At Meeting Commemorating Twentieth Anniversary of Srebrenica Killings, Security Council Fails to Adopt Resolution

SC/11961
8 July 2015
7481st Meeting (AM)

At Meeting Commemorating Twentieth Anniversary of Srebrenica Killings, Security Council Fails to Adopt Resolution

During a meeting held to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the massacres in Srebrenica, the Security Council today failed to adopt a resolution that would have emphasized acceptance of those tragic events as genocide as a prerequisite for national reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The draft resolution, presented during a meeting that also heard briefings from United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, received a negative vote from the Russian Federation, a permanent member, and 10 affirmative votes, with four abstentions (China, Venezuela, Angola and Nigeria).

The text would also have had the 15-member body reaffirm the importance of the lessons to be learned from the United Nations failures in preventing the genocide at Srebrenica and its resolve to take early and effective action to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy through appropriate means at its disposal.

The representative of the Russian Federation requested his counterpart from the United Kingdom, the lead sponsor, not to put the text to a vote, as it singled out one ethnic community for blame, contained elements that did not enjoy consensus among Council members and was detrimental to reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The representative of China, too, said it would be counterproductive to force a vote on a text that lacked unanimity.

The representative of the United Kingdom said the Council had tried to reach consensus.  The hard difference that remained, on whether the crimes could be labelled genocide, was a determination that had been made in many bodies and could not be retracted, he added, expressing determination to go ahead with the vote.

After the vote, speakers regretted the failure to adopt the text, with the representative of the United States describing the Russian Federation’s veto as heart-breaking for the victims’ families and representing another stain on the Council.  The representative of France stressed that the Russian Federation had hampered reconciliation by denying the past.

Earlier, Mr. Eliasson said the lessons learned from July 1995 must help the international community detect dangers earlier.  The United Nations had acknowledged its responsibility for failing to protect those who sought shelter and relief in Srebrenica and the body had since worked to implement the recommendations of the reports that were commissioned.  In addition, he said that the endorsement of the responsibility to protect had underlined the international responsibility to prevent mass crimes.

Mr. Al Hussein said the deeper lessons for the United Nations were as relevant today as they were 20 years ago.  “Our inability to anticipate events, so prevalent then, is still with us today; and our recurrent failure to understand with whom, and with what, we are dealing”.  The United Nations made the mistake of believing what was complicated politically must also be complicated morally, when it was not.

During the general debate, speakers paid tribute to the victims and families of the mass killings in Srebrenica, underscored the need to learn lessons to prevent recurrences, and emphasized the importance of maintaining unity within the Council against mass atrocities.

Also making statements today were the representatives of Venezuela, Angola, Chad, Jordan, Nigeria, Spain, Malaysia, Chile, Lithuania and New Zealand.

The representatives of the Russian Federation, United States and the United Kingdom made further statements.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12:16 p.m.

Opening Remarks

JAN ELIASSON, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said:  “Today, we meet here in New York to pay our respect to all victims and to share in the grief of the affected family and communities,” adding, “but we also meet to proclaim our determination that the lessons learnt from those unspeakable days in July 1995 must help us detect dangers earlier.”

The United Nations, he said, had acknowledged its responsibility for failing to protect the people who sought shelter and relief in Srebrenica and had since worked to implement the recommendations of the reports that were commissioned.  Prevention had become an imperative; a Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide had been appointed; and international criminal tribunals had brought perpetrators of heinous crimes to justice.

In addition, he said that the endorsement of the responsibility to protect had underlined the international responsibility to prevent mass crimes; peacekeepers were now regularly provided with protection mandates; and the “Human Rights Up Front” initiative was generating structural changes inside the Organization to improve efforts to take early preventive action.

The United Nations, Member States and regional organizations, he said, had an obligation to strengthen collective prevention efforts and to find peaceful solutions in the spirit of Chapter VI and VIII of the Charter.  The Security Council had a central role to play.  “We see today how situations can deteriorate and get out of control when the Council is divided,” he stated, noting atrocious crimes taking place in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and West Africa.

Calling for unity to counter such crimes, he said:  “When we are running out of words in our outrage, we have to take action and live up to basic values and principles.”  That, he added, was “how we can best pay homage to the victims of Srebrenica”.

