BBC Home > BBC News

Secrecy still shrouds Srebrenica

22 October 09 23:19 GMT

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has told The Hague he will boycott the start of his trial on Monday. The most serious charge against him is of genocide in the 1995 massacre of 8,000 people at Srebrenica.

Olenka Frenkiel considers whether the trial will air the full facts about what happened at Srebrenica, and set the record straight over the alleged complicity of Western governments.

"The Karadzic trial may well be the last opportunity to examine the issues of Srebrenica at the top level in a forensic setting. That's why it's a very important trial."

Sir Geoffrey Nice was the chief prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the criminal tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

That trial ended without conclusion in 2004 when Milosevic died in jail.

So although Milosevic was charged with genocide for his role in the Srebrenica massacre, his culpability from his base in Belgrade has never officially been proved.

For Sir Geoffrey, four years studying the case raised other unanswered questions.

"The role of what's called the West, the degree to which the West was complicit in the takeover of the enclaves - including Srebrenica. There's no suggestion that the West was aware in advance that there was going to be a massacre, but they may have been aware in advance that there was going to be a takeover because the enclaves were no longer capable of being kept. And the very fact of their knowledge in light of what happened may be an embarrassment that leads to a desire not to allow that detail out."

The prosecutor in the forthcoming trial will set out to prove Karadzic's responsibility for the massacre of around 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica on 11 July 1995.

But will the trial deliver on its wider mandate - to air all the relevant facts so that the victims and their relatives receive the justice international law promises?

Allegations

The former Dutch Defence Minister, Joris Voorhoeve, who watched as his troops, Dutch peacekeepers, capitulated to the attacking Serbs would also like answers to questions which have haunted him for 14 years.

Why were his calls for airstrikes the night before ignored? And why was there no action taken more than a month previously, when - according to Mr Voorhoeve - the Serbs intentions to attack were known?

"I know from intelligence sources that there were already Serb decisions to take the three Eastern enclaves among which was Srebrenica. Those decisions were taken probably in May and June - two months before."

Joris Voorhoeve further alleges that the international community knew the attack was coming.

"Two security council members had knowledge that the attack was coming. I'm not saying they had knowledge the attack would be followed by mass murder. In any case they did not do anything with this knowledge."

Dayton Agreement

After Srebrenica fell the second UN designated safe area, Zepa, fell to the Serbs - its Muslim populations killed or forced to leave.

The map was re-drawn and when a peace deal was signed at Dayton the Republika Srpska was created.

The Bosnian Serbs were allowed to keep the spoils of the Karadzic war.

The man who helped negotiate that peace deal was Richard Holbrooke, the then US envoy to Bosnia. On the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, in 2005, he told a Bosnian reporter:

"Srebrenica is a great tragedy which should not have been permitted to occur. But it did, and I tell you that I was under initial instructions to sacrifice Srebrenica, Gorazde and Zepa, and I felt that was wrong. I look forward to the day when Srebrenica is fully back in the hands of its original inhabitants who are Moslem.'

When asked whether it was the town which was to be sacrificed or the population, he replied "both".

Mr Holbrooke later said he "mis-spoke" - he had not meant to include Srebrenica or Zepa in what he had said.

Newsnight has asked Mr Holbrooke for further clarification and he sent the statement which can be seen on the right.

So why did the European Union, Nato and the United Nations do nothing to prevent the worst massacre of civilians since World War II?

Two weighty reports, by the Dutch government and the UN, examined the failures at Srebrenica. Both claimed they were hampered by the reluctance of governments to provide key documents citing national security.

Redacted documents

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones was political director at the Foreign Office at the time:

"It's not something one regards as a great triumph for one's own efforts or western diplomacy generally, it's a source of grief. We did not get it right. That's clear. Holbrooke knows that too. Something very, very disastrous went very badly wrong, and there were many contributory factors."

Dame Neville-Jones says she was unaware of any advance intelligence warning of the attack, and does not believe there was a secret policy to allow the Serbs to re-draw the map sacrificing Srebrenica in order to end the war.

"It was certainly not part of any British policy and I'm surprised at the implication it was part of American policy, which I doubt."

Sir Geoffrey Nice believes the answers may lie in partly blacked out documents which he saw when prosecuting Slobodan Milosevic, but which the court in The Hague has ruled must remain secret.

"All those interested in the topic need access to the best material and that's been denied them by Serbia in its calculated use of the Yugoslavian tribunals procedures to block production of documents, and then to avoid those documents being made available publicly."

Without these documents in a separate court - the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the victims of Srebrenica and their relatives have failed to win compensation from the Serbian government for the crime.

Secrecy continues to prevent the noblest of the aims of international justice - truth and restitution for the victims.

Related BBC sites

*