rhetoric of the Euro- pean Union? For it is now undoubtedly the case that the official Irish attitude to Bosnia (like that of the British, French and Russians) sees the legal Bosnian Government as the main obstacle to a `deal', since it continues to reject the partition terms on offer. Despite the history of this island, neither the Tanaiste nor any other member of the Irish Government has yet to express pub- licly the slightest doubt about the wisdom of the EU's stubborn endorsement of partition since the very outset of the crisis - from the plan put to the Bosnian Government before the outbreak of war, through the neo-colonial carve-ups pro- posed by Carrington and Owen. Yet it must be admitted that to date the Tanaiste has had a remarkably easy time over Bosnia, being able to skirt around the issue of genocide and to contribute to a policy of partition with virtually no damag- ing media or parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr Spring would be unwise, however, to assume that such political comfort will much longer last. Steadily, his role in the EU deliberations on Bosnia (1 - 3 meetings a month) is moving into the political limelight - and seems set to stay there as the Bosnian tragedy further unfolds, outrage at the aggressors hardens, and the governmental veil of obfuscation and half-truth which has been used to placate Western electorates becomes even more threadbare. An harbinger of the sort of scrutiny which he can increasingly expect came in a recent column by The Irish Times Diplomatic Correspondent, Colm Boland, in which his whole approach to Bosnia was rounded upon. In a few deft strokes, Mr Boland identified the Tanaiste's well-judged tactic of reticence, which flows directly from the anti-- Bosnian tenor of Government policy:

"However, there was a palpable sense of public frustration, in the wake of the mortar attack on the crowded market in Sarajevo - the worse single atrocity there so far - when Mr Spring seemed to retreat into guarded caution about the pros and cons of air strikes against Serbian artillery. At a time when it might have been appropriate to scream for Bosnia, if only to give expression to the general sense of anger and concern felt by the public, Mr Spring seemed to bury himself in the obscure consensus procedures of European political cooperation. One has the impression that foreign ministers in other EU member-states inter- pret the European political cooperation procedures in a less strict manner. While generally respecting the main principles agreed on atÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌà joint EU meetings, Mr Spring's counterparts elsewhere seem to feel free to utter more spontaneous heartfelt statements about international issues".
Elementary political soothsaying suggests that final endorsement of Bosnia's carve-up will besmirch many a political reputation in the future. The conse- quences of partition by fait accompli - apartheid, dictatorship, the undermining of international law and the UN, further bouts of ethnic cleansing - will stick to its architects like political fly-paper (the glue being genocide). The Owen-Stoltenburg Plan is, indeed, a veritable Pandora's Box of grim precedent and unforeseen ramification. Like the impact of the invasion of Abyssinia on the League of Nations, failure to reverse blatant aggression will devastate the credibility of the UN Charter; like the accord at Munich, the final dismember- ment of Bosnia will constitute a myopic appeasement of a blood-and-soil fascism openly embarked on murder and conquest. It is no exaggeration to see Bosnia as the Spanish Civil War of our time: a clash between the open and the closed society, a modern polity aspiring to pluralism and democracy, and one predicated on hatred and `purity' - between the ideals of the Enlightenment and the dark cult of chauvinism. "The glory and scandal of the seige of Sarajevo", Professor Adrian Hastings has written, "is one of the epics of modern European history."

Unless Mr Spring distances Ireland from a peace of appalling injustice (as some EU member States have done sporadically), and argues for a much more principled settlement, one which does not represent both an easy appeasement of the aggres- sor and a nullification of key norms of international law, he will share in the opprobrium that will dog those who placed the `legal' imprimatur on the destruc- tion of Bosnia. Even more gravely, if the EU-sponsored carve-up does prompt further ethnic cleansing (the partition lobby will try to call it `population transfer'), the Tanaiste and his ministerial colleagues will be justly subject to the accusation of proxy complicity in the breaking of the 1949 Geneva Conven- tions and, arguably, the UN Convention on Genocide.

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