Irish Times - Tuesday, December 07, 1999

UN must carry blame for Serb atrocities

History will tell of a line in the sand in Bosnia and force being met with force, writes Patrick Smyth from Brussels.

Srebrenica was the turning point. The history of Bosnia's bloody war will be written as "Before Srebrenica" and "After Srebrenica". Before, the unstoppable march of ethnic cleansing, of international indecision and appeasement. Then, a war crime unmatched in Europe in our generation - more than 7,000 men and boys executed while the world did nothing. "After Srebrenica fell to besieging Serbian forces in July 1995," Judge Fouad Riad told the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, "a truly terrible massacre of the Muslim population appears to have taken place . . .

"Thousands of men executed and buried in mass graves, hundreds of men buried alive, men and women mutilated and slaughtered, children killed before their mothers' eyes, a grandfather forced to eat the liver of his own grandson. "These are truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history."

And afterwards, history will tell of a line in the sand being drawn and force being met with force. An uneasy, unfair peace, but a halt put to Serb expansionism.

Yet, if Srebrenica marks a crossroads in the history of Bosnia, it may also come to be seen as having a global significance beyond its gruesome inhumanity in a new prise de conscience by the international community.

That, at least, is the purpose of an extraordinarily candid, selfcritical report on the Srebrenica events published a fortnight ago by Kofi Annan, then in charge of peacekeeping in the UN.

To save the UN as a credible vehicle of global collective security, Mr Annan, now the organisation's Secretary General, has produced a courageous mea culpa in a no-holds-barred 150-page account of bureaucratic failure, vacillation, and political cynicism. In it he indicts not only the Serbian butchers of Srebrenica, but his own organisation, himself and his then boss, BoutrosBoutros Ghali, member-states, NATO, and cynical leaders of the Bosnian community.

Mr Annan has produced a powerful cry from the heart that must set the tone for any future discussion of the UN's global role.

The report traces the story of the Srebrenica crisis back to the cynical decision in 1993 to designate "safe areas" to "protect" six vulnerable enclaves. At the Security Council, Mr Annan recalls, the Venezuelan and Pakistani ambassadors denounced it at length. "First, that it could not be implemented without substantial resources which might not be forthcoming, and, second, that it provided cover for an unwillingness to support `the broader and more meaningful goals of the fair and equitable distribution of territory between the various communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina'. " They predicted that the safe areas would not be "safe" at all and were right on all counts - the Serbs continued to shell them with impunity. Two years later, the reality would be of 110 poorly armed Dutch troops defending - or, more precisely, not defending - an enclave of 30,000. Not one shot would be fired by them at the Serb forces invading Srebrenica.

"Prior to his departure in December 1993," Mr Annan records, "the then Commander of Unprofor's Bosnia and Herzegovina Command commented that his mission had been beset by `a fantastic gap between the resolutions of the Security Council, the will to execute these resolutions, and the means available to commanders in the field.' He added that he had stopped reading Security Council resolutions."

The story is one of failures of political will and organisation at the local and strategic levels. These ranged from the difficulty the UN had in persuading member-states to replace troops due for rotation out of the enclaves, to the communication breakdowns that meant at least five appeals for air support from the beleaguered Dutch never reached the high command, let alone the Security Council. One such appeal was rejected "because it was on the wrong form".

Mr Annan admits to profound errors of judgment of the UN Secretariat.

"We were, with hindsight, wrong to declare repeatedly and publicly that we did not want to use air power against the Serbs except as a last resort and to accept the shelling of the safe areas as a daily occurrence," he writes. "In fact, rather than attempting to mobilise the international community to support the enclave's defence, we gave the Security Council the impression that the situation was under control, and many of us believed that to be the case.

"The day before Srebrenica fell we reported that the Serbs were not attacking when they were. We reported that the Bosnians had fired on an Unprofor blocking position when it was the Serbs. We failed to mention urgent requests for air power . . .

"In the end, these Bosnian Serb war aims were ultimately repulsed on the battlefield, and not at the negotiating table. Yet, the Secretariat had convinced itself early on that the broader use of force by the international community was beyond our mandate and anyway undesirable. "A report of the SecretaryGeneral to the Security Council spoke against a `culture of death', arguing that peace should be pursued only through non-military methods. And when, in June 1995, the international community provided Unprofor with a heavily armed Rapid Reaction Force, we argued against using it robustly to implement our mandate. When decisive action was finally taken by Unprofor in August and September 1995, it helped to bring the war to a conclusion."

Mr Annan calls for a new global political determination. "The cardinal lesson . . . is that a deliberate and systematic attempt to terrorise, expel or murder an entire people must be met decisively with all necessary means, and with the political will to carry the policy through."

He urges member-states to engage in a real debate about such issues as "the gulf between mandate and means; the inadequacy of symbolic deterrence in the face of a systematic campaign of violence; the pervasive ambivalence within the UN regarding the role of force in the pursuit of peace, and an institutional ideology of impartiality even when confronted with attempted genocide . . ."

Mr Annan argues: "In the end, the only meaningful and lasting amends we can make to the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who put their faith in the international community is to do our utmost not to allow such horrors to recur."

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