UN Security Council Does Not Condemn ‘the Horror of the Genocidal Massacre’ of Muslims at Srebrenica


Human Wrongs Watch

New York, 8 July 2015 – As the United Nations Security Council failed to adopt a resolution that some of its permanent members called “vital” and others called “divisive,” senior UN officials stressed that the horror of the genocidal massacre at Srebrenica continued to haunt the Organization 20 years after thousands of ethnic Bosnian Muslim men and boys were slaughtered during a week of preventable brutality.

In 1995, a government soldier reads out the names of soldiers who are confirmed survivors or escapees from the fallen city of Srebrenica. UNICEF/NYHQ1995-0553/LeMoyne

In 1995, a government soldier reads out the names of soldiers who are confirmed survivors or escapees from the fallen city of Srebrenica. UNICEF/NYHQ1995-0553/LeMoyne

The lessons learned from those “unspeakable” days in July 1995 still reverberate throughout the United Nations, according to UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson who, along with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein joining in via videoconference, urged better efforts aimed at prevention and greater cohesion among the international community as it confronts a growing litany of crimes against humanity perpetrated around the world.*

The UN officials’ remarks came as the Security Council prepared to table a vote on a draft resolution strongly condemning as genocide the crimes at Srebrenica as established by the judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and all other proven war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the course of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The measure – which failed to pass with 10 votes in favour, four abstentions (Angola, China, Nigeria and Venezuela) and the Russian Federation voting against – would have further agreed that “acceptance of the tragic events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation.”

If one of the Council’s five permanent members casts a negative vote on a resolution, the text cannot be adopted.

“We gather in humility and regret to recognize the failure of the United Nations and the international community to prevent this tragedy,” Eliasson told the 15-member Council this morning ahead of a vote, marking the 20th anniversary of the tragic events in which 8,000 men and boys who were killed by Bosnian Serb forces who overran Srebrenica – the largest such massacre on European soil since the Organization’s founding.

“The United Nations has acknowledged its responsibility for failing to protect the people who sought shelter and relief in Srebrenica.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, briefs the Security Council. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, briefs the Security Council. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Since the tragedy unfolded in Srebrenica 20 years ago, the Deputy Secretary-General explained, the UN has, in many ways, improved its methodology by which it confronts the threat of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Prevention, he said, has now become “an imperative.”

“Peacekeepers are now regularly provided with robust mandates to protect civilians,” Eliasson continued. “They are often authorized to use all necessary means in defence of populations.”

But, he added, peacekeepers continue to face many of the same challenges that plagued the UN in Srebrenica, not least “paralyzing divisions among Member States and a lack of political and material support.”

As a result, the UN and the Security Council would increasingly have “a central role to play” in strengthening prevention efforts, enforcing the responsibility to protect those in danger and enforcing the right of all people to live in “peace and dignity.”

“The world looks to us here at the United Nations and to the UN Security Council and expects us to uphold that right and to meet those aspirations,” Eliasson affirmed. “That is our shared responsibility today. And it is how we can best pay homage to the victims of Srebrenica.”

We got it wrong – so wrong
Drawing comparisons between the “catastrophe” of Srebrenica and an array of concurrent crises facing the UN in Syria, Sudan, Central African Republic, as well as Burundi and Myanmar, High Commissioner Zeid, meanwhile warned that “so long as there is no respect for the UN, it will be likely that further massacres will be perpetrated.”

“If the UN is to make good on its commitment to protect civilians,” Mr. Zeid told Council members via video link from Geneva, “it must be resolute, undivided and clear about its intention.”

He added that the deeper lessons for the UN remained as relevant today as they were twenty years ago.

“Our inability to anticipate events, so prevalent then, is still with us today; and our recurrent failure to understand with whom, and with what, we are dealing,” he confirmed.

In a comprehensive recounting of the events leading up to the massacre, Zeid laid out a veritable mea culpa of what he termed the UN’s “clumsy” efforts in addressing the growing threats on the ground during the early days of the Bosnian conflict.

From wavering displays of authority to a non-committal use of force in countering an increasingly scaled-up Bosnian Serb aggression against ethnic minorities, the UN rights chief described the Organization’s “hesitation” and “timidity” as being key to the Srebrenica tragedy.

“We got it wrong, so wrong, although the people of Srebrenica knew full well who they were confronted with and what was in store for them,” he stated. “We simply had not stopped to think about these issues in sufficient depth.”

