The lesson of Srebrenica: take protection of local populations seriously

Amsterdam-  Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns the Netherlands and the international community against drawing the wrong conclusions from the failure of 'Dutchbat' in Srebrenica. The fact that a mass murder could be perpetrated on Bosnian males despite the presence of UN troops must lead to a profound analysis of the mistakes that were made.

These mistakes must be avoided in future missions. The basic question is how to offer real protection to populations threatened with war violence. MSF is, however, afraid that the Dutch government and the international community may already have drawn a cynical conclusion; namely, that it is best to remain non-involved.

Since Srebrenica, they have clearly avoided protecting populations threatened with war violence. For example, protection was explicitly ruled out during the peace mission in Ethiopia/Eritrea. The primary focus of attention was the safety of the troops. If violence erupted the Dutch UNMEE troops would be evacuated. The pending publication of the NIOD investigative report has rekindled the debate on Srebrenica in the Netherlands and on the international stage.

Up to now this debate has been scarcely possible due to political sensitivity in the Netherlands and has been characterised mainly by shifting the responsibility. It is shocking that, seven years after the mass murders - which took place in the presence of a UN force - so little is known about what actually happened in Srebrenica. The NIOD report will have to make a significant contribution towards satisfying this need for clarity.

We therefore call upon the Dutch government to hold an open debate, unhampered by personal or political sensitivity. This debate must lead to a clear statement on how and under which conditions the Dutch government intends to realise the actual protection of threatened civilians in crisis zones.