Delivered by Pierre Salignon, MSF Program Coordinator in 1995 for the former Yugoslavia. Translated from the original French.Delivered by Pierre Salignon, MSF Program Coordinator in 1995 for the former Yugoslavia. Translated from the original French.
Thank you, Mr. President.
Mr. President, Honorable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for receiving me today and allowing me to talk during the parliamentary hearings in charge of establishing the political and military responsibility of France in the Srebrenica tragedy.
I am a program manager for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) where I have been working since 1992.
From 1993 to 1995, I was in charge of Médecins Sans Frontières operations in the former Yugoslavia, in the Paris headquarters of the organisation. During those 3 years, I therefore made regular visits to the region, in particular to the Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia, Srebrenica and Gorazde. More specifically, I was in charge of analysing, implementing and evaluating the MSF assistance operations.
At the time, about one hundred Médecins Sans Frontières volunteers of all nationalities were working in Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, at a time when ethnic cleansing was intensifying, our medical teams were working in particular in the United Nations "safe areas" in Sarajevo, Bihac, Tuzla, Srebrenica, Gorazde and Zepa, but also in areas under the control of the Pale authorities.
The volunteers from Médecins Sans Frontières entered the United Nations "safe area" in Srebrenica in March 1993 at the same time as General Morillon. For 3 years, a series of surgeons, doctors, nurses, and logistics specialists—all volunteers—worked in Srebrenica hospital, tending the sick and wounded.
As MSF volunteers Daniel O'Brien and Christina Schmitz explained on March 29 last, during their hearing, MSF left Srebrenica at the end of July 1995, after nearly 30,000 civilians had been deported within a few days by General Mladic's men and more than 7000 others had been executed. These figures include about a dozen of the sick and injured in the care of MSF at the time and 22 Bosnian members of the medical staff in Srebrenica.
I believe that the goal of the Parliamentary hearings into the Srebrenica tragedy is above all to evaluate whether the United Nations' undertakings, nearly always at the initiative of France, to protect the population of this "safe area" were met—and if not, why not.
I am here to give you my account, focusing essentially on the serious crimes committed against the population of Srebrenica.
Three questions seem to me to be essential.
- The first concerns whether the massacre of part of the population of Srebrenica was predictable. I feel this is just as important as whether the fall of the Srebrenica "safe area" was predictable. If we simply examine this fall alone, then the United Nations and France cease to have any responsibility for the massacres which occurred after the inhabitants of Srebrenica were abandoned to the mercies of the Bosnian Serb forces.
- The second question concerns the lack of reaction by the United Nations in defending Srebrenica and then, following the fall of the enclave, in providing safe evacuation of the inhabitants who were still under their protection. In addition to the lack of NATO air strikes to prevent Srebrenica being taken by the Bosnian Serb forces, no other scenario was envisaged or implemented to ensure safe evacuation of the civilian and non-combatant population, despite the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.
- Finally, a third question concerns the manipulation of humanitarian action by French diplomacy during the war in Bosnia. Did not the participation by more than 7000 French soldiers with a humanitarian mandate sustain the illusion of French political determination to put an end to the violence against the civilian population?
THE PREDICTABILITY OF THE MASSACRES
In July 1995, when the Serbian forces in Bosnia launched their offensive against Srebrenica, the massacre of the local inhabitants was foreseeable, no matter what is said by certain French leaders who have appeared before you.
Since the beginning of hostilities in 1991, the war of "ethnic cleansing" which was ravaging the former Yugoslav federation had already triggered the greatest wave of refugees seen in Europe since the end of the Second World War. In Bosnia-Herzegovina alone, nearly 2.7 million of the 5 million inhabitants had to flee their homes, while hundreds of thousands of others sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Several tens of thousands of civilians were killed by shelling or murdered by snipers.
Four years before the Srebrenica massacre, the circumstances of the fall of Vukovar in 1991 had already shown that civilian massacres were an integral part of the war of ethnic cleansing. Before the town of Vukovar fell to Slobodan Milosevic's men on 18 November 1991 after an atrocious siege lasting 86 days, an MSF convoy had managed to evacuate 100 seriously wounded. They were not allowed to go back for the remaining patients (more than 200). It was a terrible shock to learn a few weeks later that they had all been executed and thrown into mass graves.
