By Marko Milanovic

Srebrenica massacre; Failure of the UN and the World’s most powerful states

July 12, 2020 - 11:15

What is certainly true is that the international community, including the UN and the world’s most powerful states, failed the people of Bosnia and the inhabitants of Srebrenica specifically.

Much more could have been done to end the bloodshed of the Bosnian conflict. And even in July 1995, the UN and the Dutch peacekeeping battalion deployed in Srebrenica could have done much more to protect the lives of the people in the Srebrenica enclave. These failings are well documented. The UN Secretary-General accepted the UN’s failures. A Dutch government resigned due to the fallout of the Dutch battalion’s passivity during the massacre. The legal responsibility of the Netherlands for the failures of the battalion was also (partly) established by the Dutch Supreme Court.

As for lessons to be learned from Srebrenica, they are the same as for every mass atrocity: that human beings are capable of doing terrible things to one another in the name of ideology, ethnicity, or religion, and that such atrocities happen if we do not have sufficient domestic and international systems of prevention in place. While the Srebrenica genocide was the single worst crime in Europe after World War II, many of its highest-ranking perpetrators have thankfully been prosecuted and punished by the International Tribunal. But international justice remains imperfect, insufficiently resourced, and therefore necessarily selective.

Marko Milanovic is a Professor of Public International Law at the University of Nottingham School of Law

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