SREBRENICA DEMILITARIZATION AGREEMENTS
UNDERSTANDING THE "1993"
SREBRENICA DEMILITARIZATION AGREEMENTS
Source: The following are excerpts from the United Nations' Report on The Fall of Srebrenica (1999) [A/54/549].
Before the Security Council had time to finalize its position on the concept of safe areas, events on the ground demanded further action. The High Commissioner for Refugees wrote to the Secretary-General on 2 April 1993 that the people of Srebrenica were convinced "that the Bosnian Serbs [would] pursue their military objective to gain control of Srebrenica" (S/25519). She noted that evacuation of non-combatants from Srebrenica was one option, and that these people were "desperate to escape to safety because they see no other prospect than death if they remain where they are." She stressed, however, that the Bosnian Government authorities were "opposed to continued evacuation of people, which they see as designed to empty the town of its women and children in order to facilitate a subsequent Serbian offensive." Under the circumstances, Mrs. Ogata concluded:
"I believe we are faced with two options, if we are to save the lives of the people trapped in Srebrenica. The first is to immediately enhance international presence, including that of UNPROFOR, in order to turn the enclave into an area protected by the United Nations, and inject life-sustaining assistance on a scale much greater than being permitted at the moment. ... Failing that, the only other option would be to organize a large-scale evacuation of the endangered population in Srebrenica." (S/25519)
The non-aligned countries tabled a draft resolution to this effect, which the president of the Council decided would be put to the vote on 26 April. Events on the ground, however, were overtaking the Security Council's consultations. On 13 April 1993, Serb commanders informed the representative on UNHCR that they would enter Srebrenica within two days unless the town surrendered and its Bosniak population was evacuated. On 16 April, the Secretary-General's Special Political Adviser, Chinmaya Gharekhan (who represented the Secretary-General in the Security Council), informed the Council that he had been in contact with the Force Commander of UNPROFOR and that United Nations military observers stationed in Srebrenica had reported that the town had not yet fallen, but that the authorities there had offered to surrender on three conditions, namely, that the wounded soldiers be airlifted out; that all civilians be evacuated; and that safe passage be guaranteed to all military personnel, who would walk to Tuzla.
There was considerable confusion in the Security Council, with the representative of one Member State indicating that he had not heard from national sources that Srebrenica had already fallen. After extended debate, the Council on 16 April adopted a draft resolution tabled by the non-aligned members, as resolution 819 (1993) in which it demanded that "all parties and others treat Srebrenica and its surroundings as a safe area, which should be free from any armed attack or any other hostile act." It also demanded "the immediate cessation of armed attacks by Bosnian Serb paramilitary units against Srebrenica and their immediate withdrawal from the areas surrounding Srebrenica," and further demanded that "the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia immediately cease the supply of military arms, equipment and services to the Bosnian Serb paramilitary units in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina." However, no specific restrictions were put on the activities of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Upon learning of the resolution, UNPROFOR expressed concern to the Secretariat that the regime could not be implemented without the consent of both parties which, given Serb dominance, would certainly require Bosnian Government forces to lay down their weapons.
The Security Council, although acting under Chapter VII of the Charter, had provided no resources or mandate for UNPROFOR to impose its demands on the parties. Rather, it requested the Secretary-General, "with a view to monitoring the humanitarian situation in the safe area, to take immediate steps to increase the presence of the United Nations Protection Force in Srebrenica and its surroundings."
Thus, the Security Council appeared to rule our Mrs. Ogata's evacuation option, and instead condemned and rejected "the deliberate actions of the Bosnian Serb party to force the evacuation of the civilian population from Srebrenica and its surrounding areas as well as from other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of its overall abhorrent campaign of 'ethnic cleansing.'"
Following the adoption of resolution 819 (1993), and on the basis of consultations with members of the Council, the Secretariat informed the UNPROFOR Force Commander that, in its view, the resolution, calling as it did for the parties to take certain actions, created no military obligations for UNPROFOR to establish or protect such a safe area.
