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New Series no.1 November-December 1997
Responsibility for Srebrenica
Adrian Hastings

The visit to Britain of three women from Srebrenica, delegates of the refugee community in Tuzla, is a good moment to take stock of the quite appalling failure of the international community to respond to the greatest genocidal atrocity of post-Holocaust Europe - the shooting in cold blood of some ten thousand Bosnian Muslims by order of General Mladic after his troops had overrun this UN 'Safe Area' in July 1995.

The first and foremost petition of the women is simply that the graves of their husbands, brothers and sons should be protected and exhumed. Every close relative of someone murdered feels the same. Why is this request so blatantly ignored, when there are thousands of heavily armed American soldiers based close by? Do Western politicans really imagine that Bosnia can settle down into a state of peace, when such primordial requirements have not been met?

But, of course, the response to Srebrenica cannot stop there. Local elections have just taken place in Bosnia, in which refugees were allowed to have their votes count for their place of residence in 1991 rather than for where they are now. In 1991 Srebrenica's population was three quarters Muslim. It is not surprising that these internationally monitored elections gave Srebrenica a local government with a Muslim majority. Yet its local government is not allowed to come near the place. How long is the West going to continue with such a farce? It enforces a meticulously careful election and then sits back without attempting to implement it, despite its overwhelming power to do so.

Even more important, however, is insistence on full public enquiry into why genocide was allowed to take place in a UN Safe Haven and who was responsible. General Mladic has been indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, yet he lives comfortably in Bosnia only a few miles from a major UN base and goes for holidays in Yugoslavia. The Dayton Agreement committed Britain, the United States and other powers to the punishment of war criminals. Western politicians, including President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair, ritually repeat this commitment, but nothing is done except in regard to a few more minor characters? Why? To answer that it is because the arrest of Mladic and Karadzic might disrupt the 'peace' established in Bosnia is absurd, since what effectively prevents any true peace developing is precisely the continued presence and power of the principal genocidal criminals who overturned peace in Bosnia six years ago.

The real answer is that any public trial at this level, any investigation in particular into responsibility for the genocide at Srebrenica, would implicate both President Milosevic, whom Western politicians remain grotesquely anxious to protect, and a number of important people in the West itself. It is quite certain that Srebrenica could have been saved by the use of air power, just as Gorazde was in fact saved. Moreover, the people of Srebrenica were promised that air power would be used. On 10 July 1995 Mladic issued his ultimatum that the inhabitants must surrender the following morning. That night, Colonel Karremans, commander of the Dutch troops in the town, assured the latter's leaders that a counter-ultimatum had been given and, if the Serb forces did not withdraw, they would be pounded by between forty and seventy planes; also that General Rupert Smith, the British Commander of UNPROFOR, would come by helicopter to visit the town. No such thing happened, the town fell a few hours later and the slaughter began almost at once, exactly as observers had predicted.

Did Karremans utter a blatant lie? It seems unlikely, though not impossible. If he had indeed been informed that the air attack was to take place, who countermanded the order? Was it General Smith, General Janvier the overall commander of UN troops in the former Yugoslavia, or UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali? Why subsequently were thousands of refugees inside the UN base forced out by Dutch troops to their near-certain death at the hands of the Serbian forces standing outside? Why did British SAS officers in Srebrenica, who had direct contact with General Smith and the power to ask for air strikes, do nothing? Why, when the desperate Bosnian interpreter in the base appealed to an SAS officer to let his father and mother remain, was the reply simply: 'Piss off!'?

Why did General Smith meet with General Mladic on 17 and 19 July while the genocide was continuing, sign the minutes with him but add: 'General Smith does not wish the agreement to fall into the public domain'?

It is certain that if Mladic is tried for genocide then - since the International Convention on Genocide includes 'collusion' as part of the crime - Colonel Karremans and General Smith are in danger of indictment for collusion. If Mladic is never tried and the international community continues, as at present, to avert its gaze from what happened, then the good name of both soldiers and their countries will remain permanently linked with genocide and they will never have the opportunity to vindicate themselves. That hardly seems desirable for Holland, for Britain, or for the officers concerned. It is, after all, rather probable that General Smith in fact ordered the air strike which would have saved Srebrenica, that he did so at the request of Colonel Karremans, and that his order was overruled either by Janvier or by Boutros-Ghali. Clearly none of these people wants to appear before the Tribunal in The Hague. Hence, conveniently, Mladic is not arrested. In consequence, however, everyone remains under suspicion and the whole moral response of the world to genocide is permanently muddied. The Labour Government was not involved in any of these events, but if it now continues the policy of not insisting upon the arrest of Mladic and avoiding judical analysis of what happened at Srebrenica, then it too will be smeared with the guilt of post-factum collusion. Surely that is not what Robin Cook can want?

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