The real story behind Srebrenica


“We stand here to remember one of the darkest chapters in Europe since 1945. We mourn the thousands killed here. And, as we utterly condemn those responsible for the slaughter, we recall the chilling words of Edmund Burke that 'the only thing that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'.

”For it is to the shame of the international community that this evil took place under our noses, and we did nothing like enough. I bitterly regret this, and I am deeply sorry for it.”


These are the words of our Foreign Minister, Jack Straw, at a ceremony at Srebrenica on 11 July 2005, the tenth anniversary of the massacre there (see Foreign Office website here).


It would be more appropriate if he apologised for the role of the “international community” in fomenting the break up of Yugoslavia, and for its insistence that the boundaries of the successor states were the boundaries of the republics of the former Yugoslavia.  Never mind that, apart from Slovenia, these republics were ethnically diverse and therefore unlikely to be politically stable within their existing boundaries and with their existing ethnic mixes.  The inevitable result of insisting that the successor states be the administrative units of the former Yugoslavia was ethnic cleansing on a large scale.


Had the “international community” left Yugoslavia alone, none of this would have happened – and Jack Straw’s crocodile tears ten years later would have been unnecessary.


The Serbs resisted the break up of Yugoslavia, and suffered the fate of all who resist the will of the “international community” – they were demonised.  The orthodox story of what happened at Srebrenica on 11 July 1995 is an episode in this demonisation of the Serbs.  That Bosnian Muslims got massacred in large numbers is not in doubt, but the orthodox story omits entirely the context in which this occurred.


Below is an article from the Toronto Globe and Mail on 14 July 2005, which supplies the context.  It was written by retired Canadian Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, who was the first commander of the UN peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo.



David Morrison


Labour & Trade Union Review

August 2005



On the basis of this article written in 2005, Oliver Kamm, a Times leader writer, has chosen to describe me as a Srebrenica denier (see here).  He has done so despite the fact that the article specifically states: “That Bosnian Muslims got massacred in large numbers is not in doubt”.  For the record, I have never denied the Srebrenica genocide and I accept the estimate of the International Commission for Missing Persons (as of July 2012) that the numbers lie between 8,000 and 8,100 (see here).


Oliver Kamm also describes me “a sinister crank”.  This website contains my political writing over the past decade.  I leave it up readers to decide whether I am a crank, sinister or otherwise.  It may interest readers to know that I have written OpEds for the Times on Northern Ireland in the past.


April 2013



The real story behind Srebrenica


The massacre in the UN 'safe haven' was not a black and white event,



This week marked the 10th anniversary of the United Nations' second greatest failure since its creation in 1945 -- the genocide in Rwanda being the undisputed No. 1. With much fanfare, the ceremonies focused on the massacre of "up to" 8,000 Bosnian men and boys by General Ratko Mladic's Bosnian Serb army in Srebrenica in July of 1995.


In the vast majority of recent media reports, the background and responsibilities for the disaster in Srebrenica were absent. Preferred was the simple explanation: a black and white event in which the Serbs were solely to blame.


As someone who played a modest role in some of the events preceding the massacre, perhaps a little background will provide some context. In early 1993, after my release from the Canadian Forces, I was asked to appear before a number of U.S. congressional committees dealing with Bosnia. A few months earlier, my successor in the UN Protection Force, General Philippe Morillon, had --against the advice of his UN masters -- bullied his way into Srebrenica accompanied by a tiny contingent of Canadian soldiers and told its citizens they were now under the protection of the UN. The folks at the UN in New York were furious with Gen. Morillon but, with the media on his side, they were forced to introduce the "safe haven" concept for six areas of Bosnia, including Srebrenica.


Wondering what this concept would mean, one U.S. senator asked me how many troops it would take to defend the safe havens. "Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 135,000 troops," I replied. It had to be that large because of the Serb artillery's range. The new UN commander on the ground in Bosnia, Belgian General Francis Briquemont, said he agreed with my assessment but was prepared to try to defend the areas with 65,000 additional troops. The secretary-general of the day, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, went to the Security Council and recommended 27,500 additional troops. The Security Council approved a force of 12,000 and, six months later, fewer than 2,000 additional soldiers had been added to UNPROFOR for the safe-haven tasks.


Then the Security Council changed the wording of the safe-haven resolution from "the UN will defend the safe havens" to "by their presence will the UN deter attacks on the safe havens." In other words, a tiny, token, lightly armed UN contingent would be placed as sacrificial lambs in Srebrenica to "deter" the Bosnian Serb army.


It didn't take long for the Bosnian Muslims to realize that the UN was in no position to live up to its promise to "protect" Srebrenica. With some help from outsiders, they began to infiltrate thousands of fighters and weapons into the safe haven. As the Bosnian Muslim fighters became better equipped and trained, they started to venture outside Srebrenica, burning Serb villages and killing their occupants before quickly withdrawing to the security provided by the UN's safe haven. These attacks reached a crescendo in 1994 and carried on into early 1995 after the Canadian infantry company that had been there for a year was replaced by a larger Dutch contingent.


The Bosnian Serbs might have had the heaviest weapons, but the Bosnian Muslims matched them in infantry skills that were much in demand in the rugged terrain around Srebrenica. As the snow cleared in the spring of 1995, it became obvious to Nasar Oric, the man who led the Bosnian Muslim fighters, that the Bosnian Serb army was going to attack Srebrenica to stop him from attacking Serb villages. So he and a large number of his fighters slipped out of town. Srebrenica was left undefended with the strategic thought that, if the Serbs attacked an undefended town, surely that would cause NATO and the UN to agree that NATO air strikes against the Serbs were justified. And so the Bosnian Serb army strolled into Srebrenica without opposition.


What happened next is only debatable in scale. The Bosnian Muslim men and older boys were singled out and the elderly, women and children were moved out or pushed in the direction of Tuzla and safety. It's a distasteful point, but it has to be said that, if you're committing genocide, you don't let the women go since they are key to perpetuating the very group you are trying to eliminate. Many of the men and boys were executed and buried in mass graves.


Evidence given at The Hague war crimes tribunal casts serious doubt on the figure of "up to" 8,000 Bosnian Muslims massacred. That figure includes "up to" 5,000 who have been classified as missing. More than 2,000 bodies have been recovered in and around Srebrenica, and they include victims of the three years of intense fighting in the area. The math just doesn't support the scale of 8,000 killed.


Nasar Oric, the Bosnian Muslim military leader in Srebrenica, is currently on trial in The Hague for war crimes committed during his "defence" of the town. Evidence to date suggests that he was responsible for killing as many Serb civilians outside Srebrenica as the Bosnian Serb army was for massacring Bosnian Muslims inside the town.


Two wrongs never made a right, but those moments in history that shame us all because of our indifference should not be viewed in isolation without the context that created them.