The April 6, 1992 assault launched by the Serbian nationalists against the new state of Bosnia then led to the spread of ethnic cleansing to Bosnia. Hundreds of towns and villages were systematically destroyed and burned by the militias of the Serbian leader in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic. Tens of thousands of civilians were imprisoned and tortured, while the "elite" were massacred in unforgettably sinister concentration camps: Omarska, Manjaca, Trnopolje, Keraterm.... the whole operation running smoothly according to a carefully laid out plan.
Under pressure from international public opinion, shocked by the pictures of emaciated prisoners, the Western states protested and the camps were closed; but the process of ethnic cleansing continued... Who can forget the massacres committed in 1992 and 1993 in eastern Bosnia in Zvornik, Cerska, Bratunac, Foca. Each one was methodically organised; the men and adolescents of fighting age were imprisoned and executed, while the women were raped, tortured or deported.
Everyone, not just the French authorities, was well aware of the methods being used by General Mladic and his troops launched their attack on Srebrenica in July 1995.
France's ambassador to Bosnia, Henri Jacolin, has told you how he sent a telegram, aptly titled Chronicle of an Ethnic Cleansing Foretold, to Paris in 1993, informing the government of the clearly stated political and military objectives of the Serbian nationalists.
Jean-René Ruez, the chief investigator for the Srebrenica tragedy for the International Criminal Tribunal, said in his testimony that as early as 1994 General Mladic had publicly announced his intention to exterminate the Muslim population of Eastern Bosnia.
Finally, at the initiative of France, UN Security Council Resolution 819 established Srebrenica as a "safe area". The preamble of the resolution referred to the risk of genocide that threatened the population to be protected.
I first went to Srebrenica in March 1994. What I saw was literally a ghetto, an open-air prison. The United Nations had established the Muslim enclave in Srebrenica as a "protected zone" in April 1993. It had been put under the protection of an UNPROFOR contingent after the Bosnian soldiers had been disarmed.
More than 40,000 civilians, mostly women, children and elderly, were living in terrible conditions. They were subject to both the Bosnian-Serb militia's blockade and the controls of the UN soldiers. At the time, my impression when I entered Srebrenica was that the law of the aggressors prevailed, and the UN forces simply complied. Although the UNPROFOR presence initially curbed cease-fire violations, what it was mainly doing was playing into the hands of General Mladic's forces by prohibiting the Bosnians from entering or leaving Srebrenica. The inhabitants were caught in a trap. Access to Srebrenica was controlled by the Bosnian Serb authorities, who at whim refused entry or exit to aid organisations and confiscated the contents of convoys. UNPROFOR was unable to intervene.
The civilian population received the bare minimum to survive. The situation was particularly difficult in the city, where more than 20,000 people were concentrated into an area where only 5,000 inhabitants had lived before the war.
In 1994, action by the UN peacekeepers consisted solely of maintaining the military status quo. No consideration was ever given to using force to end the siege. UNPROFOR's Canadian battalion was trapped for several months before being relieved. I remember talking with the Canadian forces, who were subjected to daily ridicule and who were disgusted by their mission. I also remember the emaciated refugees, their fear that Srebrenica would be attacked, that they would be slaughtered and their memories of the ethnic cleansing in eastern Bosnia in 1992 and 1993.
The situation continued to deteriorate in the months that followed, which led MSF to question the usefulness of its operations in the eastern Bosnian enclaves. Despite ourselves, we had become "prison doctors". I remember writing in the MSF newsletter in June 1994 that "the lack of international political will means that we are now providing social services for the occupying forces while waiting for the civilian population to be displaced and the ethnic cleansing in eastern Bosnia to be completed." The UN forces were not given adequate resources for their mission. There were too few of them, they were poorly equipped, they were trapped and had become hostages.
On October 20, 1994, in an opinion column published in the French daily Libération, I also wrote about the future of the inhabitants of Srebrenica, Gorazde and Zepa. I said that their future "was dependent on the will of the international community to see them survive." Without support from the international community, I was convinced that Srebrenica and Zepa would soon fall and that the worst would then happen. That is why MSF worked so hard to keep its medical teams in Srebrenica. We hoped that the presence of foreign witnesses would make the murderers hesitate.
