LEADING ARTICLE: Our empty pledge to Srebrenica

Related Topics
More than 8,000 men and teenage boys are still missing following the fall of Srebrenica. Most, it is assumed, were massacred when the Bosnian Serbs overran the town in July.

They had been told they would be protected. Who could have failed to trust the guarantors of their safety? The promise was made in 1993 by the United Nations Security Council and underwritten by four leading powers: the United States, Russia, Britain and France.

Yet, as we reveal today, that pledge was in reality worth nothing. The UN knew it was not equipped to protect the enclaves. Lieutenant-General Bernard Janvier, commander of all UN forces in Bosnia and Croatia, said as much, six weeks before the fall of Srebrenica. He told the UN that the town was indefensible. He went further: the so-called Muslim "safe" areas should, he said, be abandoned to their fate.

And that is exactly what happened, first in Srebrenica and then in Zepa. The great powers stood back and did nothing to halt the slaughter. Air strikes were delayed by Janvier until too late. On the ground, Dutch troops held their fire even as Muslims were being taken away to be shot.

Western inertia during this period has been no secret. We watched the carnage on television. Indeed, the shame of this episode finally forced the protecting powers to do something effective to save the remaining enclaves. But until now, most people had put the debacle in Srebrenica and Zepa down to UN incompetence and blundering. Janvier's confidential statement adds a fresh dimension for it suggests a cold indifference to those offered protection.

No one with any knowledge of previous Serb atrocities could have been in any doubt as to the danger the enclaves faced once they had been abandoned. Yet there seems to have been little or no discussion of any alternative strategy.

It would have been more honest to organise a peaceful movement of the populations from these vulnerable towns. If the major powers would not fight for Srebrenica or Zepa, this would have been a less risky way forward.

There was plenty of time to prepare for the day the Serbs advanced. Militarily, several "safe" areas, particularly those in eastern Bosnia, had always been considered indefensible. What happened in July could have taken place at any time in the previous two years had the Bosnian Serbs launched an offensive. Politically, those drawing up the maps for the eventual peace conference always envisaged that Srebrenica, Zepa and probably Gorazde, islands in a sea of Serb territory, would have to be surrendered.

However, no one faced up to the contradiction between the safe area policy and the long-term military and political realities. For this neglect, thousands of Bosnian Muslims paid a terrible price and the key UN players must bear the greatest responsibility.

Only now, after horrified public opinion and belated leadership from President Bill Clinton have produced concerted action, does there seem to be a more realistic strategy. A defensible line has been drawn and the Serbs have felt the pain of overstepping it. But the credibility of the UN has been severely damaged.

As peace talks open this week in Ohio to settle the Bosnian conflict, those brokering the peace must make sure that they do not again make promises they cannot keep.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
F D R and Eleanor, both facing camera, in Warm Springs, Georgia in 1938  

Where are today's Roosevelts?

Rupert Cornwell

Now back to the big question: what's wrong with the eurozone?

Hamish McRae
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam