Who was responsible for the fall of Srebrenica?

Five years on, the Srebrenica massacre is still a black mark in European history. Today, Médecins sans Frontières is demanding the setting up of a parliamentary enquiry to clarify the role of France in these events.

On July 11, 1995. Srebrenica fell into the hands of the Bosnian Serb forces. The UN Dutch contingent proved itself unable to defend the resident population in the so-called 'security zone.' The fall of Srebrenica resulted in the deportation of 40,000 people and the disappearance of around 7,000 others.

Having arrived at the Srebrenica enclave in 1993, at the same time as General Morillon, Médecins Sans Frontières brought medical and material support to the beseiged population for two years. During this period they were officially placed under the protection of the United Nation's blue helmets. The population had received a promise that that they would not be abandonned and, comforted by this 'guarantee,' they had remained in the enclave instead of fleeing from the menace of the Bosnian-Serb forces. The continuing presence of MSF among this commmunity had helped to maintain the illusion of international protection in the zone. However, MSF could only be an impotent witness to the planned separation of various elements of the community. While the Dutch Forpronu batallion failed to act, women were separated from men and groups were escorted away in convoy to unknown destinations.

Several dozen of the sick and injured under MSF care were evacuated from the enclave, and whilst still under 'Dutch escort' were forced to get out of their buses and were executed by Serbian forces. At least three Bosnian nurses from MSF also 'disappeared' while accompanying these convoys.

As overall commander of the multinational UN protection force in ex-Yugoslavia, France played a major decision-making role. In this light, we feel that it is essential to set up a parliamentary commission in order to establish Franc's political and military responsibility for the paralysis of the UN and NATO during the Dutch requests for fresh air-strikes.

The UN report into the Srebrenica massacre concluded explicitly that each state involved should lead a national enquiry into the events. In the Netherlands, the 'debriefing report' of the blue helmets who had been deployed in Srebrenica was published in November 1999. An enquiry by the Dutch government has been entrusted to the Royal Institute for War Research.

Although there has been a willingness for parliamentary involvement following the military operations in Rwanda and Kosovo, there has been paralysis over Srebrenica. Given the marked renewal of peacekeeping operations in which France has played a significant role, there has to be an effort to create more transparency regarding the efficiency of the systems which are supposed to protect victims.

We hope that the work of this parliamentary investigation will allow us to learn lessons from these past and deadly failures. In order that in the future, it will be possible to avoid erroneous military deployment, where hands and feet are tied in the face of misdirected and confused policymaking.

Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol

President of Médecins Sans Frontières, France