The pace accelerated in early 1995, when wide-scale fighting resumed in Bosnia. It was impossible to get supplies to the Bosnian capital. Srebrenica and the other enclaves in eastern Bosnia were effectively strangled. Humanitarian convoys were allowed in only occasionally, with minimum supplies. Several times, teams from MSF, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees came under direct attack from snipers around Sarajevo, Gorazde and Srebrenica.
During another visit to Srebrenica in March 1995, I had to negotiate for several hours with the local authorities in Bratunac before being able to enter the enclave. The militia were arrogant and mocked us. They made no secret of the fact that—I quote—"When the time comes, they would kill all the Muslims."
The population of Srebrenica was about to experience its third winter under siege, and it had become virtually impossible to get humanitarian supplies into the city. The cease-fire was being violated more and more frequently. The refugees wanted "to leave this living hell, no matter what the cost."
Beginning on April 15, 1995, the authorities in Pale opposed the rotation of MSF volunteers working in Srebrenica and Gorazde. They blew hot and cold and tried to break the diplomatic isolation to which they had been subject for several months. They were using access to the Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia by aid organizations to apply pressure during negotiations with the United Nations.
On the 14 June 1995, right in the middle of the hostage crisis, our representative in Pale, Stéphan Oberreit, still confronted with the authorities' refusal to let us into Srebrenica and Gorazde, sent us a message. He stressed although the Bosnian Serb military may have given way on the UNPROFOR hostages, they were in fact toughing their stand. Military preparations against the enclaves were taking shape and it was becoming increasingly clear that the military did not want to see us there if there was to be an offensive and slaughter, which he felt to be relatively certain. He also asked us some questions: "What should we do? Should we leave Srebrenica and Gorazde for safety reasons and as it is impossible for us to bring in new teams? Should we stay there despite the risks?"
I am mentioning this message sent in June to demonstrate the fact that at that time our volunteers in the field had no doubts about the attack on the enclave. There was therefore all the more reason that the western military observers should have known this too.
This was the background to my visit to Pale from the 17 to the 26 June 1995. Our teams in the enclaves were exhausted and worried, but they were refusing to leave until they were sure that they would be replaced. In actual fact Professor Nicola Koljevic, the Vice President of the Bosnian Serbs, made no opposition to our staff leaving Bosnia, but put up obstacles preventing us from bringing in new teams. According to him the military opposed this. During my stay I met Professor Koljevic and his Health Minister, Monsieur Dragan Kalinic, many times. During these meetings they put forward their concerns about the fighting, which was intensifying throughout Bosnia. We were accused of being spies, of helping their "enemies" whereas, according to them, the Bosnians were using the enclaves in eastern Bosnia to carry out military actions against the Serbs. They talked about villages being burned down and civilians executed near Srebrenica. At the time Professor Koljevic used this as an excuse to tell us about future reprisals against United Nations safe areas in the eastern Bosnia and made no secret of the military's wish to seek revenge.
During these meetings we also heard about contact in June 1995 between French officers, General Janvier, Head of the Peacekeeping force in Bosnia, General de Lapresle, and General Mladic. Professor Koljevic talked freely about this, without going into detail, but did not hide the fact that (and I quote) "the hostage business was settled".
After waiting several days we received permission to enter Srebrenica and then Gorazde with no further explanations given. We just learned that some senior people from the United Nations were expected to visit, in particular Monsieur Bijeveld, the Special Envoy of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in ex-Yugoslavia. Professor Koljevic made no secret of the fact that the entry permits given to MSF were useful to him, as they let him show the West the Pale authorities' willingness to cooperate, despite the fact that the UNPROFOR was being blocked at the same time. He was convinced that the war was coming to an end, that the enclaves' fate would soon be sealed and that peace was just around the corner.
A small medical team—a nurse and a doctor—were allowed to go to Srebrenica on the 24 June 1995. The Pale authorities however refused to allow an expatriate surgeon to join them. The ICRC and UNPROFOR were also negotiating permission to enter the enclaves, but were still being refused.
Before this stay in Pale I feared that Srebrenica would be attacked, however when I returned to Paris in early July of 1995 I was convinced it would happen. I knew that it was now just a matter of time.