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, High Commissioner for Human Rights, briefing via video teleconference from Geneva, piecing together events leading up to the mass killings, said the United Nations haplessly watched the killing of the Bosnian Deputy Prime Minister by Bosnian Serb soldiers in early 1993 while he was in an armoured personnel carrier of the Organization.  “In one sudden, bloody stroke, [the United Nations] lost the respect of both sides to the conflict.”

Srebrenica was placed under the protection of the United Nations two months later, he said, restoring some credibility to the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNPROFOR).  However, it was shown to be operating in its own orbit, unguided by New York.  While the Council subsequently gave the Force the authority to take the necessary measures, including use of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) airpower in response to bombardments against the safe areas, that provision was later dropped amid concerns about the apparent contradiction of having blue-helmeted troops take sides in a conflict.  As the Bosnian Serb leadership took United Nations personnel as hostages, there was even more vacillation by the Organization, which set the stage for Srebrenica.

On the night of 11 July 1995, the Bosnian Serb Army began the process of transforming its military victory into a crime on a scale not seen in Europe since 1945, Mr. Al Hussein said.  In the years since then, there was never a proper discussion about the events at the United Nations, beyond a perfunctory debate in the General Assembly in 1999.  “That UNPROFOR had a clumsy mandate in the beginning was abundantly clear, and it was obvious that two cultures, the UN and NATO, operated together with some confusion.”  Still, the victims may well have lived had air strikes been launched in line with resolution 836 (1993).

The deeper lessons for the United Nations were as relevant today as they were 20 years ago, he said.  “Our inability to anticipate events, so prevalent then, is still with us today; and our recurrent failure to understand with whom, and with what, we are dealing,” he stated.  More alarmingly, the United Nations made the mistake of believing what was complicated politically must also be complicated morally, when it was not.  That all sides committed crimes was true, but that did not mean all sides were equally guilty.

Without respect for the United Nations, further massacres would likely be perpetrated, he said.  At the very least, the Organization must be resolute, undivided and clear about its intention.

Statements before Vote

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation), stressing that the Council was meeting in memory of all the victims of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, sought a moment of silence in the Chamber.  Resuming his intervention, he said the Russian Federation had consistently called for the investigation of crimes committed against all ethnic communities during the conflict in the Balkans.  Therefore, the world had the important task of building greater peace, reconciliation and stability in the region commemorating the Dayton Peace Process.  His country agreed to a commemorative resolution based on the imperative of moving forward.  However, the British draft had been presented in a way that sought to place the blame on one community.  The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and beyond had reacted to the draft very painfully.  The role of the Council was to strengthen international peace and security; let historians judge events and tribunals deliver verdicts.  Adopting a destructive document at such a time would be counterproductive, and he urged the sponsors not to put it to a vote.  Otherwise, the Russian Federation would be obliged to vote against it.  That stance however did not in any way diminish his country’s sensitivity to the suffering and pain of victims of the conflict in the Balkans.

LIU JIEYI (China) said it would be against the principle of fostering national reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina if the Council were to vote on a draft that did not enjoy consensus.

PETER WILSON (United Kingdom) said that that draft was balanced, had made clear that crimes were committed on all sides, supported reconciliation and called for everyone to learn from the past.  He stressed how much work had been done to put together a text that gained consensus.  The hard difference that remained, on whether the crimes could be labelled genocide, was a determination that had been made in many bodies and could not be retracted.

Statements after Vote

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) recounted her disbelief at the events in Srebrenica when it occurred.  “This was a singular horror.  It was genocide,” she stressed, noting that it was a fact reiterated by subsequent forums.  Russia’s veto was heart-breaking for the victims’ families and represented another stain on the Council.  She described the grisly remains of genocide that could be found at the scene long afterwards.  Lessons must be learned and the perpetrators must be punished.  She compared deniers of genocide at Srebrenica to Holocaust deniers, as the refusal to recognize such crimes not only hurt victims, but also reconciliation itself.  “So long as the truth is denied, there can be no meaningful reconciliation,” she added, reiterating that Russia’s veto was a denial of a well-established fact.  Only by acknowledging the genocide and figuring out why it was not prevented could such horrors be prevented in the future.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) regretting the veto, said that the Russian Federation had hampered reconciliation by denying the past.  “Justice is the cornerstone of reconciliation and peace,” he stressed.  Despite the failure of the draft today, he called on the Council to keep working for reconciliation, as it was a common responsibility.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said his country strongly condemned the crime of genocide committed in Srebrenica.  Seventy years after the collapse of fascism, acts of genocide continued to be perpetrated around the world, which called into the question the efficacy of existing mechanisms.  Venezuela abstained because the text sought to single out one particular community for blame and contained elements that did not enjoy consensus among Council members.  Furthermore, the draft did not enjoy the support of leaders and peoples who were entrusted with strengthening peace and reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

