Tag Archives: Srebrenica

Remembering Srebrenica

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the commission of genocide in Srebrenica in which, under the protection of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) brutally killed over 8,000 Muslim men and boys, throwing their bodies into mass graves, and then reburying them in secondary graves in order to hide these heinous crimes. The forces sexually abused countless women and deported the elderly, women and children against their will. The horrific crimes under the eye of the UN marked yet another failure to protect civilians from atrocity crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice have both affirmed that crimes committed in 1995 amount to genocide.

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

While many countries and leaders throughout the world are using this solemn anniversary to honor the victims and reflect on the lessons learned from this tragedy, some political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), including the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, continue to deny that the genocide occurred. This denial has impacted how the UN sought to commemorate the anniversary as a UN Security Council (UNSC) draft resolution brought forward by the United Kingdom, which would have recognized the crimes as genocide as well as included strong references to RtoP, was vetoed by the government of Russia. This veto followed calls from actors such as Mladen Ivanic, Chairmen of the Presidency, who urged the UNSC not to adopt a resolution commemorating the genocide.

Undeniably, the international community has worked hard to change its norms, structures, and responses in an effort to avert another Srebrenica. However, Russia’s 8 July 2015 veto of the commemoration resolution, as well as failures to halt atrocities in Syria, South Sudan, and Burma, among others, shows that not all lessons from the past have been learned.  As United Kingdom Ambassador Peter Wilson highlights, “We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of twenty years ago. We must act where we have early warning. We must find greater unity in this Council and use all of the tools at our disposal to do so.”  

Lessons Learned in Fostering a Culture of Prevention at the UN

In 1999, Kofi Annan released his report on the “Fall of Srebrenica” in which he highlighted the UN’s failures in responding to Srebrenica and identified lessons to be drawn from the genocide. The report stressed that different actors within the UN, including the peacekeeping mission and Member States, failed to adequately communicate and share intelligence. According to the report, members of the battalion “were aware of sinister indications,” but “did not report more fully the scenes that were unfolding around them.” Additionally, the report explained that the UN failed to fully understand the Serb war aims, partly because of inadequate and inaccurate reporting.

The failures in Srebrenica were a driving factor for the dramatic reconsideration of how the UN conducts its peacekeeping operations as well as directly influenced the development of the Responsibility to Protect ( RtoP) to serve as the primary framework for the prevention of future atrocities. Along with the development of RtoP, other key advances include the Human Rights Up Front initiative, the appointment of the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, and the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes.

Lessons Learned in Fostering a Culture of Response at the United Nations

The UN’s failure to protect civilians from the horrific atrocity crimes committed in Srebrenica—as well as other mass atrocities— led the organization to conduct its own soul searching with regards to its capacity to protect populations. The Secretary-General’s 1999 Srebrenica report urged Member States to address several challenges that the Srebrenica genocide uncovered, including the gap between mandates and means, how and when to use force, as well as the principle of impartiality even when faced with a risk of genocide. Around the same time, the UNSC passed its first thematic resolution on the protection of civilians (POC) and authorized the first-ever POC mandate in a UN peacekeeping operation (the UN Mission in Sierra Leone).

Similar to the 1999 Srebrenica report, the Brahimi Report also expressed concerns in regards to creating high protection expectations, emphasizing that “if an operation is given a mandate to protect civilians, therefore, it also must be given the specific resources needed to carry out the mandate.” In regards to the UN’s past reluctance to use force in fear of not adhering to the principle of impartiality, the Report stressed, “no failure did more damage to the standing credibility of UN peacekeeping in the 1990s than its reluctance to distinguish victim from aggressor.”  It further stated that UN peacekeepers “who witness violence against civilians should be presumed to be authorized to stop it…”

Since the first POC mandate, and the release of the Brahimi Report, the UNSC has authorized more robust POC mandates in different crises, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali, and the Central African Republic. Furthermore, the Council’s thematic resolutions on POC began to stress that “protection activities must be given priority with decisions about the use of available capacity and resources.” Indeed, the protection of civilians has become a core activity of many UN missions, including those with Chapter VII authorizations. The UN Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC also added another dimension to the protections of civilians, as it had the authority to take offensive action in order to neutralize armed groups. Certainly, during the past 20 years, there have been significant changes in the way in which the UN responds to armed conflicts, as well as the means and capabilities it is willing to provide to missions for the purpose of protecting civilians.

