story behind Srebrenica
“We stand here to
remember one of the darkest chapters in
”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
Had the “international community” left
The Serbs resisted the break up of
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
& Trade Union Review
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.
story behind Srebrenica
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
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
Wondering what this concept would mean, one
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
Evidence given at
Nasar Oric, the Bosnian Muslim military leader
in Srebrenica, is currently on trial in
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.