Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Protection from Tragedy: Developing Effective and Legitimate Safe Zones after the Tragedy of Srebrenica

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Protection from Tragedy: Developing Effective and Legitimate Safe Zones after the Tragedy of Srebrenica

Article excerpt

Over the course of a week in July 1995, genocide on a scale not seen in Europe since the Holocaust occurred. In the midst of a bloody civil war, the Bosnian Serb Army slaughtered more than seven thousand civilians. These massacres followed the collapse of the United Nations (UN) safe area around Srebrenica, where thousands of Bosnian Muslims had gathered under the illusion that the UN force in the village would protect them from Serbian aggression. However, the UN presence and safe area in Srebrenica failed to protect the population from Serbian forces, which overran the village and committed a series of violent crimes against humanity, including genocide and ethnic cleansing. In addition to the deaths and immense destruction caused by the failure of the UN safe area, its collapse resulted in long-term harm to the UN's reputation, casting doubt on the viability of the safe area concept.

It is not surprising that some question the safe area concept after Srebrenica, and indeed some concerns are valid. However, this failure does not mean that safe areas are not an effective and legitimate tool for the UN to protect endangered populations. Instead, Srebrenica can serve as a guiding experience moving forward. Analyzing what went wrong in Srebrenica can provide the UN and the international community with the knowledge needed to affect a new approach to safe areas and titled safe zones, and to protect populations who are at risk of crimes against humanity, specifically genocide and ethnic cleansing. Combining the lessons of Srebrenica with recent developments in international law, specifically the international community's responsibility to protect, safe zones may be one of the most useful tools to protect populations in these instances. It is the aim of this paper to propose a new kind of protection, legitimate under international law, informed and molded by what went wrong with the UN safe area around Srebrenica: safe zones. This will be done through an analysis of the literature surrounding the events of Srebrenica, deterrence and peacekeeping, and the responsibility to protect. These ideas will then be brought together to give guidance to future application of the safe zone concept.

Literature Review

The safe zone concept is an original idea, albeit built upon several different fields of scholarship and research. The first field of research which contributes to the safe zone concept is work on the events surrounding and leading up to the failure at Srebrenica. The idea of a safe zone is that an area of land within a conflict area is declared to be free from military operation and attack. The goal is to offer a relatively secure area for civilians to seek refuge during conflict. The November 1999 report of the Secretary-General, which details the events related to Srebrenica, including background information on the Yugoslav crisis, details on the creation of the safe areas, the fall of Srebrenica, its aftermath, and an analysis of 'lessons learned,' is a key document for understanding the events of Srebrenica. This report cites numerous flaws in the safe area concept, including limitations in the mandated structure, forces assigned, air power utilization, the role of the United Nations, and limitations inherent in traditional peacekeeping operations. (1) Jan Willem Honig and Norbert Both also studied the events of Srebrenica and reached similar conclusions, noting that the institutional and operational shortcomings in the United Nations safe area predicated the failure of Srebrenica. These shortcomings include issues with the forces assigned to safe area duty, the system by which air support was used, the understandings of neutrality and impartiality utilized by the UN, and shortcomings within the safe area mandates and Security Council resolutions, which will be addressed in this paper. (2)

Sheila Zulfiqar Ahmad offers another view on the events of Srebrenica, focusing on the role of the UN in the Bosnian Crisis as a whole, but seeing the events of Srebrenica and other safe areas as "the UN's most conspicuous failure" (3) during the Bosnian Crisis. …

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