Lessons of Srebrenica: “Never Again”… Until Next Time
"The tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt us forever because the international community failed to keep its promise of never again.”
By Diego Arria:
This was the vow of an international community, horrified by the extermination of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis. In July 1995, 50 years later, thousands of Muslims were murdered in Srebrenica, the largest massacre since World War II. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia declared it a genocide.
Twenty-four years have passed since this crime was committed in the face of the United Nations Security Council’s indifference. After creating a “safe area” for Srebrenica that required it to defend the town, the Council refused to confront the Bosnian Serb forces that murdered 8,000 men in 48 hours, men who were supposedly under the protection of the grandly named “United Nations Protection Force.”
In my country, Venezuela, another genocide in slow-motion is taking place, and it seems that the international community will again be a spectator.
It was no accident that in the report requested by the General Assembly, Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, concluded: “The tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt us forever because the international community failed to keep its promise of never again.”
Such a crime should never be forgotten, but there is another element that the United Nations does not speak about: the overrated Dayton Agreement. Upon signing it, the US representative Richard Holbrooke said, “With this important act, Presidents Izetbegovic, Milosevic, and Tudjman have taken a great step toward consolidating the progress of the last few years, and by doing so, they have helped Bosnia take another step toward fulfilling Dayton’s vision: one, unified, democratic country.”
Sadly, such a vision did not come to pass. Although it ended the war, it replicated a kind of apartheid in the middle of Europe. Even Sarajevo’s schools have different access for Croatian, Serbian, and Muslim children, making the growth and prosperity of a unified, stable Bosnia-Herzegovina practically impossible.
The United States, as well as the major European countries —who for three years lived in denial of a reality of which they were well aware— chose to push through an agreement at any price, to stop a war process that was making them all look bad. Without a doubt, Muslims paid the higher price, watching how the aggressor retained control of the population where they had committed genocide: Srebrenica. This did not go unnoticed by Muslims in the rest of the world; in my opinion, it was a key part of the origin of terrorist acts in the West.
The international community is not always sufficiently willing to force real change in the face of certain conflicts, as it did when Iraq invaded Kuwait. In some cases, any solution at any price is acceptable as long as it gets the conflict off their agenda. Such is the case with Venezuela, where the international community intends to confront a criminal state-turned-narco dictatorship without truly strong sanctions that would allow us to recover our freedom and our rights.
In April 1995, I led a UN Security Council mission to Srebrenica from where I declared that “a slow-motion genocide was taking place there,” but the Council decided that we were exaggerating the situation, which in less than two years turned into a tragic reality that could have been prevented. In my country, another genocide in slow-motion is taking place, and it seems that the international community will again be a spectator. Venezuela is about to become the next one.
Diego Arria is former President of the Security Council. Former Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations. Follow him on @diego_arria