World has not learned the lessons of Srebrenica

World has not learned the lessons of Srebrenica

Bosnian Muslim women mourn in front of the casket of a newly identified victim during a burial ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, at the Potocari memorial cemetery July 11, 2020. (AFP)
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What has the world learned from the Srebrenica massacre 25 years ago? From the evidence of events last week at the UN Security Council, precious little.

On July 10 this year, just as on July 11, 1995, civilian victims sought life-saving assistance from the international community. Then, as now, it was denied.

At the Security Council late on Friday night, Russia and China vetoed the proposal to extend the UN mandate to provide humanitarian aid to northern Syria via border crossings with Turkey. As a result, hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people may well face starvation.

Russia objected to sanctions against the Assad regime, while China presumably wanted to flex its muscles on the world stage as US interest and influence wane. In other words, a cynical game of power politics in the corridors of power while, thousands of kilometers away, people who need the world’s help plead in vain.

How depressingly similar to events in 1995, when Bosnian Serb troops under the command of Ratko Mladic embarked on an orgy of murder and rape of Bosnian Muslim men, women and children that has been described as the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War.

It is important for the international community to demonstrate that it will hunt down the perpetrators of atrocities and hold them to account.

Cornelia Meyer

Only lightly armed, completely surrounded, vastly outnumbered and with a mandate of impartiality, UN “peacekeepers” from the Netherlands were powerless. They asked for NATO air support, but other than a few desultory bombing raids that were halted by bad weather, none was forthcoming.

In 2004 the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia declared the Srebrenica massacre genocide, a ruling upheld in 2007 by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. That is of no comfort to the families of the 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys massacred by Mladic and his soldiers, or to the 30,000 Bosnian Muslim women, children and elderly who were abused and forcibly displaced.

Srebrenica was a wake-up call of sorts. Ten days later, NATO met in London and agreed on a clearer mandate for airstrikes, especially against Serb militias. That did not end the Balkan wars, and nor did the Dayton Agreement in November 1995; it brought peace to Bosnia with a 60,000-strong NATO implementation force, and established the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but the killing continued in many parts of the former Yugoslavia, notably in Kosovo.

On the positive side, the western Balkans have come a long way since Srebrenica. Croatia and Slovenia are respected members of the EU. Albania, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are candidates for membership; and Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidates. The EU should do whatever it can to help these countries to achieve membership, because such multilateral frameworks can create an environment for prosperity and peace.

At a time when more than 1 percent of the world’s population is displaced, with 100 million new refugees in the past decade alone, the need for these frameworks has never been greater. But they can work only if the family of nations walks in lockstep, which means showing compassion for people displaced by war. In that sense, Friday night at the Security Council did not generate much hope.

It is also important for the international community to demonstrate that it will hunt down the perpetrators of atrocities and hold them to account; as it did with Ratko Mladic, prosecuted and convicted at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and sentenced in 2017 to life imprisonment for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

  • Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources
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