Srebrenica demilitarization agreement of 18 April 1993
While the Security Council was speaking out strongly against the actions of the Bosnian Serbs, UNPROFOR was confronted with the reality that the Serbs were in a position of complete military dominance around Srebrenica, and that the town and its population were at risk. UNPROFOR commanders, therefore, took a different approach from the Council, convincing the Bosniak commanders that they should sign an agreement in which Bosniak forces would give up their arms to UNPROFOR in return for the promise of a ceasefire, the insertion of an UNPROFOR company into Srebrenica, the evacuation of the seriously wounded and seriously ill, unimpeded access for UNHCR and ICRS, and certain other provisions (see S/25700). Representatives of the Bosnian Government were apparently divided as to how to proceed. According to General [Sefer] Halilovic, then Commander of the ARBiH, President [Alija] Izetbegovic was in favour of the UNPROFOR proposal, which, as he understood it, meant that the Bosniaks would hand their weapons over to UNPROFOR in return for UNPROFOR protection.
The text of the agreement was negotiated in Sarajevo on 17 April 1993, and was signed by General [Sefer] Halilovic and General [Ratko] Mladic early in the morning of 18 April. The Force Commander witnessed the agreement on behalf of UNPROFOR. The agreement laid down the terms under which Srebrenica would be demilitarized, though it did not define the area to be demilitarized. Halilovic has since stated that he understood the agreement to cover only the urban area of Srebrenica, and not the rural parts of the enclave. UNPROFOR seems also to have understood the agreement in this way. The Serbs, however, did not. The agreement also called for the deployment of UNPROFOR troops into the area by 1100 hours on 18 April in order to secure a landing site for helicopters which would evacuate wounded personnel from Srebrenica; for the monitoring of the ceasefire in Srebrenica and those areas outside the town from which direct fire weapons could be brought to bear; and for the establishment of liaison with authorized military leaders of both sides.
Approximately 170 UNPROFOR troops, principally from the Canadian contingent, deployed into the Srebrenica area on 18 April, establishing a substantial UNPROFOR presence there for the first time. The Canadian force then proceeded to oversee the demilitarization of the town of Srebrenica, though not of the surrounding area. Halilovic has stated that he ordered the Bosniaks in Srebrenica not to hand over any serviceable weapons or ammunition. The Bosniaks accordingly handed over approximately 300 weapons, a large number of which were non-serviceable; they also handed over a small number of heavy weapons, for which there was no significant amount of ammunition. A large number of light weapons were removed to areas outside the town [for the purpose of defending the enclave in case of the Bosnian Serb attack].
The Secretariat informed the Force Commander that, in the light of the views of several Security Council members, he should not pursue the demilitarization process in Srebrenica with undue zeal, ruling out, for example, house-to-house searches for weapons. On 21 April UNPROFOR released a press statement entitled "Demilitarization of Srebrenica a success." That document stated that "UNPROFOR troops, civilian police and military observers had been deployed in Srebrenica since 18 April to collect weapons, ammunitions, mines, explosives and combat supplies and that by noon today they had completed the task of demilitarizing the town." The statement noted further that "almost 500 sick and wounded had also been evacuated from Srebrenica by helicopters and humanitarian aid convoys have been entering the town since Sunday." The Force Commander of UNPROFOR was quoted as saying, "I can confirm that from noon today the town has been demilitarized .... The [UNPROFOR] team prepared a final inventory of all the collected weapons and munitions, which were then destroyed by UNPROFOR."
Security Council mission to Srebrenica and further demilitarization agreement of 8 May 1993
Following the adoptions of Security Council resolution 819 (1993), members of the Council had a rare opportunity to assess the situation on the ground first hand, when a Security Council mission led by Diego Arria, Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations, arrived in Srebrenica on 25 April . On arrival in Srebrenica, the mission members noted that whereas the Council in resolution 819 (1993) had demanded that certain steps be taken by the Bosnian Serbs, the UNPROFOR-brokered agreement of 18 April 1993 had required the Bosniaks to disarm. Confronted with the reality of the situation on the ground, the Council members appeared to support the UNPROFOR course of action. In their report submitted shortly upon their return to New York, the members of the Security Council mission wrote that "the alternative could have been a massacre of 25,000 people. It definitely was an extraordinary emergency situation that had prompted UNPROFOR to act ... There is no doubt that had this agreement not been reached, most probably a massacre would have taken place, which justified the efforts of the UNPROFOR Commander" (see S/25700). The Council members then condemned the Serbs for perpetrating "a slow-motion process of genocide." Comparing the approach of the Council with that of UNPROFOR, a Canadian UNPROFOR officer told the Council members that "even though the Security Council is obviously an important organ of the United Nations it is of no importance to the Serbs in the area" (ibid.). In its report the Security Council mission noted the discrepancy between the Council resolutions and the situation on the ground. It is stated that "even though Security Council resolution 819 (1993) declared the city [of Srebrenica] a safe area, the actual situation obviously does not correspond to either the spirit or the intent of the resolution." The mission then stated that "Serb forces must withdraw to points from which they cannot attack, harass or terrorize the town. UNPROFOR should be in a position to determine the related parameters. The mission believes, as does UNPROFOR, that the actual 4.5 by 0.5 kms decided as a safe area should be greatly expanded." How this was to be done was not indicated. The mission report recommended that Gorazde, Zepa, Tuzla and Sarajevo also be declared safe areas, "as an act of Security Council preventive diplomacy." The report concluded by recognizing that "such a decision would require a larger UNPROFOR presence, a revised mandate to encompass ceasefire/safe areas monitoring and different rules of engagement." It proposed the gradual introduction of measures that could, if the Serbs ignored the integrity of the safe ares, lead to "eventual consideration" of "military strike enforcement measures."