The most foundational lesson of Srebrenica, Zeid continued, was that for it to succeed in areas of conflict, the UN “must be respected.

“For the UN to be effective in robust peacekeeping, all the parties to the conflict, and in particular the aggressor, must take the measure of this Council, its decisions and the UN presence on the ground. They must believe there will be serious consequences and no impunity,” he concluded. (*Source: UN).

Recalling ‘responsibility to protect’ UN pays tribute to victims of Srebrenica genocide

On 1 July 2015, during a high-level commemorative event in New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today paid tribute to the victims of the Srebrenica genocide, perpetrated 20 years ago, and which, he said, “will forever weigh on the collective conscience of the international community.”**

“We are here to remember the thousands who lost their lives in the genocide…We are here to tell the families and friends of the victims that we share their sorrow. May their souls rest in peace, said Ban in his remarks to the special event, which honours the 8,000 men and boys who were killed by Bosnian Serb forces who overran Srebrenica – the largest such massacre on European soil since the founding of the United Nations.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) visits the memorial in Srebrenica for the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) visits the memorial in Srebrenica for the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Organized by the Preparatory Committee for the Commemoration of the Twentieth Anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, which is made of 17 UN Member States, as well as the Permanent Mission to the UN of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ceremony, was also attended by Sam Kutesa, President of the General Assembly.

Ban said that the United Nations, “which was founded to prevent such crimes from recurring”, “failed in its responsibilities” to protect the lives of innocent civilians seeking protection from the conflict and violence around them. The UN Secretariat, the Security Council and Member States share the blame, he emphasized.

“Here today, I again extend my deepest sympathies to the families of the victims. I renew my pledge to work harder and harder, every single day, to safeguard people everywhere from assaults on their dignity and security,” the Secretary-General stressed.

Saying that it was his duty to pay his respects in person, he reminded the gathering that he had visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2012, and had returned with the image of “endless rows of tombstones…etched in my mind.”

At the same time, while there, he also witnessed “how far” Bosnia and Herzegovina has come since the “dark days” of Srebrenica.

“I learned about the ways the country’s varied communities are striving to build bridges, increase trust and lay the groundwork for full reconciliation. It takes a long time to heal such deep wounds, and the United Nations remains strongly committed to supporting these efforts. To build a common future, the past has to be frankly addressed and assessed,” he advised.

In the two decades since the genocide, the UN had taken many steps to fulfil this fundamental obligation “to learn from the massacre”, by strengthening its work for prevention, Ban continued.

Hi Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect provide early warning and work closely with UN Member States to build their capacity to protect people from atrocity crimes, while his Special Advisers on Sexual Violence in Armed conflict and on Children in Armed Conflict are also making important contributions, he pointed out.

“The Human Rights Up Front initiative aims to identify the risks of serious violations before situations escalate and the mandates of peacekeeping operations now consistently include authorization to use all necessary means to protect civilians.”

A displaced Bosnian woman talks to UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie in the eastern Bosnian town of Gorazde.

A displaced Bosnian woman talks to UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie in the eastern Bosnian town of Gorazde.

Flagging the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide an “important international instrument”, the Assembly President Sam Kutesa called upon Member States that had not yet ratified or acceded to it to do so.

He said that it is of critical importance that the international community, particularly the United Nations, is equipped to recognize early warning signs, in order to detect and deter situations that could result in genocide of other gross violations of human rights.

Praising the role of the Secretary-General’s Special Advisers in this regard, Mr. Kutesa said that another vital component “of our efforts must be to ensure those responsible for mass killings or genocide are held accountable, and that victims are afforded justice. We must make every effort to ensure justice, while also rebuilding trust and fosterin reconciliation following such terrible crimes.”

The Secretary-General also observed that the UN is promoting “truth-seeking” while upholding the principle of individual criminal accountability through the work of fact-finding and commissions of inquiry and the International Criminal Court, tribunals and other judicial bodies.

“The perpetrators of such heinous crimes must not enjoy impunity,” Ban said.

Saying that more can always be done, he acknowledged that the international community is still failing too many people in desperate need, from Syria to South Sudan, with “unspeakable” levels of violence and terror.

“We must stand together against those who incite and divide – and those guilty of repression and misrule. Let us not turn our backs when people turn to us for help. This should be our promise to the victims of Srebrenica: to make right what was done wrong. A responsibility which falls on all of us,” the UN chief stated in conclusion. (**Source: UN).

2015 Human Wrongs Watch


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