Making “Never Again” a Reality

Despite these advances, the 20th anniversary of Srebrenica is also an opportunity to reflect on what the UN has not done to prevent and respond to atrocities. War crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide continue to be perpetrated throughout the world, including in Syria, Darfur, and Burma, among countless other countries and regions. Such conflicts illustrate both that the culture of prevention has yet to firmly and consistently take hold and that states are failing to live up to their responsibility to protect populations.

For example, on the protection of civilians front, the 2014 Office of Internal Oversight Services report found “persistent pattern of PKOs [peacekeeping operations] not interfering with force when civilians are under imminent attack.” Out of 507 reported by missions with POC mandates in which civilians were at threat from 2010-2013, a paltry 101 (20 percent) had garnered an immediate response.

The recent report of the High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations also echoes some of the same 15-year old concerns highlighted by both the 1999 report on Srebrenica and the Brahimi Report. In particular, the 2015 report emphasized that although there has been progress in promoting the protection of civilians, there are still significant gaps between what is asked of peace operations and what they can actually deliver. Furthermore, the Report highlighted that although many missions are operating in extremely hostile environments, “the challenges and implications of this new operating environment have not yet been well-defined or internalized.”

The Srebrenica genocide also highlighted other areas in peace operations in need of improvement, including immunity for peacekeepers. Though the 1999 Srebrenica report stated that “it is not possible to say with any certainty that stronger actions by the Dutchbat would have saved lives, and it is even possible that such efforts could have done more harm than good,” a Dutch court said in July 2014 that the Netherlands was liable for the deaths of more than 300 victims of Srebrenica. Nevertheless, accountability for peacekeepers, particularly in the wake of new accusations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, is virtually non-existent. Indeed, organizations such as the Stimson Center continue to urge the UN to “undertake a comprehensive and independent evaluation of the approach undertaken by the UN Secretariat to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse” in peacekeeping operations. (See the ICRtoP’s recent statement in this regard.)

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

In addition, stark challenges remain with regards to the UNSC acting to respond in the face of atrocity crimes. This stems explicitly from the continued misuse by Russia and China to wield their veto power when the Council seeks to condemn and act to protect civilians, as most notably evidenced in response to the ongoing crisis in Syria and most recently during the Srebrenica commemoration. As stressed by United States Ambassador Samantha Power, “Twenty years ago the international community failed to protect the people taking refuge in Srebrenica, and the result was genocide. Today, because of Russia’s refusal to call what happened in Srebrenica by its rightful name, genocide, the Council is again failing to live up to its responsibility.”

Civil society organizations have started initiatives that aim to address many of these challenges, including by urging UNSC members to refrain from the use of the veto in mass atrocity cases, as well as highlighting the importance of prevention and effective response. The international community must continue to address the lessons it has drawn from the Srebrenica genocide and take further steps to prevent and respond to mass atrocities.  If not, civilians across the world facing the risk of such horrific crimes and violations will continue to suffer, as did the victims of Srebrenica.

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#R2P Weekly: 6-10 July 2015


Veto on Srebrenica Resolution Hinders Ability to Prevent Next Genocide 

The following is an excerpt from the latest ICRtoP Press Release. To read the full version, click here.

With today’s veto of a resolution commemorating the Srebrenica genocide, the United Nations Security Council again showed its inability to function properly when the veto is used, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) said today.

“Unfortunately, today’s veto is only the most recent example of the Council failing to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes,” said Don Deya, chair of the ICRtoP. “Whether it’s a resolution on Syria, Palestine, Myanmar—or on a genocide that occurred twenty years ago—vetoes show how this outdated power cripples responses to atrocities by the Council and the world at large.”

The use of the veto in situations of atrocity crimes hinders the ability to fulfill the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P), a landmark norm unanimously agreed to by States in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document. Under RtoP, States and the international community agreed that they had an obligation to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.

The resolution would have acknowledged the massacre of 8,000 civilians (mostly men and boys killed because of their identity) as genocide; called weekly1on states to prevent the future commission of genocide and reaffirmed the principle of the Responsibility to Protect in that regard; encouraged States to appoint national focal points on atrocity prevention; and welcomed the use of the UN Framework of Analysis on Atrocity Crimes as an early warning and preventive tool.  Among other reasons, Russia vetoed the text on the grounds that the tragedy in Srebrenica fails to qualify as genocide, despite international judicial rulings.