On the ground, events were developing in a different direction. The agreement witnessed by the Force Commander on 18 april  was followed by a more comprehensive agreement on 8 May, in which General [Sefer] Halilovic and General [Ratko] Mladic agreed on measures covering the whole of the Srebrenica enclave and the adjacent enclave of Zepa. Under the terms of the new agreement, Bosniak forces within the enclave would hand over their weapons, ammunition and mines to UNPROFOR, after which Serbs "heavy weapons and units that constituted a menace to the demilitarized zones which will have been established in Zepa and Srebrenica will be withdrawn." Unlike the earlier agreement, the agreement of 8 May stated specifically that Srebrenica was to be considered a "demilitarized zone," as referred to in article 60 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I).
Security Council resolution 824 (1993)
As had been the case from 16-18 April, the ceasefire negotiations of 6 to 8 May took place simultaneously with consultations of the Security Council. A draft resolution presented by the non-aligned members welcomed the recommendations of the Security Council mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and proposed expanding the safe area regime to include the city of Sarajevo, "and other such threatened areas, in particular the towns of Tuzla, Zepa, Gorazde and Bihac." During the Security Council consultations of 5 May, the Secretary-General's Special Political Adviser remarked that the Secretary-General would normally be requested to make recommendations on the resources he would need to ensure that the status of those towns as safe areas was respected. He added that UNPROFOR could not be expected to take on this additional responsibility within its existing resources and that it would need at least one brigade in each town declared a safe area. Quite simply, he concluded, the Secretary-General did not have the means to implement the draft resolution.
On 6 May, members of the Security Council learned that the "Bosnian Serb Assembly" had rejected the Vance-Owen Peace Plan. The Council then adopted the draft resolution under discussion as resolution 824 (1993), by which it declared that Sarajevo, and other towns, such as Tuzla, Zepa, Gorazde and Bihac, should be treated as safe areas by all the parties concerned and should be free from armed attacks and from any other hostile act. It also declared that in the safe areas the following should be observed:
(a) The immediate cessation of armed attacks or any hostile act against the safe areas, and the withdrawal of all Bosnian Serb military or paramilitary units from those towns to a distance wherefrom they ceased to constitute a menace to their security and that of their inhabitants to be monitored by United Nations military observers;
(b) Full respect by all parties of the rights of UNPROFOR and the international agencies to free and unimpeded access to all safe areas in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and full respect for the safety of personnel engaged in these operations.
Noting the discrepancy between the agreement of 8 May 1993 that had been negotiated on the ground by UNPROFOR and the resolution concurrently adopted by the Security Council, the Secretariat explained to UNPROFOR that the Council had laid great emphasis in resolution 824 (1993) on the withdrawal of the Bosnian Serbs from their positions threatening the "safe areas." The Secretariat believed that it was essential that UNPROFOR reiterate its determination to ensure the implementation of those parts of the agreement concerning the Serb withdrawal from around the safe area. The Secretariat added that the implied sequence in the agreement - Government forces disarming first, followed by a Serb withdrawal later - would be unacceptable to the Security Council.
