"After Auschwitz, they said something like that could never happen in Europe again. But it did, and UN troops were there to watch it. I remember the fear, the crying, the hysteria. They knew they were being taken to their deaths." Dr Daniel O’Brien, a doctor with Medecins sans Frontieres, who witnessed the fall of the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995. ("The Horror of Srebrenica" The Times of London, 4/19/2001)
Four years ago, I wrote an article arguing that the United Nations, Holland and France were implicated in the slaughter of the male population of Srebrenicia. At the time many apologists for the Bosnian Serbs claimed that the whole ‘incident’ was an exaggeration. Last year, The Bosnian Serbs confessed their role in the massacre. And Last week, a video emerged proving that the Scorpions, a unit of Special Forces of the Serbian Army, also took part in the carnage. The United Nations should open its files and confess to their criminal failure to prevent the atrocity at Srebrenicia. The case against Butros Ghali, then Secretary General of the United Nations is especially compelling. For the sake of the integrity of the international legal system, he too should stand trial at The Hague.
(originally published in July, 2001)
When UN commander Morillon arrived in Srebrenica in March 1993, shortly after it had been officially designated a safe haven, he gave this promise to the 45,000 residents and refugees: "I will never abandon you". Two years later, Dutch UN troops were handing the Bosnians over to the Serbs for certain slaughter. Last year, in a speech to the Serbian parliament, Cedomir Javanovic, a deputy from the DOS ruling coalition admitted, "We are obliged to say that 7,500 people went missing in the Srebrenica region and that those whom we parted from last September (Milosovic) are to blame for it."
Ten years ago, in the largest massacre in post-war Europe since World War II, thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered in cold blood by the Serb militias under the command of General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. The victims had no reason to fear for their lives. They were in a United Nations protected ‘safe haven’ with hundreds of Dutch soldiers assigned to defend them against the three-year Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing. The international community, with the full backing of the United States and NATO, had given ironclad guarantees that Srebrenica would be a safe sanctuary for Bosnian refugees. Butros Ghali, the Secretary General of the United Nations, had the authority to direct NATO air strikes against any Serb assaults against Srebrenica. Yet, the UN stood by, while the entire adult and teenage male population was systematically butchered.
At Srebrenica, the world turned a blind eye to the mass killings of unarmed civilians who were, for all practical matters, wards of the United Nations and the ‘civilized’ world. The commanding officer of the Dutch contingent, Colonel Thom Karremans, was photographed having a drink with General Mladic and his goons. The Dutch are still investigating the behavior of their officers. One officer, Captain Ron Rutten has confessed that the Dutch soldiers helped the Serbs to split the Bosnians into groups of 60 or 70 and pile them into buses destined for the killing fields. He actually provided the Dutch government with film and photographs to back up his claim. One need only imagine why this evidence ‘mysteriously’ disappeared from the files of the Dutch officials that are still ‘investigating’ Srebrenicia.
At the time of the massacre, General Bertrand Janvier of France headed the UN Protection Force. The Dutch officers claim that they repeatedly requested air support from the French General, who declined to provide any assistance. The UN failure was no simple accident. There are allegations that UN commanders had secretly agreed not to use force against the Serbian forces moving in on Srebrenica, in exchange for the earlier release of several hundred UN personnel who had been held hostage by the Bosnian Serbs.
In France, an inquiry by the Parliament into the actions of Gen. Bernard Janvier was eventually approved after years of lobbying by Doctors without Borders. This international medical aid group has repeatedly testified in international forums that even the sick and wounded under its care were evacuated under Dutch escort and then forced off buses and handed over to the Serb executioners.
When the Serbs began shelling Srebrenica, the Bosnians asked the Dutch to return the weapons they had surrendered in exchange for ‘safe haven’. But the Dutch officers rejected even this basic right of self-defense. Later, the Dutch ‘Peacekeepers’ handed over about 5,000 Muslims who had taken shelter at the Dutch base at Potocari. It was in exchange for 14 Dutch peacekeepers held by the Serbs. This story only gets worse. Some survivors allege that retreating Dutch troops drove their tanks into a crowd of Bosnian Muslims near the village of Jaglici, killing between 20 and 30 people.
Over the course of the next three days the Serbs indulged in an orgy of killing. It took a few days to kill and bury so many prisoners. At no time did the United Nations attempt to intervene, even after the Dutch troops had escaped to safety. Butros Ghali and his ‘peacekeepers’ abandoned the ‘save haven’ and didn’t bother to look back until every last able-bodied Srebrenica male had been slaughtered.
It now appears that The United Nations had cut a deal that allowed the Serbs to obliterate the entire male population of a major Southern European town. The French and the Dutch were in on the deal. It is safe to assume that members of the Clinton administration also gave a nod to the agreement. It would have been highly unlikely that Chirac, Clinton, Warren Christopher and Butros Ghali were unaware of exactly what was going on. Like Sabra and Shatila, the slaughter went on for days. Enough time for intelligence briefings and enough time for intervention.
Some 15,000 Serbian troops were involved in this slaughter and the mass deportation of the women and children of Srebrenicia. Yet, the war crimes tribunal in The Hague has issued only a few indictments. It is certainly encouraging that Milosovic, who bore the ultimate responsibility for Srebrenicia, is on trial and will face a measure of justice. But, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are still on the loose, reportedly in the French sector of Bosnia. Many others who had a hand in the mass killing remain unidentified.
This is not a matter that we can ever close the files on. At some point, we need a full accounting of the Dutch, the French and the international civil servants who broke their commitments to provide safety for the citizens of Srebrenicia. Butros Ghali needs to answer for his failure to prevent the slaughter. It is worth noting that Butros Ghali also turned a blind eye to the 1994 genocide of roughly 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda. A few years behind bars for the former UN chief should sober up international civil servants that might be inclined to passively participate in war crimes.
It is also essential for American officials to come clean about what they knew about the ‘safe haven’ slaughter and the exact role of the Clinton administration in participating in the subsequent French and Dutch cover-up. The government of Serbia also needs to be more active in identifying the missing mass graves and those who dug them. We owe it to the surviving widows and orphans of what was once a vibrant community. The world failed to protect their men and boys from an act of genocide committed in broad daylight under the eyes of Dutch ‘peacekeepers’ serving under the colors of the Dutch flag. Having failed to provide the sanctuary promised, we should at least assure their survivors that their loved ones will get a decent burial, a little truth and a little justice.