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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 11/18/19

Contemporaneous US Government consultations were strangely silent on "Srebrenica Genocide"

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Recently declassified US government documents contemporaneous with Srebrenica events in July of 1995, contrary to expectation, contain no hint that an unfolding war crime of genocidal magnitude was on the radar of high government officials and intelligence and other agencies. At the November 1995 Bosnian peace conference in Dayton, Ohio, four months after the fall of Srebrenica, neither a Srebrenica massacre of huge proportions nor genocide were subjects of deliberation. There was speculation in the New York Times on October 29, 1995 , on the eve of the peace conference, that a "reconstruction of the fall of Srebrenica and the ensuing massacres, based on survivors' accounts, NATO and United Nations documents and interviews in Bosnia, Serbia, Washington and New York, leaves little doubt about what happened" and that consequently "the question of Serbian accountability promises to haunt the Bosnian peace talks that are to begin Wednesday at an Air Force base in Ohio." However, that prediction was not borne out by the peace conference proceedings. The issue of Srebrenica as a place of great suffering for Bosnian Muslims was not even raised by President Alija Izetbegovic, nor was any effort made by the Bosnian Muslim delegation to extract concessions on account of it. Indeed, an analysis of Bosnian Muslim reports on the fall of Srebrenica and its aftermath reveals that, for almost a year after the event, they were strangely reticent about referring to these events in the dramatic terms to which the international public became accustomed later.

With the notable exception of the Hague Tribunal, which reacted to Srebrenica events almost contemporaneously (more about that later), in the political and policy-making circles which in July of 1995 must have followed attentively developments on the ground in Bosnia, before August 4, 1995, the day the Croatian Operation Storm operation against Krajina Serbs was initiated, there was no explicit recognition that anything extraordinary had occurred. This timeline raises important questions. What triggered the precocious reaction of ICTY, which did not even have an intelligence infrastructure and aerial surveillance apparatus at its disposal? What accounts for the tardy (and in the context of the just initiated Croatian offensive, with its massive violations of humanitarian law, politically very suspicious) reaction of US government agencies, which certainly did have the means to follow ground events in real time?

The Clinton Library has recently released a number of declassified documents containing notes of high level interagency staff meetings, presidential conversations, and policy papers pertaining to the conflict in Bosnia in 1995. Declassified released documents pertaining to their perception of the situation in Eastern Bosnia in July and August of 1995 are of particular interest for Srebrenica research. They shed light on the official assessment of events as they unfolded in that war theater and give clues about policy makers' objectives and level of awareness or concern about specific developments on the ground.

The main topics of concern and policy analysis in these documents can be summarized thus:

  • Unilateral v. multilateral Bosnian arms embargo lift;

  • French proposal to retake Srebrenica after its July 11 fall to Serbian forces (never "taken seriously," according to US UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright);

  • Concern that the French might pull out of the Western coalition on Bosnia, leading to a domino effect;

  • Fear of a complete or partial UNPROFOR withdrawal from Bosnia;

  • Effort to write off Srebrenica and shift focus to Gorazde and securing Sarajevo from anticipated Serb attack; and

  • Laying the groundwork for a political settlement of the Bosnian conflict.

In the bundle entitled "Documents concerning genocide ," there are several dozen documents about the situation in Eastern Bosnia, dating mostly from July and August of 1995. Relatively few of them contain references to Srebrenica, and while in some there are references to human rights violations, contrary to what the title implies there are no allegations of genocide. More documents on the same subject can be found in the Clinton Digital Library, Bosnian Declassified Records .

What follows is a brief review and discussion of these documents. Items cited are from "Documents concerning genocide," with page numbers.

In his July 13, 1995, telephone conversation with French President Jacques Chirac, US President Bill Clinton does not make reference to major atrocities or human rights violations following the Serb takeover of Srebrenica. Rather, he argues against Chirac's proposal to militarily retake Srebrenica.

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Stephen Karganovic is the president of the Srebrenica Historical Project.  He also writes for Strategic Culture Foundation.

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