Betrayal at the UN
by By Ian Williams
For two years Germany has been campaigning to have the United Nations
Development Programme moved from New York to Bonn. It would be far more fitting
for the country to offer Munich as the site for the Security Council, so that
Britain and France could do their Neville Chamberlain imitation over Bosnia in
an historically fitting venue.
Over recent weeks in New York, the players mounted a successful, if cynical,
double bill at the Security Council. First, UN Secretary-General Boutros
Boutros-Ghali officially nominated a candidate for prosecutor at the Yugoslav
War Crimes Tribunal to the Security Council. The British, French and Russians
indicated that they would veto his suggestion, Professor Cherif Bassiouni of
Chicago's De Paul University. The Americans nominally supported him, but with
the same outstanding lack of fervour shown by President Bill Clinton for the
resolution to lift the arms embargo on Bosnia.
Officially, the opposition to Professor Bassiouni was based on his lack of
experience as a prosecutor. In fact, diplomats candidly admit that his real
problem is an excess of efficiency. He is a year ahead of any other potential
candidate in assembling war crimes evidence -- and among the chief suspects are
the "leaders" to whom David Owen and the West are urging the Bosnians to
surrender most of their country. Explaining his interest, Bassiouni told me:
"It's hard to look in the eyes of a 15-year-old who has been raped for six
months, or someone who has been imprisoned and tortured, and just walk away."
Of course, he was speaking in a personal capacity. The evidence indicates that
many European statesmen have no such difficulty. Presumably, however, it would
embarrass even the shameless Douglas Hurd to roll out the red carpet for men who
are on the UN's wanted list for genocide and war crimes. After all, the unruly
press might mention the fact. But Hurd moves in mysterious ways, since it was
John Major's government that inadvertently financed Bassiouni's research. As
chief rapporteur to the UN Commission Investigating War Crimes, Bassiouni
overcame UN bureaucracy and inertia by geting funding from George Soros, the
billionaire who made a killing of selling sterling short last year.
The Security Council had set up the Commision because press reports of events in
the Balkans made it plain that crimes were being committed, and so something had
to be seen to be done to allay public opinion. But the Commission was not given
the wherewithal to investigate, one assumes for the same reasons that make
Bassiouni an unsuitable candidate.
Having vetoed him, the Security Council is now considering a compromise
candidate. Currently, the favourite is someone from Brazil -- an inauspicious
choice in view of the country's dubious record in not prosecuting ecocide and
The message is clear -- we don't care -- and it was repeated, with especial
cruelty, to Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic when he went to the Security
Council on 7 September. His demands were the most modest conceivable. Asking the
Council to implement its own resolutions, he sought the use of force against
those who impede humanitarian coÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌðnvoys; the threat of air-strikes to enforce an
end to military activity; and action to make the laughably termed "safe" areas
safe. All these points are enshrined in the 50 or so Security Council
resolutions for which Britain and France voted.
Finally, while reluctantly admitting that Bosnia would be partitioned, he asked
the Security Council to consider that the present "peace" proposals implied that
50 per cent of the population would be forced to live on an unviable 29 per cent
of the territory. Even then, however, he promised that whatever size it was, in
the future Bosnian republic, "no one will be persecuted because of their
religion, ethnicity, or political beliefs".
There was not a hint of dampness in the eyes of the European diplomats who filed
out afterwards without having said a word. French ambassador Jean Bernard
Merimee dismissively referred to the president as sounding like a beggar, which
came badly from someone who had played such a large part in reducing Bosnia to
penury. United States ambassador Madeline Albright, the only diplomat to speak
after Izetbegovic, ran after Sir David Hannay of the UK, declaring herself to be
"stunned, stunned. Why didn't you say anything?" In fact, Sir David had already
requested a meeting with the Bosnian President -- and had suggested earnestly
that he return to the peace talks.
Next, Izetbegovic flew to Washington, to get the cold shoulder from Clinton, who
has decided that Bosnia is not a poll-boosting decision. Indeed, Clinton
informed the Bosnian President that John Major had informed him that, if the
arms embargo were lifted, the Conservative government would fall. Bosnia, a
small country, far away, is to be left to its own devices so that the small grey
men around Major can maintain the dubious perks of office in the face of disdain
at home and abroad.
A slightly different version of this piece first appeared in the New Statesman
and Society, 17-23 September 1993.