posted on Mon 6 Jul 2015 6:11 PM
Briefing and resolution on 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide

Tomorrow (7 July), the Security Council will hold a briefing to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (via video teleconference) are expected to brief. The Council is also expected to vote on a resolution on the Srebrenica genocide. Negotiations on the draft text were difficult. Following two expert level meetings and bilateral discussions, a meeting was held at the Deputy Permanent Representative-level this morning but it seems that final differences were not resolved. However, the UK has chosen to go ahead and put the draft text in blue. The draft resolution has been controversial in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia and it remains unclear how Russia, which has reportedly been urged to veto the resolution, will vote. (It seems that in order to emphasise that this meeting and draft resolution is meant to focus on atrocity prevention and reconciliation, the UK has asked that it be considered under the “protection of civilians” agenda item, rather than “Bosnia and Herzegovina” as originally planned. )

Srebrenica was designated by the UN Security Council as a “safe area” during BiH’s 1992 – 1995 war, coming under the protection of UN peacekeepers in April 1993. Starting on 6 July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces launched an offensive against the enclave, entering Srebrenica on 11 July. In the ensuing days, over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and teenage boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in mass executions after being captured or while coming under attack as they sought to escape through the woods to Bosnian government controlled territory. In addition, all of Srebrenica’s women and children were forcibly removed to Bosnian government territory. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice later determined that the mass murder amounted to an act of genocide.

The UN and Security Council were heavily criticised over the Srebrenica massacre. The Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica did not defend the enclave. UN commanders had also been reluctant to approve the Dutch commander’s request for NATO airstrikes, which finally only dropped two bombs on 11 July. Meanwhile, the Council, having declared Srebrenica a “safe area” along with several other BiH cities, never provided the UN peacekeeping force with sufficient means to protect the zones. The Secretariat had advised that effective protection of the safe areas would require 34,000 additional peacekeepers but the Council authorised only 7,600 more troops. In July 1995, the 450 lightly armed peacekeepers at Srebrenica were therefore no match against the Bosnian Serb Army’s tanks and artillery.

At tomorrow’s meeting, members will honour Srebrenica’s victims. Some may urge reconciliation as the upcoming anniversary of Srebrenica has revealed the continuing divisions in BiH over the tragedy. Members are also likely to reflect on the failures of the Council and the UN while reaffirming their determination to prevent genocide. Some members may note that this is a classic example of the Council’s failure to match mandates with the means to fulfill them, an issue addressed in the recent report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.

This is the first Council draft resolution focused on the Srebrenica genocide. The draft resolution in blue condemns in the strongest terms the crime of genocide at Srebrenica and all other proven war crimes and crimes against humanity in the course of the conflict. The draft text also states that accepting the events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation. It calls upon leaders to acknowledge and accept the proven fact of crimes as established by the courts, and in this regard condemns denial of the genocide as hindering reconciliation.

In addition, the draft makes several references to the international community’s failures. It notes that Srebrenica had been declared a safe area by the Council and highlights the importance of lessons learnt in the UN’s failures to prevent the genocide while resolving to take early and effective action to prevent the recurrence of such an event.

The UK proposed this draft resolution to also follow-up to last April’s resolution 2150 on the prevention of and fight against genocide adopted at a meeting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In addition, this draft text incorporates language from last August’s resolution 2171 on conflict prevention, while including several new elements on the prevention of genocide such as welcoming the Framework Analysis that the Secretary-General’s Special Advisors on the Prevention of Genocide and Responsibility to Protect developed last year for assessing the risk of genocide. It also encourages member states to consider designating national focal points for atrocity prevention and response. The draft resolution further welcomes the UN’s efforts to improve its response to violations and abuses of international human rights law, which can be early indications of a descent into genocide, through the Human Rights Up Front initiative. It seems that in his briefing Eliasson will focus on prevention, including Human Rights up Front.

During negotiations, Russia expressed its opposition to a draft resolution on Srebrenica. Council members also received letters from the First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, Ivica Daĉić, the Bosnian Serb member of BiH’s tripartite presidency, Mladen Ivanič, and the president of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik urging them not to adopt the resolution. They considered it as biased against Bosnian Serbs, and maintained that it could negatively impact the region’s stability.

At the first expert level meeting on 25 June, Russia argued that the resolution isolates the Srebrenica incident and does not put the event in the context of the broader war. Russia and China also questioned the need for a resolution, noting that the Council had not previously adopted resolutions for the 10th and 15th anniversaries. Russia also pointed out that BiH’s parliament attempted earlier in the month to adopt a resolution on Srebrenica, but failed due to political disagreements, and said that it was therefore not appropriate for the Council to adopt one. Russia further said that if there is to be a resolution, then it should be a concise text that refers to all crimes during the war, and to the Dayton Accords.

Ahead of the second expert-level meeting on 29 June, Russia circulated its own draft. The Russian draft did not mention Srebrenica. Instead it used more general language deploring and condemning the most serious crimes of concern that were committed during the war. It also welcomed the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which falls in November.

In an attempt to address Russia’s concerns, the UK incorporated some of the elements in Russia’s draft text including adding a paragraph on the Dayton Peace Agreement, and additional references to victims on all sides as well as crimes committed during the war more broadly. The UK also sent a letter to BiH Bosnian Serb president Ivaniĉ, noting that it had made revisions to the draft resolution so that it more clearly recognised all the war’s victims, and further highlighted the importance of reconciliation. However, the UK letter expressed concern about the reluctance to fully acknowledge the documented events at Srebrenica in reaction to the planned resolution (S/2015/506). The resolution was put under silence procedure on 2 July. Following Russia breaking silence , the UK and Russia continued to negotiate bilaterally. A revised text was circulated yesterday in an attempt to address Russia’s apparent resistance to calling the events at Srebrenica “genocide”. The changes included stressing the link between recognising the events at Srebrenica as genocide as a prerequisite for reconciliation. However, it seems that this may not have been enough to get Russian agreement on the draft text.

Postscript: The briefing and vote scheduled on the Srebrenica draft resolution was postponed from 7 to 8 July after Russia threatened to use its veto. Following further negotiations, primarily between Russia, the UK and the US, the UK decided to go ahead with a vote on the draft that had been put in blue on Monday. With ten votes for, four abstentions (Angola, China, Nigeria and Venezuela) and one vote against (Russia) the resolution was not adopted.