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Western Press Review: Lingering Questions On Srebrenica, Iraq's Women, And The Geneva Accord

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 1 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- We begin a review of media coverage today by taking another look at the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which up to 8,000 Muslim men and teenagers under the protection of UN forces were killed by Bosnian Serb troops. A new report entered into evidence at The Hague has highlighted some of the lingering questions and refocused attention on the killings.

Among other topics considered today are the signing of a new guideline for Mideast peace known as the Geneva Accord, efforts to include Iraq's overlooked women in the establishment of a new government, and the prospects for Georgia, as it looks ahead to a new round of elections in January.


In light of a new report entered into evidence at The Hague on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) takes a two-part look at the killing of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serbian forces. IWPR Hague correspondent Emir Suljagic says the new report presents "an extraordinary account of the logistics of systematic murder." But what is "disturbingly absent" are documented cases in which Bosnian Serbs involved in the transportation or killing of these men objected to the proceedings.

"[In] all the files and reports drawn from Bosnian Serb archives, it is hard to find instances of anyone -- military or civilian -- refusing to obey orders," writes Suljagic. And there are no recorded cases of commanders "refusing to order their men to shoot in cold blood." If there were protests, they were simply not reported.

Suljagic says the "vehicle and troop movements needed to kill so many people must have been visible to anyone in the vicinity." Although it is "clearly wrong to suggest that the entire local [Serbian] population was in some way implicated, [it] is hard to credit the claims heard after the war that people there had no idea what was going on."

Some have testified that they feared for their own safety if they refused to take part in the killing. "It is understandable, perhaps, that nobody wanted to be the first to protest," Suljagic says. But now "would be a good time to speak out."


The Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Chris Stephen and Dutch journalist Karen Meirik interview Hans Van Mierlo, the Dutch foreign minister at the time of the Srebrenica killings in July 1995.

One of the biggest questions surrounding events is why two UN employees -- force commander General Bernard Janvier and special representative Yasushi Akashi -- neglected to call for air support to aid the Dutch peacekeepers protecting Muslim refugees at the Srebrenica enclave. Combat jets were available, the authors say.

"Massive air support was ready from NATO if the UN requested it. The Dutch troops in Srebrenica wanted it." But neither Akashi nor Janvier requested it. And without backup, the Dutch peacekeepers' light weapons "were no match for [Serbian] armor."

Authors Stephen and Meirik suggest Van Mierlo believes that if the UN peacekeepers had come from a major power instead of a small country like the Netherlands, they would have had air support. Reports into the killings have blamed all sides -- the Bosnian Serbs, "for carrying out the massacre; the UN for not protecting the enclave; the Dutch troops for not trying harder to protect the civilians; and the units of both sides [for] breaking the UN cease-fire with raids around [the] enclave."

But ultimately, says Van Mierlo, democratic leaders and military men must take responsibility and answer for their failures to the public.


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," Hind Makiya and Sawsan Barak of the Women Waging Peace organization say Iraq's overlooked women must be included in the establishment of a new government in the country. "Iraqi women have a long tradition of higher education, successful careers and involvement in the private and public sectors," they write. "We still have these professional capabilities, but our voice is not heard; on the contrary, it is systematically ignored."

Makiya and Barak say it was "a terrible disappointment when the Coalition Provisional Authority announced the Iraqi Governing Council, which included only three female appointees. Since the murder of one of them, Akila Hashimi, only two women remain. Our frustration deepened when the Council announced the formation of its committee to draft the new constitution: Once again, men only. To date, five deputy minister posts have been set aside for women."

Despite the obstacles, Iraqi women "have lobbied the Coalition Provision Authority and the Governing Council. They have drafted petitions, staged demonstrations and started training women in civic affairs, politics and building peace. Women's groups are opening orphanages, teaching literacy classes and coordinating immunization programs."

The ouster of Saddam Hussein has given great hopes and expectations to many in Iraq. But the authors says establishing a new democracy in the country "will fail if women are not involved."


The Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Thomas de Waal writes from Tbilisi on Georgia's leadership change and an upcoming round of new elections on 4 January. He asks, "Was the sudden overthrow of the old regime a real popular revolution or just a constitutional coup, with one powerful group deposing another?"

De Waal says the good news is that the uprising "was the work of a broad coalition of forces," not led by a single party in a bid to seize power. And opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili is bringing into the government "a totally new kind of elite: they have very little government experience; and many were never members of the Communist Party and speak English as well as they do Russian."

Skeptics say that the methods of the opposition "were more Bolshevik than democratic, as they used street demonstrations [to] take over the country." Georgia is now looking forward to an early January poll "in which there is basically only one real candidate, Saakashvili."

De Waal says, "The rapidity of last weekend's revolution quite possibly saved Georgia from a deadly civil conflict, but it has also put a sudden end to an order that dates back to 1972," when deposed President Eduard Shevardnadze first came to power in a Soviet Georgia.

"The ancient regime was deeply unpopular, but it was also basically the only system that people knew," says De Waal. "Now the country has been launched at breakneck speed into a new era, full of hope, but also wracked by anxiety."


In a contribution to the "Chicago Tribune," Martha Merritt of the Kroc Institute for International Peace at the University of Notre Dame says, "Without a strong social consensus on democratic institutions and a market economy, [and] with heavy pressure from Russia, Georgia has not been able to put weapons-heavy politics and other forms of gangsterism behind her."

Ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze was initially hailed as a democratizer for his work with Russian President Boris Yeltsin during the Soviet collapse and the reunification of Germany.

"Both men had promise and a preference for democracy that soured in the rough-and-tumble post-Soviet world," Merritt says. But they "spent their careers as presidents using every fiber of their considerable political savvy to hang on to power." Now, a "new generation, less idealistic and more sober in their approach to the West, will take over in Georgia. [They] affirm Western-looking priorities, [but] these goals will not be easily achieved."

Merritt reminds us that "a change of power does not guarantee democracy; yesterday's opposition can become tomorrow's despot, whether in Georgia, Russia or Iraq. Our already tumultuous decade recommends a sober assessment of Georgia's current upheaval in government, as well as a continued focus on the means of building democracy instead of just the promise of it."


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is coming under pressure from all sides as an informal peace agreement hammered out between Israeli opposition leaders and Palestinian figures is due to be signed today in Geneva.

A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" by Thorten Schmitz analyzes what he calls the Israeli prime minister's "double dealings." Schmitz says Sharon plays a dubious double role and says: "There are two Sharons: the one that talks and the other that acts. The two have nothing to do with each other, and continually contradict each other.

"Three years ago, Sharon promised an end to the intifada; the very same Sharon, to the consternation of his supporters, speaks of a Palestinian state and promises Israel will not continue to occupy all the land it currently holds.

"The other Sharon, who will be judged according to his deeds, is the old, authentic figure. He claims the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is entirely in accordance with Israel's strategic interests. This view hails back to all past Arab-Israeli wars, which were founded on Israel's profound mistrust of the Arab world."

Schmitz criticizes Sharon's attitude and draws attention to the fact that Israel needs the Palestinians to establish peace. "With this split personality, Sharon is failing to act like a statesman," the commentary concludes.


Writing in France's "Liberation," Jean-Marie Helvig says the Geneva Accord, scheduled to be signed today, may not be the final agreement for Mideast peace, but it has already become a reference text.

It contains not only a hope that was born out of a common effort, it's a potent political tool to combat the extremist propaganda from both camps. The accord demonstrates that peace is possible, that both populations can use the means at their disposal to forge a new course for history.

But what has been created is not only a project promising a shared destiny for the Israelis and Palestinians, it is also an antidote to the anger that the conflict generates in the region. The ill wind of anti-Semitism that has insinuated itself into some European suburbs and schools, generated by the frustrations of some and the manipulations of others, has to some extent been a product of the war waged by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The Geneva Accord is not just another chance for peace, it is also a renewed challenge to those who, in order to settle accounts, seem ready to let the Israelis and Palestinians fight out their differences to the end.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)