Security Council resolution 836 (1993)
France, the Russian Federation, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States then sponsored a draft resolution based substantially on the French memorandum of 19 May. The Security Council began deliberations on it on 1 June, and voted on the draft resolution on 4 June 1993. It was adopted by 13 votes in favour, with two abstentions, as resolution 836 (1993). The following three paragraphs of the resolution, which was adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter, were seen as particularly important:
5. ... decides to extend ... the mandate of the United Nations Protection Force in order to enable it, in the safe areas referred to in resolution 824 (1993), to deter attacks against the safe areas, to monitor the ceasefire, to promote the withdrawal of military or paramilitary units other than those of the Government of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and to occupy some key points on the ground, in addition to participating in the delivery of humanitarian relief to the population as provided for in resolution 776 (1992) of 14 September 1992;
9. Authorizes the Force, in addition to the mandate defined in resolutions 770 (1992) of 13 August 1992 and 776 (1992), in carrying out the mandate defined in paragraph 5 above, acting in self-defence, to take the necessary measures, including the use of force, in reply to bombardments against the safe areas by any of the parties or to armed incursion into them or in the event of any deliberate obstruction in or around those areas to the freedom of movement of the Force or of protected humanitarian convoys;
10. Decides that ... Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, may take, under the authority of the Security Council and subject to close coordination with the Secretary-General and the Force, all necessary measures, through the use of air power, in and around the safe areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to support the Force in the performance of its mandate set out in paragraphs 5 and 9 above.
Reluctance to use force to deter attacks on safe areas
Following the adoption of Security Council resolution 836 (1993), the Bosnian Serbs continued to bombard the safe areas at about the same rate as before. In Sarajevo, for example, Serb shells continued to land in the safe area at an average rate of approximately 1,000 per day, usually into civilian-inhabited areas, often in ways calculated to maximize civilian casualties, sometimes at random, and only occasionally for identifiably military purposes. This pattern, which had begun on 6 April 1992, continued, with lulls of varying lengths, until Operation Deliberate Force in August 1995. The Serbs also continued to obstruct freedom of movement to all of the safe areas, both for UNPROFOR and for humanitarian convoys, imposing a system of clearances, the principal effect of which was to limit the effectiveness of UNPROFOR and to slow down the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Shortly after the adoption of resolution 836 (1993), the Secretariat convened a meeting of the sponsors of the resolution (France, the Russian Federation, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States) and Canada. The Secretariat made an oral presentation in which it was stated that approximately 32,000 additional ground troops would be required to implement the safe area concept. This drew strong opposition, particularly from the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, who insisted that the preferred approach would be closer to the "light option" presented in the French memorandum, which would entail some 5,000 additional troops.
The Secretariat then informed UNPROFOR that none of the sponsors was willing to contribute any additional troops for UNPROFOR, and that none of them seemed to envisage a force capable of effectively defending those areas. The Secretariat believed that there was unanimity among the sponsors that the extension of the UNPROFOR mandate to include a capacity to deter attack against the safe areas should not be construed as signifying deployment in sufficient strength to repel attacks by military force. UNPROFOR's major deterrent capacity, rather than being a function of military strength, would essentially flow from its presence in the safe areas. The Secretariat referred to the positive example of Srebrenica, where it was thought that the success of the approach had been demonstrated. The Secretariat added that the role of UNPROFOR "to promote the withdrawal of [Serb] military and paramilitary forces" was said to call for persuasion rather than coercion. The Secretariat informed UNPROFOR that the resolution's sponsors shared the Secretariat's own concern that any air strikes would pose grave dangers to UNPROFOR personnel and the humanitarian convoys and should, therefore, be initiated with the greatest restraint and, essentially, in self-defence.
Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to resolution 836 (1993) (S/25939)
The Secretary-General submitted the first of several reports in which he outlines his views on the implementation of the safe area concept on 14 June. He noted that "in order to ensure full respect for the safe areas, the Force Commander of UNPROFOR estimated an additional troop requirement at an indicative level of approximately 34,000 to obtain deterrence through strength," but went on to note that "it would be possible to start implementing the resolution under a 'light option' envisaging a minimal troop reinforcement of around 7,600. While this option cannot, in itself, completely guarantee the defence of the safe areas, it relies on the threat of air action against any of the belligerents" (S/25939, para. 5).
Concerning Srebrenica, the Secretary-General stated that the existing force levels would not have to be enhanced under the light option. He did state, however, that "since it is assumed that UNPROFOR ground troops will not be sufficient to resist a concentrated assault on any of the safe areas, particular emphasis must be placed on the availability of the air-strike capability provided by Member States. This would require the deployment of Forward Air Controllers (FACs) in order that the force-multiplying characteristics of air power may be fully exploited if necessary" (S/25939), para. 4). Forward Air Controllers were later deployed in all the safe areas.