UNPROFOR's ABANDONMENT OF THE POPULATION OF SREBRENICA
Daniel O'Brien and Christina Schmitz were heard here on the 29 March this year. They gave you their day to day account of the fall of the United Nations' "safe area" in Srebrenica. I would just like to add a few details to their hearing and stress a few points that I feel to be important.
For the first few days after the Bosnian Serb forces launched their attack on Srebrenica, we thought that NATO and UNPROFOR would react. When I say "we" I am referring to the MSF volunteers in Srebrenica, Belgrade, Sarajevo, and also to MSF management in Paris. Everyone expected NATO air strikes. On the evening of the 10 July, Commander Karremans was still promising air strikes to the Srebrenican authorities. Our team in the field told you about this during their hearing.
We knew that the United Nations troops were limited in number, and lacked equipment, we knew that the few Bosnian soldiers still present in the enclaves were not heavily armed, and yet we still held onto the idea that, just like in Gorazde in April 1994, something would happen, that the presence of forward air controllers in the enclave up to the last day of the offensive was a sign of future NATO actions.
But we were wrong.
As you now know, the many requests for air strikes, which were, according to the UN report, repeatedly put forward by the Dutch contingent in Srebrenica, were all refused. As commander of the United Nations military presence in Bosnia, General Janvier had the power to authorise them. When he finally gave his permission on 11 July it was too late. NATO's two air strikes became a symbol of the Western states' lack of courage and abdication of responsibility. The enclave had already fallen and acts of violence against the population were beginning.
I do not have the expertise to judge whether it was possible for NATO to carry out strikes to defend Srebrenica, but what is immediately obvious is that the arguments put forward to justify the absence of strikes are in contradiction to the facts. As in Bosnia, when we wanted to strike, we acted.
General de Lapresle confirmed in his hearing that he never had any technical problems with the much disparaged "double key" system which was said to be responsible for the lateness of NATO air strikes on Srebrenica.
The lack of NATO air strikes was also for a while explained by the refusal by the Dutch authorities to endanger the lives of their soldiers in Srebrenica. We now know that Dutch request for the cessation of NATO air strikes came after the fall of Srebrenica and was even anticipated by the decision of French General Gobillard, who felt that they were no longer of any use as the Srebrenica "safe zone" had already fallen. There was thus no veto by the Dutch government to prevent the NATO aircraft from striking before 11 July 1995.
Finally, another technical argument was put forward to explain the inaction of UNPROFOR and NATO in Srebrenica and that was the lack of forward air controllers to direct the air strikes by the NATO planes. This argument has also been disproved and we now know that there was not one but two teams of controllers on the ground, who were operational up until the fall of the enclave: a Dutch team and a British team. Strangely, the existence of this team has never been officially recognised by the British government, although confirmed by the MSF team present in Srebrenica at the time.
This is why the lack of credible official explanations continues to feed the rumour mill concerning the reasons for the lack of NATO air support when the Bosnian-Serb troops attacked Srebrenica.
Was an agreement concluded outside the UN between the French authorities and General Mladic to free the hostages against a promise to halt the use of NATO aircraft against the positions of the Bosnian-Serb army? Personally, I cannot say. I do however hope that your work will shed light on what really happened.
With the Bosnian Serb forces entering the Srebrenica safe area on July 6, 1995, the question of protection became essential. The massacres were predictable and all men of fighting age were in danger of being killed.
Despite the cynicism shown by most Western states since the beginning of the war in the former Yugoslavia, we nonetheless expected the United Nations force to offer protection to those refugees who sought it. We felt that even if the fall of Srebrenica were foreseeable, the peacekeepers would stand up against violence against the civilian population, which had collected inside and in front of the United Nations base in Potocari. We felt that they would at least attempt to facilitate their evacuation in humane conditions.
We could not imagine that the UN troops would hand the population over to the Serb militias. Right up to the end, the MSF team in Srebrenica refused to believe that the UN would fail to react. We were wrongâ€¦
On the morning of 11 July, while we still believed that extensive NATO air strikes would take place, and that the promise made to the Srebrenica authorities by Commander Karremans on the evening of the 10th would be met, nothing of any significance happened. The NATO aircraft attacked, but it was too late, as General Mladic's men were already in the town.