JOÃO IAMBENO GIMOLIECA (Angola) said his country did not dispute the nature of the crimes committed in Srebrenica and strongly condemned them.  However, it believed the text should have taken into account the pain and suffering all of the victims of the conflict in territories that would become the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Furthermore, Angola expected the draft resolution to help the cause of peace and reconciliation in the region.  For those reasons, his country decided to abstain.

General Statements

MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF (Chad) said the international community needed to remember that genocide had been committed in Srebrenica, which would continue to weigh heavily on its conscience.  The reasons for the abandonment of the people of Srebrenica had not been fully debated and the proper lessons drawn.  The international community needed to constantly evaluate its means of action with a focus on prevention.  The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina remained fragile, where reconciliation rested on justice.  Tolerance of diversity was critical to reconciliation, he said, adding that the only way to prevent the recurrence of horrors was to remember them.  Therefore, it was unfortunate that a veto was cast against the resolution.

DINA KAWAR (Jordan), regretting that the draft resolution could not be adopted today, said that it was important not to sweep such a tragedy under the carpet.  It would never have happened if the United Nations had acted effectively, and lessons must be learned so that such a tragedy never happened in the future.  A key lesson was the need for an early warning mechanism for genocide combined with prevention through diplomacy.  Such mechanisms were useless unless the Council was also able to act and if peacekeeping missions were not supported in carrying out their mandates.  She encouraged universal accession to anti-genocide instruments, as well as action against incitement to violence.  She also appealed for support to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to complete its work in the effort to prevent impunity and for united action to keep mass crimes from occurring again.

KAYODE LARO (Nigeria) called for reflection on how such crimes could be prevented from ever happening again.  The Council and the international community must unite to prevent it.  Developing institutions needed to predict and prevent genocide were crucial.  An international contingency plan that could be carried out in the case of a crisis should also be considered, and impunity must be resolutely addressed in relevant cases all over the world.  He welcomed the “Human Rights Up Front” initiative, as well as the activities of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and related officials, calling for more frequent briefings by them to the Council.  He finally welcomed international commemorations of the tragedy in Srebrenica.

ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) deeply regretted the veto of the resolution, which he said was a double step backwards in the Council’s efforts to prevent mass atrocities.  He stressed that the purpose of the meeting was to honour the victims and to discuss how to prevent such a genocide from every happening again.  Recalling work in the United Nations that had been done to try to prevent future mass crimes and ensure the respect for human rights, he said his country was supporting all such efforts.  The most important progress was occurring in Bosnia and Herzegovina itself as it worked towards reconciliation and European integration.  In that regard, he welcomed what he called the future-oriented perspective of most leaders in the country.

Mr. DELATTRE (France) welcoming the commemorations of the Srebrenica massacre, both to honour the victims and work to prevent future atrocities, stressed that such massacres represented collective failures.  Prevention must make up the core of United Nations endeavours.  He said that prevention encompassed early warning and acting upon such warnings, as well as holding perpetrators accountable for crimes.  Noting advances in those areas, he recognized, however, that there was still impotence in the face of tragic situations, such as Syria.  In order to allow the Council to exercise its responsibilities in such critical areas, his delegation had proposed that the permanent members renounce usage of the veto in the case of mass crimes.  He reiterated his regret over the Russian Federation’s veto of today’s text and the refusal to recognize the truth about the genocide, and stressed that the text was meant to advance reconciliation in the Balkans.  Welcoming progress in that region, he said he would like to see all European countries working in together toward a peaceful and prosperous future.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), conveying the condolences of his country and people to the families of victims of the massacres in Srebrenica, said the Council needed to be firm in its condemnation of the genocide committed there.  The draft resolution made a serious and substantive contribution to the cause of commemoration, as well as peace and reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  However, it was unfortunate that the resolution could not be adopted.  The United Nations had made progress towards preventing a recurrence of such tragedies.  However, divisions in the Council would be counterproductive.  Malaysia would continue to support peace and reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the belief that the horrors of the past must be fully and honestly acknowledged.

