Extract
DAVID HARLAND
The following excerpts are from a May 1999 interview with David Harland, the former UN Head of Civil Affairs, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

QUESTION
Is there then recognition that something did go wrong in Srebrenica?

ANSWER
Oh, I think there's no doubt that something went wrong, horribly wrong. Srebrenica remains one of the worst massacres in Europe since World War II. It's also taken on a significance of its own, and I think that it's crying out for an explanation. Not just of what the Serbs did in Srebrenica and to the people of Srebrenica, but also what the international community did or didn't do and what it could have done.

QUESTION
What do you think, in general terms, Srebrenica has done to the UN's peacekeeping role and ambitions?

ANSWER
When the safe areas policy was established by the member states of the United Nations Security Council, several of the members said then, that if the resources were not provided to make this a credible policy or make sure that the international community was able to deliver on its promise then this would have a possibly terminal effect on the credibility of the United Nations. I think there is no doubt that there is now a substantial reluctance to embark on the very ambitious peacekeeping missions that the UN was involved with in the mid-1990s. And, I think that Bosnia along with Somalia and events in Rwanda have led to a great soul searching. The fact that in Europe, NATO is now the central player in responding to states in crisis is perhaps one of the results of what happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It will continue to be that way until there is a clearer understanding of what did happen in Bosnia.

QUESTION
Are you able to say at all what the UN should learn from this Srebrenica experience?

ANSWER
I think the first thing is to be clear what you're talking about when you talk about the UN. The safe area policy [was] given to UNPROFOR [United Nations Protection Force] by a group of member states. Those states, for their own reasons, chose not to provide the troops that were necessary to implement the policy. So, when one talks about the UN, one has to make a distinction between the states that make up the UN and what happened on the ground. I don't make that distinction to absolve anyone or to implicate anyone, but simply to say that the UN needs to come to terms with what happened in Srebrenica at several levels. One of the most important levels for sure is that of the [role of] the member states that created the policy.

QUESTION
Was there a UN policy, at any level, not to use force in the safe area?

ANSWER
. . . that was not a UN policy at any level. On the other hand there was an expectation among the people of Srebrenica that some degree of force would be used to deter attacks on the area. And one of the things we are having to deal with is how that expectation came about and how the international community having contributed to that expectation failed to deliver . . . .

I think the role of the use of force is one of the central themes of the investigation. We haven't reached any firm conclusions yet, but I think there's a general recognition that UNPROFOR was in a position, which was quite anomalous. It was equipped and deployed for peacekeeping duties with white painted vehicles, lightly armed [personnel] distributed around the country, in non-defensible localities, and yet there was an expectation that it would become militarily engaged to deter attacks. Certainly there was a failure there, with tragic, tragic results. Our task is to try and figure out how that came about, what could have been done about it, and to see whether in the future that anomalous position UNPROFOR was in, which it wasn't able to deliver on, can be changed.

QUESTION
Are we learning enough to, do you think, to make sure it couldn't happen again?

ANSWER
In one sense some lessons have already been learned. The mega-missions of the 1990s, the mid-1990s, where the member states of the Security Council were very actively involved in establishing an enormous UN presence in several states in difficulty, that approach is being very much questioned, at least in Europe. Quite a different approach is being tried and that may turn out to have a different set of problems. In fact you know, I think very clearly it is causing a different set of problems. It's [that] there is no perfect way to intervene in states in crisis. And I think that, to an extent, there was hubris among many of the countries that came out of the Cold War. They thought that a lot of problems would be amenable to a multilateral solution and could be dealt with relatively effectively through multilateral interventions, such as those that the Security Council was embarking upon. There is now a wider recognition that it's not that easy.

I think that Srebrenica has become one of those iconic tragedies, which is remembered even when the rest of the conflict is largely forgotten. If the organizations and countries that were involved in the effort to deter attacks on Srebrenica fail to come to terms with what happened there, then they will find it much harder to face the future and the future of such interventions with the foresight that they need.

QUESTION
How do you respond to angry widows who say, you know the UN was there to defend my family and they didn't.

ANSWER
. . . for those people [widows of Srebrenica] there will never be any final peace. What happened is too awful, but there will be, hopefully, some partial satisfaction gained from knowing precisely what happened; the extent [to which] there was an international failure, and there was an awful failure; why that happened; and what can be done to stop such awful things happening to other people.


Close