While part of the terrified population of Srebrenica fled to the UNPROFOR base in Potocari to seek the protection of the United Nations, the Peackeepers barred base access to trucks loaded with wounded and Bosnian medical personnel who had just evacuated Srebrenica hospital. Only the determination of the Bosnian doctors and refugees who mobbed the gates of the United Nations base, forced them to let them in.
On 12 July, the Peacekeeping troops found themselves isolated and were forced to negotiate their surrender with General Mladic. Nothing specific seems to have been envisaged to protect the civilian population on the part of the UNPROFOR hierarchy, at the time in the hands of two French generals, General Janvier in Zagreb, and General Gobilliard in Sarajevo.
Without more material and diplomatic support, the Blue Helmets had no other choice than to "cooperate" with the Bosnian Serb soldiers, who controlled the situation. The peacekeepers found themselves playing an active role in deporting refugees who had sought their protection in Potocari. In practice, they took part in sorting out the refugees and helped the Serbian militias control the crowd before the refugees were forced to board the buses that General Mladic had requisitioned to deport them. Certain peacekeepers were even forced to hand over their uniforms, weapons and vehicles to the Serbian militias, who then used them for their criminal activities, to separate the men from the women and hunt down those who had fled into the forest.
The men who took refuge in Potocari believing that they enjoyed the protection of the United Nations were handed over to the Bosnian Serb forces, some of them having been disarmed by the UN troops themselves. About 700 men had found refuge in the UNPROFOR base in Potocari while nearly 2000 others were in the fields and hangars outside the UN base.
Under the pretext of protecting the women and children, all the men of Srebrenica were considered by the peacekeepers to be "potential combatants" and were handed over to the Bosnian Serb forces. It mattered little that they were unarmed. It mattered little that the shots heard in the hangars near the UNPROFOR base in Potocari, were clear signs that the executions had already started.
The wounded were not spared and on 14 July 1995, when the list of wounded received in the UNPROFOR base in Potocari was drawn up by the MSF team and Bosnian staff, it was above all to protect them and prevent them simply disappearing during the evacuation. To our horror and stupefaction this list, which was then handed over to UNPROFOR, was to enable General Mladic's men to select their victims more easily, without those in charge of the UNPROFOR force in Potocari being able to do anything about it.
By July 13, 1995, in Tuzla, under the control of the Sarajevo authorities, news was beginning to circulate about a column of refugees who were attempting to flee the enclave through the forest. Nothing however was planned to help them. While the escaped women spoke of the columns of prisoners they had seen leaving the forests near Bratunac and Koljevic Polje, the United Nations and the Western governments did and said nothing. The massacres continued for several days in complete impunity. More than 7000 victims, mostly men, were then executed and thrown into mass graves. More than 2000 were taken prisoner in Potocari, with the others captured as they attempted to escape through the forest.
I find it hard to believe that it was not possible to help them.
If we just stop for a moment and look at the figures, there is no escaping the fact that 100% of the men who trusted the UN and sought refuge and protection from the Blue Helmets on the Potocari base were handed over by the UN and were murdered, whereas a good number of those who tried to escape under the protection of the Bosnian army, taking the risk of crossing Serb military lines and minefields, survived. There were 4000 survivors from a column of about 10,000 people.
On 24 June 1995, with the first Serb incursion into Srebrenica, we in Paris were sure that a large-scale Serb attack had been launched. We were then in contact with the field and with many journalists in Europe, with representatives of the United Nations and the UNPROFOR, to warn them of what was about to happen.
We were constantly on the phone to MSF volunteers in the field, in Belgrade, Zagreb, Pale and Srebrenica, but also with the HCR and the ICRC in Geneva, Mr. Kofi Annan in New York, and many others.
