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November 1998 Vol. 10, No.9 (D)


The Strange Experiences of the Srebrenica Survivors




The Fall of the Srebrenica “Safe Area”

Research Rationale and Methodology

A Note on the Law

Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of the armed forces who had laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

Survivors of the march from Srebrenica reported that many people who appeared to be affected with what they referred to as a “chemical poison” were in no position to defend themselves. Whatever the cause of their incapacitation, these people would have been protected persons under international humanitarian law.

1 When the JNA officially withdrew from Bosnia and Hercegovina on May 19, 1992, large quantities of war materiel were left behind and Bosnian Serb soldiers (80 percent of JNA troops stationed in Bosnia and Hercegovina) were free to remain in Bosnia and Hercegovina and fight on behalf of the Serb forces in the republic. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) also resupplied Bosnian Serb troops during the war and paid the salaries of Bosnian Serb military officers who had been JNA officers before the war.

2 The Bosnian government’s official objective was to preserve Bosnia and Hercegovina as a multi-ethnic state. The majority of the people in Bosnian government controlled territory were “Muslim,” a Yugoslav government ethnic category. The Bosnian government and many Bosnian “Muslims” prefer the term Bosniak, or Bosnjak.

3 Approximately 37,000 people—72.5 percent Bosniaks and 25.5 percent Serbs—lived in the Srebrenica municipality before the war. Srebrenica itself was a relatively small town of 8,000 inhabitants before the war. The municipality comprises the town and the villages immediately surrounding it.

4 Jan Willem Honig and Norbert Both, Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), p. 79, and Frank Westerman and Bart Rijs, Srebrenica: Het Zwartste Scenario (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Atlas, 1997), pp. 79-80 and 85.

5 Honig and Both, Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime, pp. 85-90.

6 Charles Lane, “The Fall of Srebrenica,” New Republic, August 14, 1995.

7 By 1995, DUTCHBAT’s advanced TOW anti-tank missiles were inoperable, because Bosnian Serb forces had confiscated vital spare parts for the weapons that the Dutch tried to bring into the enclave. Ibid. The BSA was formed after the JNA officially withdrew from Bosnia; its forces consisted of the 80 percent of the JNA’s Bosnian Serb officers who remained in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The Serbs themselves refer to the BSA as the Vojska Republike Srpske (the Army of the Serb Republic), a term not used by the international community which does not recognize the Serb Republic.

8 According to Roy Gutman, U.N. military aides determined that Gen. Ratko Mladic, the BSA chief of staff, would make a major push by the summer to seize the three eastern safe areas. “UN’s Deadly Deal,” Newsday, May 29, 1996.

9 Lane, “The Fall of Srebrenica.”

10 This is according to a NATO intelligence officer working for Lt. General Rupert Smith, U.N. Commander in Bosnia and Hercegovina, cited by Roy Gutman in “UN’s Deadly Deal.” Gutman also said his intelligence source claimed that General Mladic spent most of the time during the battle for Srebrenica at the Yugoslav Army’s Tara command center across the Drina River in Serbia.

11 “Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1019 (1995) on Violations of International Humanitarian Law in the Areas of Srebrenica, Zepa, Banja Luka and Sanski Most,” S/1995/998, November 27, 1995. It is not clear what “Krajina Serbs” refers to, as there is not known to have been a militia by that name during the war.

12 Gutman, “UN’s Deadly Deal.”

13 For greater detail on the attack see Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, “The Fall of Srebrenica and the Failure of U.N. Peacekeeping,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 7, no. 13, October 1995.

14 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, “The Fall of Srebrenica” and “Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to Security
Council Resolution 1019 (1995).”

15 See Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, “The Fall of Srebrenica”; U.S. Committee for Refugees, “Special Issue: The Death March From Srebrenica,” Refugee Reports, vol. 16, no. 7 (July 31, 1995); John H. F. Shattuck, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, in “U.S. Rights in Bosnia Official Is Told of Mass Killings,” Baltimore Sun, August 2, 1995; Michael Dobbs and Christine Spolar, “12,000 Muslims and a Trek Through Serb Killing Fields,” International Herald Tribune, October 27, 1995; and David Rohde, “Bosnian Serbs Poisoned Streams to Capture Refugees, Muslims Say,” Christian Science Monitor, October 24, 1995. Rohde later wrote a book about the events at Srebrenica in which he referred to reports by survivors about the possible use by Serb forces of a chemical agent: Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe’s Worst Massacre Since World War II (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1997), pp. 266-73.

16 For the Canadian sample questionnaire, see Department of Foreign Affairs, Handbook for the Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Chemical or Biological Weapons (Ottawa: Government of Canada, November 1985).

17 Human Rights Watch Arms Project, “Clouds of War: Chemical Weapons in the Former Yugoslavia.” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 9, no. 5, March 1997.

18 See Theodor Meron, Human Rights and Humanitarian Norms as Customary Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), fn. 188, pp. 68-69. The possession and use of chemical weapons is also prohibited under the 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (the Chemical Weapons Convention, CWC), which came into force on April 29, 1997, after the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The CWC, which prohibits not only stockpiling and use but also the development and production of chemical weapons, has been signed and ratified by Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Slovenia, but not—as the only hold-out in Europe—by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro).

19 The U.S., and also NATO, define a chemical agent as “a chemical substance, which, because of its physiological,
or pharmacological effects, is intended for use in military operations to kill, seriously injure, or incapacitate humans (or animals) through its toxicological effects. Excluded are riot control agents, chemical herbicides, and smoke and flame materials. Chemical agents may be nerve agents, incapacitating agents, blister agents (vesicants), lung-damaging agents, blood agents, and vomiting agents.” Headquarters, Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, Treatment of Chemical Agent Casualties and Conventional Military Chemical Injuries, FM 8-285, NAVMED P-5041, AFM 160-11 (Washington, DC: February 1990), p. 3-2.

20 The Nuremberg Principles specify that all individuals involved in the commission of a crime against humanity, including its planning, will be held responsible. Charter of the International Tribunal, August 8, 1945.

21 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 42/37 C, November 30, 1987.

22 United Nations General Assembly, “Chemical and Bacteriological (Biological) Weapons: Report of the Secretary General,” A/44/561 (New York: United Nations, 1989).

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