Mr. LIU (China) said maintenance of peace, stability, development and coexistence in Bosnia and Herzegovina was vital to the well-being of the wider region. On the twentieth anniversary of the Dayton Accords, the international community must take a forward-looking approach, while pondering the causes of the tragedy in Srebrenica.  China had always respected the sovereignty and independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the international community needed to respect the choices made by the people there to establish lasting peace and stability.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) said the Council was entrusted with preventing crimes such as those committed in Srebrenica within existing mechanisms and of pondering ways of ensuring more effective prevention.  To that end, the international community must work to uphold the principles of the responsibility to protect and also look to other mechanisms, such as the “Human Rights Up Front” initiative, the International Criminal Court, United Nations Criminal Tribunals and the Special Representatives of the United Nations Secretary-General.  He reiterated the call that permanent Council members should voluntarily refrain from exercising the veto to prevent a paralysis of the Council in the face of mass atrocities.

Mr. GIMOLIELA (Angola) expressed hope that painful lessons from the past would help prevent tragedies in the future through greater efforts to prevent conflict.  He paid tribute to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and welcomed progress in that country and the broader region.  States, he acknowledged, had the responsibility to protect their own populations and the international community had a responsibility to step in when States could not do that.  Peacekeeping missions must be empowered with appropriate mandates in protection contexts.

NIDA JAKUBONE (Lithuania) conveyed sympathies to the survivors of the atrocities of Srebrenica and stressed that it must be never allowed to happen again.  She condemned the genocide and stressed that crimes could not be denied.  In that context, she regretted the Russian Federation’s veto.  She also called for more to be done to ensure accountability for the crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to help victims recover.  Globally, the responsibility to protect must not remain a paper concept.  However, far too often, the lack of political will interfered.  She called on all permanent Council members to refrain from the use of the veto in the face of mass atrocities.  Welcoming progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she called on the Council to support such efforts.

Mr. WILSON (United Kingdom) expressed outrage at the Russian Federation’s veto of the draft resolution, as the text did not point fingers of blame, was balanced and supported reconciliation.  Reconciliation required recognition of the fact that genocide had been committed.  “Denial does not make the facts go away,” he stated, stressing the counter-productivity of not recognizing the truth, in addition to the pain that such denial caused victims.  Twenty years on from Srebrenica, there were many more tools to predict genocide.  But, early warning was not sufficient if it was not accompanied by early action.  The consequences of not acting in Srebrenica still haunted the Organization; action must be taken on crises that were taking place around the world today.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) joined in remembering the victims of what he called the Srebrenica genocide.  Noting that the situation on the ground in Bosnia and Herzegovina was now very different, he, nevertheless, encouraged all stakeholders to walk the path of reconciliation together.  The Council had a duty to remember the past in order to do everything possible to avoid a repeat of history.  Better mandates that included effective protection was necessary and it was also clear that the Council must be more active in trying to prevent violent conflict before it began.  Most importantly, Member States must have to live up to the Charter commitments they took on as a condition of joining the United Nations, irrespective of their situation.  “This is fundamental to our common and shared humanity.”  He regretted that today’s resolution was not adopted due to the exercise of the veto.  The outcome once more demonstrated that it was critical to find new ways for the Council to reach agreement and take action.

Making a further statement on comments by other delegations, Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation), on a procedural note, said several speakers had taken the floor twice, with the representative of France not even having explained his vote in the first intervention.

Some delegations, including those from the United States and the United Kingdom, had distorted the position of the Russian Federation despite the clarity of his earlier statement.  Speaking of anniversaries, why was the fortieth anniversary of the end of the war in Viet Nam not observed, he asked.  There were atrocities committed there such as the carpet bombing in Hanoi and the massacre in My Lai.  Nor was there commemoration of or a Council resolution on the tenth anniversary of illegal invasion of Iraq in which millions perished.  “Your humanism is something that can be turned on and off at will depending on political convenience,” he said.

In response, Ms. POWER (United States) said every country and every people should grapple with their history, which was critical to national reconciliation. The Russian representative’s intervention suggested that his country sought to deny the genocide in Srebrenica and distract international attention.

Mr. WILSON (United Kingdom) said the commemoration of Srebrenica anniversary by the Council was entirely appropriate because the United Nations was fully involved in peace, stability and reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In response, Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said he would refrain from commenting on the tirades made by the representatives of the United States and United Kingdom in view of the solemnity of the occasion.

For information media. Not an official record.