Responses to student questions from peacekeepers in the field:
Mr. Earnest Lehmann, UNMIBH, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Hi, my name is Cade Cornett. I am in the 12th grade at River Valley
High School in Marion, Ohio, USA. I'm a 17 year old girl who enjoys
playing softball and volleyball. Please tell me a little about Bosnia and
Herzegovina and what a normal day is like?
As someone who had never before spent time in this region, I can tell
you that living here in Bosnia Herzegovina is proving to be quite interesting,
albeit not free of danger and tense situations, as the country is still
recovering from the worst war in Europe since World War II.
Of course, one's experience greatly depends on where you live
in the country. Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital city, offers a life style very
similar to that of other cities in many western countries, especially now
that it is undergoing extensive reconstruction. I, however, live
in Brcko, a much smaller town in northern Bosnia where evidence of
destruction can not be overlooked, and the contrast of pre-war and post-war
realities is much more visible, as it is throughout most of the rural countryside.
Almost every day I find myself driving past a horse-drawn wagon, only
to be overtaken soon after by a brand new car. My "modern" office
(fax, computer, etc.) is a five minute drive from a destroyed but
inhabited neighborhood without running water, electricity or roofs, and
it is not uncommon here to walk past an abandoned, bullet-riddled home
across the street from a modern, recently rebuilt one.
These images add an unusual element to daily life in Bosnia and
Herzegovina and they motivate you to work longer hours than usual.
In fact, the UN staff members here spend most of our day involved with
work related activities, which differ according to our responsibilities.
Time outside of work is usually spent meeting local friends, attempting
to learn the customs and language (which can make your work much
easier), eating local foods and finding reliable ways to contact your friends
and family back home.
I am a student at River Valley High School in Marion, Ohio. I have
a few questions that I would sincerely appreciate if you would answer them.
What is your responsibility as a peacekeeper and what problems have
you had to face?
Any other information that you could share would be greatly appreciated!
THANK YOU for your time and hope to hear from you soon! Sincerley,
The ultimate goal of peacekeepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina is to strengthen
the mechanisms created so that lasting peace can take hold, and eventually
allow the country and its citizens to prosper without outside help or "supervision".
In pursuit of this goal, peacekeepers (military, police and civilians)
fulfil many different roles involving reconstruction, elections, human
rights, political affairs, health and education. My own personal
responsibility, as a member of the UN Press and Information Office, is
to provide information to local journalists so that they can report to
the Bosnian people what the United Nations is doing to improve the conditions
in their country. At the same time I check to see that the press
reports information accurately, without intentionally misinforming or misleading
the people - such hate propaganda was one of the main problems during the
Sometimes, the problems one faces as a peacekeeper can get a bit frustrating.
Eventually, though, you learn how to keep from getting discouraged, so
small things like power outages and cold showers become an
accepted part of your daily routine. Perhaps the most frustrating
challenges are caused by the inability to speak the local language (I work
with local interpreters, as necessary) or having to deal with an ancient
telecommunications network which rarely works. When political tensions
rise, it gets bothersome (sometimes frightening) having to prepare for
possible evacuation. But personally, I think remoteness and loneliness
are often the most difficult problems facing us.
Why did Bosnians have to die and suffer when there is a Universal Declaration
of Human Rights to protect them? How useful is it when
it didn't give these people the protection they needed?
West patterson, NJ
The Declaration alone can't guarantee all citizens of the world protection
from violence and discrimination, if there are forces at work who act in
open defiance to international norms and standards. The Bosnians
are not the only people that have suffered the consequences of war since
1948, when the Declaration was adopted. Today people in various countries
continue to be victims of policies and decisions they have no control over.
The importance of the Declaration lies in that it sets standard and
goals for people and governments everywhere, outlining for the first time
the basic human rights each government should strive to guarantee for its
citizens. Many of its provisions have been included in legally-binding
treaties and conventions, and many countries have voluntarily adopted the
Declaration's provisions into their basic laws or constitutions. Although
the UN tries to promote the compliance of the Declaration's articles by
its members, by definition it must rely on the countries' own commitment
to enforce and put into practice its provisions--and on the knowledge and
vigilance of the world's people.
Is the Serb action affecting you in any way?
Cade Cornett, River Valley
High School in Marion, Ohio, USA
I assume you're referring to the situation in Kosovo, where fighting
has been going on between Serbian police and military units and ethnic
Albanians, and many ethnic Albanians have been killed or forced out of
their villages. I don't live in Kosovo, but I am not very far
away, in the Serb entity of Bosnia Herzegovina--less than an hour from
the Bosnian border with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (F.R.Y.).
The Bosnian Serbs share a very strong bond with their Serbian neighbors
in the F.R.Y., which many here consider their "motherland". The Serbs from
these two countries have a similar cultural, historical and ethnic identity
which they commonly refer to as a "brotherhood". This sentiment has
led many of the Serb politicians in Bosnia to declare that any NATO offensive
against the Serbs in the F.R.Y., would be considered an attack on all Serbs,
including those from Bosnia. As NATO is an international organization,
this implies that any use of force on NATO's part could prompt retaliatory
action against international personnel working in the Serb entity of Bosnia
Herzegovina, regardless of the international organization they work for.
The threat to us was real, with many local residents warning us about the
consequences of a NATO attack on the F.R.Y. We spent two weeks
devising evacuation plans and carrying evacuation bags to work with us.
I'm a student at river valley high school. We were recently asked to
mail one of three choices of government officials. I chose you, and I would
like to ask you about the situation in the near by Kosovo.
Do you think that the U.S.A. should bomb them?
I would appreciate an answer as soon as possible. Sincerly,
I don't believe that anyone in my position would favour more warfare
in this region. The long and intense discussions over this issue
and over what to do next are, I think, evidence that people in responsible
positions want to avoid further bloodshed. Having said that, I should
point out that, as a member of the United Nations staff, I am obligated
to refrain from putting forth my own personal opinions on matters before
the Security Council. I can only hope that the arrangements for an
observer mission by the OSCE and NATO overflights will improve the situation
and stop the suffering of the people in Kosovo, and that bombing--by NATO
or anyone else--will be avoided.
As far as the Security Council's view on this is concerned: The United
Nations Charter gives primary responsibility for the maintenance of international
peace and security to the Council. It has served in this case, as
in many others, as a place for governments to try to work together and
come to grips with a complex and dangerous situation. In September,
the Council adopted a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in Kosovo
and warned that it would consider "further action and additional measures
to maintain or restore peace and stability in the region". It also
called on the Government of Yugoslavia and the Kosovan Albanian leadership
to negotiate a way out of the crisis. As you probably know, there
has been disagreement among Member States in the Council over the use of
force by NATO in Kosovo. Fourteen of the Council's fifteen members voted
for the resolution. China abstained.
In October, the Council demanded that Yugoslavia cooperate
fully with the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) verification missions to be established in and over
Kosovo, respectively. Thirteen Council members voted in favour, China and
Russia abstained, specfically over the question of the use of force and
reference to the Chapter of the UN Charter that pertains to enforcement.
In the Council, the United States argued that threat of force was
key to both achieving the OSCE and NATO agreements and in ensuring
their full implementation. Finally, your question focuses only
United States action: discussion of bombing has involved not just the United
States, but all 16 countries participating in NATO.