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Srebrenica, Five Years Later
MSF in Srebrenica, Five Years Later, 2001
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MSF Pushes for a French Parliamentary Inquiry Into the Fall of the Enclave
In 1993, MSF began providing medical and material assistance to the people of Srebrenica, a besieged enclave in eastern Bosnia that had officially been placed under the protection of the United Nations during the war in the former Yugoslavia. A promise had been made that the people of this "safe zone" would not be abandoned, and it was partly this guarantee that prompted many people to remain rather than flee the threat of the surrounding Bosnian Serb forces.
However, despite its status as a "safe zone," Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serbs on July 11, 1995. Despite the promise of protection, and despite the repeated demand for NATO airstrikes made by the Dutch contingent of UNPROFOR (UN Protection Force) on the ground, the civilian population was not defended. The result was the deportation of 40,000 people and the execution of about 7,000 others.
The MSF team could only look on helplessly as the sick and the injured were isolated from the rest of the population, as men were separated from women. People were taken in convoys to unknown destinations, while the UN forces failed to act. Several dozen sick and injured people under MSF's care—"evacuated" from the enclave by the Bosnian Serbs "under Dutch escort"—were taken from their buses and executed by Serb forces. Twenty-two members of MSF's local staff were also executed.
In July 2000, MSF began a public campaign calling for a Commission of Inquiry to be set up at the French parliament, to establish the extent to which the political and military actions of France were responsible for the paralysis of the UN and NATO during the attack on Srebrenica. France had had a major decision-making role at the time of the Srebrenica massacres, with two French generals in charge of the UN contingents on the ground. It was France that had introduced the very concept of a "safe zone" at the UN Security Council.
MSF's demand for a parliamentary inquiry took advantage of momentum created with the publication of a UN report on the tragedy of Srebrenica. The report acknowledged UN errors and asked member states that had been involved to look into their own actions to help clarify the events.
In December 2000, the Defence and the Foreign Affairs Committees of the National Assembly jointly agreed to set up a Commission of Inquiry, whose findings are expected in fall 2001.
MSF hopes the inquiry will draw specific lessons for the future, in order to prevent the deployment of soldiers who are powerless in the face of criminal policies against a civilian population. Even as military crisis management and intervention seem to be clearly on the rise, MSF demands that protection of civilians be at the heart of peacekeeping operations.