AUSTRALIA REMEMBERS SREBRENICA, HON. MP TONY SMITH
|Honorable MP, Tony Smith|
21 November 2011
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Speech by MP Tony Smith
[Note by the Bosnian Genocide Blog team: We thank MP Tony Smith for his Srebrenica advocacy in the Parliament of Australia. A minor correction: Forensic evidence compiled by the International Commission on Missing Persons indicates 8,100 killed in Srebrenica, not 7,000 (7,500 quoted by the ICTY represents minimum number of victims, not the total.). Overall, Mr. Smith's speech was excellent. Thank you.]
Speaker Mr TONY SMITH
Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (20:1 0): I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this motion moved by the member for Melbourne Ports to commemorate the terrible massacre of Srebrenica. The 18th century Anglo-Irish conservative philosopher Edmund Burke famously wrote: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ And evil was indeed ascendant on those sunny July days 16 years ago when 7,000 unarmed prisoners were slaughtered at Srebrenica during the Bosnian War of the 1990s.
The direct perpetrators of this war crime were military units of the Republika Srpska, the breakaway Bosnian Serb state within the former nation of Yugoslavia. In fact, the commander of those units, General Ratko Mladic, and the former president of the Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadzic, are currently on trial in the Hague for this and other abominations.
But, beyond the writing of yet another chapter in the long bloody saga of man’s inhumanity to man, the Srebrenica massacre demonstrates two great verities: one ageless and the other current to our present age. The eternal truth arises from the fact that, in international affairs, as in physics, a power vacuum will always be filled. The only question is by whom: the benign or the malign? It is an ugly world—a world where wickedness regards weakness with contempt; a world where foulness will exploit feebleness to do a devil’s dance on the graves of the innocent.
If the crime of Srebrenica teaches us anything it is that, if the benign lack the will to exert power that is constructive, the malign will surely step into the breach to deploy power that is destructive. We learn that, without strength, the forces of decency will be swamped by indecency. And it was indecency incarnate that broke with all its fury over the 7,000 innocent men and boys who were shot down without mercy.
The atrocity that took place at Srebrenica in July 1995 was horrible enough in its own right, but the horror was made more acute and more profound by the fact that those killings took place almost literally under the noses of an international force posted to keep the peace where there was no peace to be found. A battalion of Dutch peacekeepers, understrength and underarmed, was unable to halt the mass murderers as they went about their grisly business.
There is little question as to how these war criminals committed this horrendous massacre. The record in that regard has been copiously documented, including by the member for Melbourne Ports. Witnesses have been deposed and forensic evidence has been gathered. Nor is there really any doubt about the why of the Srebrenica slaughter: it was just another dark page in the same bloody saga of bigotry induced bloodbath that has marred the annals of human history.
The real question isn’t why the Serbians murdered unarmed Muslim prisoners; it is why the army of an advanced Western nation was unable to stop it. To understand that we must transport ourselves back a decade and a half in time. This was the era of Francis Fukuyama’s so-called ‘end of history’. The Berlin Wall had fallen six years previously. The Cold War was won and the triumph of the West was supposedly assured. It was a time for optimism. It is true that the social democracies of continental Europe felt there was no longer anything to fear and thus no need to keep up military spending, and the Netherlands were no exception to this trend. The so-called peace dividend was used in the early 1990s to reduce the budget of the Dutch armed forces. In the euphoria of Cold War victory, the Netherlands and other European nations allowed themselves to forget a cardinal Latin adage that has rung true since the legions of Julius Caesar marched into Gaul: ‘If you desire peace, prepare for war.’ As we enter a new period of global instability and international power rivalry, this eternal lesson, retaught so cruelly by the slaughter at Srebrenica, is one we in this place should well and truly heed.
Complementing these ageless truths is another verity that is a product of our current age. It demonstrates, as we have heard, how the United Nations was unable to act decisively in the face of genocide. You see, the Dutch troops whom I previously mentioned were wearing blue helmets during their posting to Srebrenica. They were in the Balkans as part of a UN peacekeeping operation and, as such, they answered to a chain of command that extended all the way to the UN secretariat in New York. So, when out-gunned and out-numbered, the Dutch seeing the killings unfolding before them, tried to call for close air support. These Netherlands troops begged and pleaded for air strikes to target the Serb positions and bring the slaughter to a halt. But air strikes were postponed for hours as the Serbian mass murder operation progressed. When the aircraft finally arrived, it was too little too late. A grand total of two bombs were dropped with a zero deterrent effect. The Dutch battalion were then withdrawn, leaving the local Bosnian Muslim population to the none-too-tender mercies of the advancing Serb forces.
Even more outrageous was the fact that the Srebrenica massacre took place just a year after one of the worst acts of genocide to occur since the Holocaust —and the member for Melbourne Ports referred to this. Between April and July 1994, roughly 800,000 people in Rwanda were hacked, burned and stabbed to death, while another UN force was left hapless and hopeless. And as in Srebrenica, the UN commander in Rwanda, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, begged for reinforcements and support from UN headquarters in faraway Manhattan. And, as in Srebrenica, he received nothing of the kind. You would think the bloody lessons of Rwanda might have been absorbed by the high mandarins at UN secretariat. But, tragically, the past of Rwanda turned out to be the prologue for Srebrenica
The United Nations bureaucracy, unfortunately, was channelling spirit of Tallyrand’s famous quip about the post-Waterloo Bourbon monarchy: ‘They forgot nothing and they learned nothing.’ From early 1992 to mid-1995 the UN tried and failed to bring an end to the Balkans war, a war which killed hundreds of thousands of people in a conflict that knew no rules, a conflict where the laws of war were honoured more in the breech than the observance.
The failure of the UN in Rwanda and the Srebrenica is not contested. As the member for Melbourne Ports outlined, in fact, it is accepted by the United Nations itself. Indeed, on the 10th anniversary—the member for Melbourne Ports mentioned the fifth—of the Srebrenica massacre, then Secretary General Kofi Anan issued a statement, where he said:
… we made serious errors of judgement, rooted in a philosophy of impartiality and non-violence which, however admirable, was unsuited to the conflict in Bosnia. That is why … the tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt our history forever.
But such mea culpas do not account for much if they are unaccompanied by real reform.
An end to the Balkan slaughter of the 1990s was not brought about by international diplomacy or UN facilitation. The war was finally ended by brute military force. Brute military force brought to bear by a US-led campaign of air attacks under the auspices not of the UN but of NATO. Starting in late August 1995, US and NATO aircraft flew over 3,500 combat sorties against over 330 Serbian targets. The Serbs were bombed into submission, pure and simple. If the UN did not learn from the Rwandan genocide, US President Clinton certainly did. In a speech on the Balkans crisis delivered in November 1995, Clinton said:
We cannot stop all war for all time but we can stop some wars. We cannot save all women and all children but we can save many of them. We can’t do everything but we must do what we can.
America’s 42nd President learned that, at times, the only way to stop the triumph of evil is for good men to vanquish it through the moral and focused application of armed force. That is the real lesson of Edmund Burke applied to Srebrenica—a lesson we should all seriously ponder.