Washington, 18 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A UN spokesman says the organization welcomes the Dutch government's report into the Srebrenica massacre and that peacekeeping reforms have already been enacted in response to the incident.
Spokesman Farhan Haq told RFE/RL today that UN officials still need to examine the entire report, which runs thousands of pages, but that they are pleased at the ongoing scrutiny into the incident in Srebrenica in 1995.
"The Srebrenica issue was a significant tragedy and in addition to what the UN did it's good to see that some national governments are trying to make sure that they can get to the bottom of what happened, what went wrong and to rectify it," Haq said.
More than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims are believed to have died after Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica in July 1995. The town had been designated a safe haven, but the small contingent of Dutch peacekeeping forces stationed there offered little resistance after its requests for help were denied.
The United Nations commissioned its own reports in 1999 examining peacekeeping failures in Srebrenica and Rwanda. In the case of Srebrenica, it found flaws in the command structure of the UN peacekeeping department.
Haq recalled that the authors of the UN report also faulted the UN Security Council for failing to provide a clear mandate to peacekeepers on when to use military force to protect civilians.
"The Secretary-General's report from 1999 made very clear that if you give UN peacekeepers a mandate such as the one we had with the safe areas, a mandate to protect civilians, you also have to provide them with the means to actually fulfill that mandate," Haq said.
The peacekeeping failures in Bosnia and Rwanda -- where UN peacekeepers also failed to stop a massacre in 1994 -- have prompted changes in the rules of engagement for UN-authorized forces.
For example, the Security Council faced another peacekeeping dilemma in the summer of 1999 when violence threatened to unravel East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia. Instead, the Council authorized a force led by Australia which brought an end to the violence against East Timorese by pro-Indonesian militias.
Haq, the UN spokesman, said East Timor gave an important sign of change in way the UN peacekeeping apparatus approached crises.
"There has been some better news in some recent crises. In 1999 when violence broke out in East Timor, Australia took charge of a multinational force -- INTERFET -- that was designed to put a halt to the violence and they were able to move on the ground before you had a full-fledged UN force go in there," he said.
Two years ago, the UN Secretariat commissioned another report, this time led by former Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, aimed at examining UN peacekeeping. The Brahimi panel recommended sweeping reforms in the way peacekeeping programs are conceived and carried out.
Some of these are under way, including increased numbers of personnel at UN headquarters authorized to communicate with the tens of thousands of peacekeepers deployed worldwide.
Brahimi himself is the UN special envoy to Afghanistan and has taken a cautious approach to introducing peacekeepers to the country. For the moment, an international security assistance force authorized by the Security Council is deployed only in the Kabul area although Brahimi has recently called for its expansion to other major cities.
The full text of the UN's 1999 report on the Srebrenica peacekeeping failure can be found at: www.un.or/peace/srebrenica.
The full text of the 2000 report on UN peacekeeping from a panel led by Lakhdar Brahimi can be found at: www.un.org/peace/reports/peace_operations.