HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
The Fall of Srebrenica and the Failure of U.N. Peacekeeping
Vol. 7, No. 13, October 1995
SUMMARY | RECOMMENDATIONS | TABLE OF CONTENTS
The fall of the town of Srebrenica and its environs to Bosnian Serb forces in early July 1995 made a mockery of the international communitys professed commitment to safeguard regions it declared to be safe areas and placed under United Nations protection in 1993. United Nations peacekeeping officials were unwilling to heed requests for support from their own forces stationed within the enclave, thus allowing Bosnian Serb forces to easily overrun it andwithout interference from U.N. soldiersto carry out systematic, mass executions of hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilian men and boys and to terrorize, rape, beat, execute, rob and otherwise abuse civilians being deported from the area.
This report, based on an investigation by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representatives from July 31 to August 23, records the events leading up to, during and immediately after the fall of the Srebrenica safe area, including gross violations of humanitarian law, as has been typical of Bosnian Serb military conduct to date. Abuses attending the occupation of the safe area included the terrorization of women, children and the elderly and the premeditated mass executions of men and boys. The trek through Bosnian Serb-controlled territory that men fleeing the enclave hoped would lead them to safety instead led to ambushes and executions of hundreds and possibly thousands of men in numerous locations. We have based our accounts of these atrocities on the testimony of survivors who have identified locations and sites of mass executions both within the Srebrenica region and in various areas stretching between Bosnian Serb-controlled and Bosnian government-controlled territory.
We report on the mishandling of the crisis by the U.N.s Bosnia peacekeeping force UNPROFOR/UNPFfrom the craven decisions of its field commanders prior to the fall of Srebrenica, to its apparent suppression and destruction of evidence of massive human rights abuses immediately after the fall of the safe area. We also report on the Dutch Defense Ministrys mislaying of a crucial list of missing Bosnian men and boys and its destruction of a video tape showing Bosnian Serb soldiers engaged in extrajudicial executions as Dutch U.N. troops looked on.
The recent cease-fire in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the euphoria that has accompanied this apparent progress, should not obscure the fact that no peace agreement will be legitimate or stable without justice for human rights abuses. The atrocities described in this report, like the many others that have preceded them in the former Yugoslavia, require of the international community a commitment to reparation for the victims and accountability for the perpetrators.
The U.N. General Assembly, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the World Conference on Human Rights, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia have all decried the atrocities in Bosnia-Hercegovina as genocide. Yet the international community has failed to fulfill its moral and legal duty to prevent genocide and to insist that those who commit acts of genocide, as well as those responsible for parallel war crimes and crimes against humanity, be brought to justice.
As this report documents, possibly thousands of civilians were killed by Bosnian Serb forces during and immediately after the offensive on Srebrenica. The whereabouts of thousands of persons remains unknown. Bosnian Serb forces have granted the International Committee of the Red Cross only limited access to a small number of detainees, while the vast majority remain disappeared. A complete investigation to determine the number of civilians executed by Bosnian Serb forces and the fate of those whose whereabouts is unknown is not possible without access to the territory under the control of Bosnian Serb forces, an examination of the sites, and the exhumation of alleged mass graves and examination of corpses which may be found.
To Bosnian Serb Authorities:
Identify the fate of all personsboth civilians and combatantskilled during and immediately after the July offensive against the United Nations-designated safe area of Srebrenica;
Allow international humanitarian and human rights organizations immediate access to all detainees and ensure the safety of such detainees;
Identify the site(s) of any possible massacres and allow international forensic experts to exhume and examine the bodies immediately to determine cause of death and to preserve evidence for future prosecution;
Protect all civilians remaining in Bosnian Serb-controlled territories from abuses such as rape, forced labor, forced eviction and imprisonment, harassments that are designed to intimidate, terrorize or forcibly expel, thereby ethnically cleansing the regions;
Publicly prosecute, not only those who committed acts of genocide, but also those who allowed atrocities to be committed by troops under their direction, as well as those who provided or assisted such troops.
To the International Community:
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki calls the international community, and especially the United States government and its peace negotiating team, to
Insist on immediate international access to all detainees from the Srebrenica safe area and demand that their safety and well-being are ensured;
Insist that the Bosnian Serb authorities provide immediate access to the sites of reported massacres during the Srebrenica offensive;
Publicly name the senior political and military leaders who presided and continue to preside over the commission of atrocities related to the Srebrenica offensive. Make details of their crimes public and provide this information to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia;
Provide immediate humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the offensive;
If relevant, disclose all available information, including intelligence, that implicates Serbia in supplying, assisting or directing Bosnian Serb troops. Also, strengthen the mechanisms for monitoring external support to Bosnian Serb forces;
Investigate the role of U.N. officials and disclose all available information pertaining to the United Nations response to the military offensive against the so-called safe area of Srebrenica. Such investigations and disclosures should be aimed at and forthcoming not only from the Dutch government, but also senior military and civilian officials at UNPROFOR/UNPF headquarters in Zagreb. An independent investigation should be conducted into the U.N.s role before, during and after the fall of the Srebrenica enclave, and disciplinary action should be taken against all those - irrespective of rank - who destroyed or withheld information that provides evidence of human rights abuses.
Ensure that any peace accord agreed to by any of the parties to the conflict in Bosnia-Hercegovina guarantees the right to repatriation of survivors of ethnic cleansing and the full protection of all returnees and minority groups. Also, the fate of the missing and disappeared must be disclosed.
Take steps to further protect the remaining United Nations-designated safe areas of Gorazde, Sarajevo and Tuzla, and ensure that no siege of these areas or massacre of their inhabitants takes place;
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia offers an historic opportunity to provide justice to victims of atrocities, possible deterrence against further abuse, and a basis for eventual peace and reconciliation by substituting individualized guilt for the assumptions of collective ethnic guilt that now fuel the conflict. The Serbian governments active support is needed to secure the presence of defendants for trial, but to date, Belgrade has blocked the tribunals investigations and done nothing to secure custody of Bosnian Serbs indicted by the tribunal.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki is deeply disturbed that the major powers, despite earlier commitments to the contrary, are now offering rump Yugoslavia (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro) an opportunity to suspend sanctions in return for political concessions that have nothing to do with the tribunal. That offer should be withdrawn, and rump Yugoslavias active cooperation with the tribunalparticularly in regard to the investigation of the massacres in the Srebrenica areashould be made a prerequisite for any suspension, lifting or easing of the sanctions.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki calls on the major powers to:
Assist actively, including by providing sufficient budgetary support, in the efforts of the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to identify, prosecute, and punish war criminals and to prevent war crimes.
Maintain full economic sanctions against rump Yugoslavia until that government cooperates fully with the investigation and extradition of suspected and indicted war criminals.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE FALL OF SREBRENICA
OFFENSIVE AGAINST THE U.N. DESIGNATED SAFE AREA OF SREBRENICA
THE LIST OF MISSING MEN AND BOYS FROM POTOCARI
EVIDENCE OF HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN POTOCARI DESTROYED BY DUTCH GOVERNMENT
TRANSPORT TO KLADANJ: BOSNIAN SERBS TERRORIZE EVACUEES, SLAUGHTER FLEEING MEN AND BOYS
RAPE AND OTHER INHUMANE TREATMENT
TREK THROUGH SERBIAN-CONTROLLED TERRITORY
THE MASSACRE SITES
APPENDIX A: The List of Missing Men and Boys from POTOCARI
APPENDIX B: Map of School in the Karakaj area
APPENDIX C: Map of Eastern Bosnia-Hercegovina
Human Rights Watch October 1995 Vol. 7, No. 13
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