As the news from Srebrenica reached us, we made it public. Starting on 6 July 1995, MSF issued almost daily press releases describing the tragedy and expressed its greatest concern as to the fate of the civilian population. On 12 July, MSF denounced the separation of the men and women, in plain view of the UN peacekeepers, and the transfer of the prisoners to the Bratunac stadium. Several calls for protection of the population were issued. With the arrival of the first escapees in the Tuzla region, our personnel in the field bore witness to the clear signs of ill treatment shown by many women and girls. The escapees also spoke of the massacres in progress. On the evening of 13 July, the Serbian forces had finished deporting most of the population, which had sought refuge with the UNPROFOR in Potocari, some 30,000 people, two thirds of whom were inhabitants of the enclave. However, in a release published on 14 July, MSF already stressed the fact that if the majority of the refugees in Potocari came from the south of the Srebrenica enclave, there was still no news of the several thousand civilians from the villages further to the north. In Tuzla, in Bosnian territory, there were already rumours of a column of more than 10,000 people trying to break through the Bosnian Serb army's defensive lines. The escaped women explained that most of the men had preferred not to go to Potocari, as they were convinced that they would not be protected by the peacekeepers. They were mostly, although not exclusively, men, refugees, unarmed adolescents, protected by a few Bosnian soldiers.
Despite this information, UNPROFOR stood passively by. The European states, including France, simply protested without doing anything. The French President, Jacques Chirac, issued public declarations to explain that France was ready to retake Srebrenica. But there was no retaking of the town and in fact nothing at all to even try to prevent the massacres in the enclave or help the people fleeing through the forest.
Yet even if the Srebrenica enclave was not defendable, the international community, in this case France, Great Britain and the Netherlands, could at least have organised the safe evacuation of the inhabitants of the enclave as soon as the Bosnian Serb offensive began and in the following days. Several days elapsed between the beginning of the offensive against Srebrenica, on 6 July 1995, and the presumed end of the massacres which lasted at least until 16 July according to the investigations of the International Criminal Tribunal and the United Nations report.
This is why the responsibility of those who were supposed to protect the inhabitants of Srebrenica must be established.
THE MANIPULATION OF HUMANITARIAN ACTION BY FRENCH DIPLOMACY
The French political and military leaders who have passed before you all stressed the key role played by France in Bosnia, within the United Nations. They are all legitimately proud as France was the first country to contribute troops to the former Yugoslavia. Many French soldiers lost their lives there. France was also the instigator behind the adoption of many UN Security Council resolutions, including those setting up the "safe area" and establishing the right to use force to protect them.
I would just like to recall that throughout the war in the former Yugoslavia, humanitarian organisations such as MSF criticised the UN's militaro-humanitarian operation in Bosnia.
The participation of more than 7000 French soldiers with a humanitarian mandate in the UN peacekeeping force maintained an illusion of French political determination to put an end to the violence perpetrated against the civilian population.
Humanitarian aid was the only response to the ethnic cleansing and shelling of civilians. In other words, faced with war crimes and crimes against humanity, soldiers were sent to hand out medication, blankets and flour.
I feel that this "militaro-humanitarian observation" of ethnic cleansing helped to create the conditions for the massacre of the inhabitants of Srebrenica. Why? Because to give a humanitarian mandate to military forces in an open conflict situation in which mass crimes are being committed is tantamount to disarming them. In other words, this pseudo-humanitarian policy followed by France in Bosnia was in the end conducted to the detriment of real protection of the civilian population.
It is worrying to see that your investigations into the tragedy of Srebrenica have for the time being involved no criticism of this type of operation by the French army abroad. The humanitarian or civilian protection goal continues to be one of the avowed aims in order to legitimise the deployment of French troops abroad, without this aim being in fact borne out in reality.
In the case of Srebrenica, it is of great concern, as mentioned by Mr. Levitte in his hearing, that the reason the French leaders hardened their position with regard to General Mladic and his men was the shock felt by the highest echelons of the government at the images of the UN peacekeepers chained up as a human shield by the Bosnian-Serb forces. It is because the French political leaders felt themselves to be humiliated that they decided on real military action against the gunnery positions shelling Sarajevo in particular. The massacres perpetrated throughout the war in Bosnia by General Mladic's forces against the local people—ostensibly under the protection of the UNPROFOR—was never really a political preoccupation. This is the substance of what is claimed by Mr. Lévitte who states that the French leaders perceived Srebrenica (and I quote) "as background noise".