“By vetoing the resolution, Russia has erected a new barrier to reconciliation and remembrance,  said William Pace of ICRtoP member World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy. “Acknowledging the truth of what happened—and how we let it happen—is the only way to honor the victims, live up to our Responsibility to Protect, and prevent future genocides.”

Today, the UN Security Council has again shown its divisions when it comes to fulfilling that promise to prevent atrocities; though, the ICRtoP welcomes the strong support shown by most Council members for the resolution and RtoP norm.  The vote shows once again the vital need for Permanent Members of the Council to refrain from using their veto when it is facing the gravest of tasks—that of responding to situations of mass atrocities.

The international community must continue to work to develop regulations or pledges to restrain veto use.  If not, populations in Syria, Darfur, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—to name a few—will continue to pay the same price as the victims of Srebrenica.

Catch up on developments in…

Central African Republic
South Sudan

Myanmar announced its election would take place on Nov. 8th, which will be the first open general election the country has seen in 25 years. New clashes between Myanmar’s army and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) took place in Southern Myanmar, with cease fire talks set for next week.

Myanmar passed a bill that prevents interfaith marriage. Human Rights Watch and other various rights groups criticized the bill as a campaign by nationalist Buddhists to incite hatred against Muslims.

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) at its 29th Session, adopted without a vote a resolution (A/HRC/29/L.30) on the “Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar,” tabled by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In this resolution, among other points, the HRC stressed that “States have the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights” and “Calls upon the Government of Myanmar to take all necessary measures to ensure accountability and to end impunity for all violations of human rights, including in particular against Muslims, by undertaking a full, transparent and independent investigation into reports of all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.”

The Burundian government demanded that Abdoulaye Bathily, the UN-appointed mediator, resign from his post, claiming that he is not impartial. The East African Community (EAC) then asked Ugandan President Museveni to spearhead mediation efforts; however, this appointment by the EAC was immediately rejected by Burundi’s opposition parties.

President Nkurunziza’s party, the CNDD-FDD, won the parliamentary elections, getting the vast majority of seats with a total of 77 out of 100. UN election observers declared that Burundi’s parliamentary and local elections were not free, credible and inclusive and pointed to the widespread fear and campaigns of intimidation by police and armed groups. The African Union (AU) reaffirmed that there must be an end to violence in Burundi and that all actors must be brought to the table for a peace agreement. The AU also asked the Burundian government to allow AU military and civilian experts to enter the country and observe the ongoing elections.

ICRtoP member the Pan-African Lawyers Union, together with the East African Civil Society Organizations Forum and members of Burundian civil society, filed  a petition with the the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) to seek an annulment of the decision by the Constitutional Court and Burundian INEC/CENI (Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante), which found Nkurunziza’s 3rd term run legal under Burundian law.

During a UN Security Council briefing on Thursday, the Representative from Burundi delivered a speech denying claims made by UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid Al Hussein, that the Burundian government and its youth militia, the Imbonerakure, acted violently against protesters, human rights defenders, and the media. Instead, he attributed the attacks to an opposition group and claimed the surge of refugees leaving Burundi had been caused by the “media onslaught” of rumors.

Central African Republic:
French officials in Central African Republic (CAR) began interviewing children allegedly abused by French troops. An armed group, disguised as UN peacekeepers, raided and destroyed a local state-run radio station in Bangui. The UN dismissed 20 peacekeepers from the CAR for the use of excessive force.

July 8th marked  one year since the 50 day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which claimed the lives of over 2,000 Palestinians, 70 Israelis and destroyed 100,000 buildings.

OCHA’s Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Robert Piper,expressed concern for the ongoing crisis in Gaza and the failure to rebuild the community that was destroyed. Since July 2014, almost 100,000 people have been displaced and 120,000 still lack access to water. Amnesty International, in cooperation with Forensic Architecture, launched a new digital tool to document patterns of Israeli military violation on Gaza dating back to initial attack in 2014.

The UN Human Rights Council adopted resolution (A/HRC/29/L.35) on “Ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” with 41 States in favor, five abstentions and one no vote from the US. The resolution calls for the implementation of the recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry report and reaffirms the obligation to ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The resolution also “calls upon the parties concerned to cooperate fully with the preliminary examination of the International Criminal Court and with any subsequent investigation that may be opened.”