By its resolution 844 (1993) of 18 June 1993, the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the Charter, intel alia, approved the report of the Secretary-General, decided to authorize the deployment of the additional 7,600 troops proposed under the light option, and reaffirmed its decision in paragraph 10 of resolution 836 (1993) on the use of air power.
Criticisms have also been leveled at the Bosniaks in Srebrenica, among them that they did not fully demilitarize and that they did not do enough to defend the enclave. To a degree, these criticisms appear to be contradictory. Concerning the first criticism, it is right to note that the Bosnian Government had entered into demilitarization agreements with the Bosnian Serbs. They did this with the encouragement of the United Nations. While it is also true that the Bosnian fighters in Srebrenica did not fully demilitarize, they did demilitarize enough for UNPROFOR to issue a press release, on 21 April 1993, saying that the process had been a success. Specific instructions from United Nations Headquarters in New York stated that UNPROFOF should not be too zealous in searching for Bosniak weapons and, later, that the Serbs should withdraw their heavy weapons before the Bosniaks gave up their weapons. The Serbs never did withdraw their heavy weapons.
Concerning the accusation that the Bosniaks did not do enough to defend Srebrenica, military experts consulted in connection with this report were largely in agreement that the Bosniaks could not have defended Srebrenica for long in the face of a concerted attack supported by armour and artillery. The defenders were undisciplined, untrained, poorly armed, totally isolated force, lying prone in the crowded valley of Srebrenica. They were ill-equipped even to train themselves in the use of the few heavier weapons that had been smuggled to them by their authorities. After over three years of siege, the population was demoralized, afraid and often hungry. The only leader of stature was absent when the attack occurred. Surrounding them, controlling all the high ground, handsomely equipped with the heavy weapons and logistical train of the Yugoslav army, were the Bosnian Serbs. There was no contest.
Despite the odds against them, the Bosniaks requested UNPROFOR to return to them the weapons they had surrendered under the demilitarization agreements of 1993. They requested those weapons at the beginning of the Serb offensive, but the request was rejected by the UNPROFOR because, as one commander explained, “it was our responsibility to defend the enclave, not theirs.” Given the limited number and poor quality of Bosniak weapons held by UNPROFOR, it seems unlikely that releasing those weapons to the Bosniaks would have made a significant difference to the outcome of the battle; but the Bosniaks were under attack at that time, they wanted to resist with whatever means they could muster, and UNPROFOR denied them access to some of their own weapons. With the benefit of hindsight, this decision seems to be particularly ill-advised, given UNPROFOR’s own unwillingness consistently to advocate force as a means deterring attacks on the enclave.
Many have accused the Bosniak forces of withdrawing from the enclave as the Serb forces advanced on the day of its fall. However, it must be remembered that on the eve of the final Serb assault the Dutchbat commander urged the Bosniaks to withdraw from defensive positions south of Srebrenica town – the direction from which the Serbs were advancing. He did so because he believed that NATO aircraft would soon be launching widespread air strikes against the advancing Serbs.
A third accusation leveled at the Bosniak defenders of Srebrenica is that they provoked the Serb offensive by attacking out of that safe area. Even though this accusation is often repeated by international sources, there is no credible evidence to support it. Dutchbat personnel on the ground at the time assessed that the few “raids” the Bosniaks mounted out of Srebrenica were of little or no military significance. These raids were often organized in order to gather food, as the Serbs had refused access for humanitarian convoys into the enclave. Even Serb sources approached in the context of this report acknowledged that the Bosniak forces in Srebrenica posed no significant military threat to them. The biggest attack the Bosniaks launched out of Srebrenica during the more than two years which is was designated a safe area appears to have been the raid on the village of Visnjica, on 26 June 1995, in which several houses were burned, up to four Serbs were killed and approximately 100 sheep were stolen. In contrast, the Serbs overran the enclave two weeks later, driving tens of thousands from their homes, and summarily executing thousands of men and boys. The Serbs repeatedly exaggerated the extent of the raids out of Srebrenica as a pretext for the prosecution of a central war aim: to create geographically contiguous and ethnically pure territory along the Drina, while freeing their troops to fight in other parts of the country. The extent to which this pretext was accepted at face value by international actors and observers reflected the prism of “moral equivalency” through which the conflict in Bosnia was viewed by too many for too long.
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