At each attack against the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, against Gorazde in April 1994, then against Bihac in the following November, and finally against Srebrenica in July 1995, humanitarian aid was presented as the only possible answer to the crisis, while the presence of 40,000 peacekeeping troops in the field became an alibi for holding back from any military action which would endanger them, thereby offering the Bosnian-Serb forces a green light to kill at will.
After a further massacre in Tuzla in May 1995, the NATO air strikes finally showed the absurdity and fragility of the UNPROFOR organisation in the field. In the Spring of 95, at a crucial moment in the war and the peace negotiations in Bosnia, the UN found itself even further weakened and obliged to negotiate the release of more than 400 peacekeepers held hostage by the Serbian forces in Bosnia. The United Nations decided to concentrate the UNPROFOR troops scattered throughout Bosnia to prevent such a scenario happening again. This reorganisation of the United Nations' military forces, promoted by France at the Security Council at the end of May 95 and then validated by the Contact Group, was an early warning sign of military abandonment of the east Bosnian enclaves, in particular Srebrenica.
This reorganisation was closely linked, amongst other things, to the progress of the peace process. Mr. Akashi stated in his hearing that the use of military force did not depend on the imperative of protecting the population, but that it was strictly determined by the progress of the peace process in Bosnia.
It is therefore all the more serious that certain French officials continue to insist, although implausible, that the fall of Srebrenica was unpredictable. Pseudo technical questions are raised that cloud the evident fact: the fall of Srebrenica, as well as the massacres that followed, were clearly predictable.
It is still not clear what role the Peacekeeper's concern for protection had to play in the decision not to use NATO air strikes during the Bosnian Serb attack. It is also not clear if the concern to facilitate peace negotiations between Serbs, Muslims and Croates did not contribute to the Contact Group's decision to abandon the enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa, along with the population in them. However, the facts are there to show that the disappearance of these two enclaves in eastern Bosnia did indeed facilitate the signing of the Dayton peace agreement only two months after these tragic events.
To conclude, I would like to make a few comments on the work of these hearings.
The work that you have started is not finished and the results of your investigation cannot be predicted. I have every confidence in that the French Members of Parliament will conduct their work in total independence and that is why I am before you today.
There is no firmly established tradition in France of parliamentary control over foreign policy and external operations. The parliamentary investigation on Rwanda in 1998 was a new exercise for parliament. Médecins Sans Frontières was first heard for the first time in this context. The work of the National Assembly continues today with the investigation of the tragedy of Srebrenica and I hope that it will bear fruit.
I would like to underline the fact that arbitrating between the imperatives of peace and the protection of civilians, or between the imperatives of security of national forces in the field and the risk of using force to protect populations in danger constitutes a major dilemma for democratic societies and should be open to parliamentary control. This is why MSF requested a parliamentary investigation on Srebrenica.
I will not hide the fact that a few months ago we were concerned by the decision a few months when the parliamentary commission was formed. It was announced that François Leotard was to write a report on the tragedy of Srebrenica. However Mr. Leotard was former Defense Minister between 1993 and 1995, in other words an actor and privileged witness of the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and its consequences. Since then, the work has been confided to a larger, more comprehensive group.
I will not hide the fact either that we were also surprised by the fact that you accepted the legal arguments given by the French Defence ministry to impose 'closed' hearings to all the French officers who were in the field in Bosnia. The international criminal tribunal in the Hague has denounced the validity of these arguments which referred the cooperation constraints imposed by international justice.
Finally, I regret that no survivor of the Srebrenica massacres has yet been invited before the French parliament during these hearings. It would have been an important gesture to have a survivor present here in the French Parliament and would have contributed in focusing the debates on the essential issue: why was the population of Srebrenica left to their murderers?
French MPs are due to visit Bosnia soon. During my visit to Sarajevo, Tuzla and Srebrenica in March 2001 with the President of MSF, Jean-Hervé Bradol, I met many people who are willing to testify. I myself am to facilitate your visit to Bosnia if I can be of help.
In order to reply to your questions I feel it important to underline my convictions once again on the tragedy of Srebrenica.
The fall as well as the massacres of Srebrencia were foreseeable.
The promise of protection made to the inhabitants of Srebrencia was not kept and the lack of political will to defend them contributed in leading them to the massacre. They were abandoned.
This is why all possible light should be shed on French responsibility in this tragedy.
Thank you for listening to me.