Iraq has seen a rise in civilian casualties as fighting intensified between Islamic State (IS) and Iraqi forces, with 25 civilian deaths in the past week and many injured. The Iraqi courtsentenced 24 IS militants to death for taking part in killing and torturing Iraqi soldiers when IS overran Tikrit last summer.

Al-Shabab launched another attack at a local quarry in Mandera County that borders Somalia, killing 14 people. Al-Shabab previously attacked Mandera County in December 2014.

After the UN-led peace talks stalled this past Wednesday, the self-declared government of Libya announced the restructuring of its army into 11 brigades, including the militiamen who fought in the 2011 revolution. Fighting in the city center of Benghazi between pro-internationally recognized government forces and rebel forces resulted in the death of 14 people.

Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for multiple attacks against UN peacekeepers in Bamako and in Mali’s border regions.

Violence attributed to Boko Haram in Nigeria continued, with two bombs set off in Jos killing a total of 44 people and two female suicide bombers killing 5 in Potiskum. Later, another bombexploded in Zaria, killing 25 people. Nigeria is starting to bolster security measures to combat this recent string of Boko Haram attacks. Boko Haram is reportedly willing to release over 200 Chibok girls taken last year in exchange for 16 Boko Haram militants currently being detained by the Nigerian government. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered an official condemnation of Boko Haram’s campaign of violence in Nigeria and across the region and called for renewed support for the Multi-National Joint Task Force.

South Sudan:
This week marked South Sudan’s fourth year of independence from Sudan; however, the situation remains bleak as fighting continues between the South Sudanese government and the Sudan People Liberation Movement In Opposition (SPLM-IO) with over 10,000 people killed and 2 million people displaced since the conflict began in Dec 2013. A second attack in under a week on an UNMISS Protection of Civilians site took place on the 5th, killing one Internally Displaced Person.

Riek Machar, the SPLM–IO leader and former vice president, claimed he wanted a power-sharing deal with President Salva Kiir. However, a day later, Machar gave President Kiir an ultimatum; vowing that the civil war would continue as long as he remained in power.

Herve Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, without seeing prospects for a political solution, urged the UN Security Council to place an arms embargo on South Sudan and to impose sanctions on more rival leaders.

A landmine exploded in the Blue Nile, killing at least five people amidst the continuation of hostilities between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Northern Sector (SPLM-N) and Sudanese forces in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan. 1,800 Sudanese soldiers weredeployed to East Darfur to contribute to security in the area and prevent clashes between armed groups. The European Union affirmed its support for a national dialogue to take place to address political issues among all parties to the conflict in Sudan. Displaced persons and refugees from Darfur presented a package of demands to the UN Security Council on security in the region. Meanwhile, Sudan remained firm on its demand for UNAMID to exit.

Armed groups in Sudan and South Sudan have repeatedly gained access to weapons from UN and AU peacekeepers. The report by Small Arms Survey concluded that 500 weapons and 1 million rounds of ammunition (including heavy machine guns and mortars) were taken from peacekeeping forces in Sudan and South Sudan from 2005-2014.

The Islamic State took control of the city of Ain Issa as part of a strategic effort to push Kurdish forces out of Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that barrel bombs and fighting between the Syrian government and opposition force in Aleppo killed 15 civilians including several children. A Belgian military operation has rescued over 240 civilians from Aleppo who will now gain asylum in Belgium.

According to UNHCR, the number of Syrian refugees now living outside of Syria has grown to be over 4 million, which is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in over 25 years. Almost 7.6 million Syrians are internally displaced.

A rocket was launched into the city of Aden and killed 12 refugees. UNHCR reiterated that all sides to the conflict must respect civilian life as well as allow access by humanitarian workers to go unhindered.

The Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government of Yemen have agreed to pause fighting for the rest of Ramadan, to begin today and end on 17 July, so that  humanitarian relief can be delivered in the country.

What else is new?
Save the Date: Join the Stimson Center and the Hague Institute for Global Justice on the 14 July 2015 from 3- 4:30 pm in the Trusteeship Council at UN Headquarters for the launch of the Report of the Commission on Global Security entitled, “Confronting the Crises of Global Governance.” Dr. Madeleine Albright will be present in her role as Co-Chair of the Commission. You can RSVP here .


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