Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: UN

Chuckle Muscles Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Monday July 6 2015.


Colman's Column3

More than his Share?


Journalist Stephen Smith called Ken Dodd “the Chuck Berry of comedy, a cussed and self-made pioneer.” Smith interviewed both entertainers and lived to tell the tale.  Ken Dodd had a hit record singing: “The greatest gift that I possess/Is more than my share of happiness”. One cannot help but wonder if Dodd really had his share of happiness. He has never married (being unmarried does not, of course, preclude happiness).

According to proverbial wisdom: “Money cannot buy happiness”. In 1989, Dodd was charged with tax evasion. He was acquitted, but a strange picture of his miserly life emerged. He had never paid the children who featured as Diddymen in his act. He had very little money in his bank account but there was £336,000 in cash stashed in suitcases in his attic. When asked by the judge, “What does a hundred thousand pounds in a suitcase feel like?” Dodd replied, “The notes are very light, M’Lord.”


Joy through Work?

Even at the age of 87, Dodd still follows a punishing work schedule. During the 1960s he earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s longest ever joke-telling session: 1,500 jokes in three and a half hours (7.14 jokes per minute), undertaken at a Liverpool theatre, where audiences were observed to enter the show in shifts. He continues to tour and, despite his age, his shows still frequently do not finish until after midnight.

Another Liverpudlian, John Lennon, sang that happiness was a warm gun but Mark Chapman shot him dead.

Happiness Measures

What is happiness and how can we measure it? Many league tables attempt to compare the performance of different nations. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) defines GDP (gross domestic product)  as “an aggregate measure of production equal to the sum of the gross values added of all resident, institutional units engaged in production”.

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices used to rank countries into four tiers of human development. Sri Lanka moved up six places on the CPI (Transparency International annual  global Corruption Perception Index) to 85th out of 175 with a score of 38 points (compared to 37 the previous year).

Happy Planet

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) concocted the Happy Planet Index in July 2006. The HPI is an index of human well-being and environmental impact. It is not a measure of which are the happiest countries in the world. The index is designed to challenge well-established indices of countries’ development, such as the GDP and the HDI. The GDP is seen as  deficient because the ultimate aim of most people is not to be rich, but to be happy and healthy. The HPI sets out to be a measure of the ecological efficiency of supporting well-being.  Whatever the caveats, the results are still surprising. The 2012 ranking compared 151 countries and the best scoring country for the second time in a row was Costa Rica, followed by Vietnam, Colombia, Belize and El Salvador. Costa Rica is often thought of as a good place to be but El Salvador seems like hell on earth. Sri Lanka comes in at 35, between Switzerland and Iraq.

What Use Is the HPI?

Critics point out that the HPI completely ignores issues such as political freedom, human rights and labour rights. The subjective measures of well-being are suspect. The ecological footprint is a controversial and much criticized concept. The index has been criticised for weighting the carbon footprint too heavily, to the point that US Americans would have had to be universally happy and would have had to have a life expectancy of 439 years to equal Vanuatu’s score in the 2006 index. The highest-ranking OECD country is Israel in 15th place, and the top Western European nation is Norway in 29th place, just behind New Zealand in 28th.

This seems to be a useless kind of index. However, the British Conservative Party cited HPI as a possible substitute for GDP in 2007. The European Parliament lists the following advantages to using the HPI as a measure of national progress:

  • Combines well being and environmental aspects
  • Simple and easily understandable scheme for calculating the index
  • Comparability of results (‘EF’ and ‘life expectancy’ can be applied to different countries)
  • Data online available, although some data gaps remain
  • Mixture of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ criteria; takes into account people’s well-being and resource use of countries

Sri Lanka Unhappier than Sudan?

The UN released the first World Happiness Report on April 1, 2012. It outlined the state of world happiness, causes of happiness and misery, and policy implications. The report presented case studies including one on Bhutan, the first and so far only country to have officially adopted gross national happiness instead of the gross domestic product as the main development indicator.

Denmark comes in at a lowly 111 in the HPI, compared to Haiti’s 79. Nevertheless, Denmark is the happiest country in the world, according to the World Happiness Report 2013, the most recent United Nations happiness study available. Sri Lanka came in at 137, below Mali, Uganda, the Palestinian Territories, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Haiti. Since 1973, the Danes have also topped the European Commission’s Eurobarometer scale, which measures the ‘well-being’ and ‘happiness’ of EU citizens. Its capital city Copenhagen was also named the “world’s most livable city” again earlier this year by the international affairs magazine Monocle for its quality of life.

I have travelled to many places, including Denmark,  and have lived in Sri Lanka for twelve years. I have never been to Sudan (although I did visit their London embassy on business and did not meet any happy people) but I do not think I would be as happy there as I am in Sri Lanka, for all Sri Lanka’s failings. I have never been to El Salvador but I have written about it and researched it. I have traveled around Denmark. I know where I would rather be, whatever about ecological footprints. I lived in Ireland and I lived in the UK. Ireland came tenth in the UN survey. In answers to the simple question: “are you happy? Ireland came in at number one and number two when it comes to having a laugh.

Professor John F Helliwell, of the University of British Columbia edited the UN report, together with. Lord Layard, Director of the Well-Being Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance; and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

The View from the US

A few American commentators do not buy this Scandinavian Utopia thing. Nathan Heller in the New Yorker wrote that  Sweden might mean: “Freedom to follow your talents. Community and coalition-building all around. American life promises liberty, cultural power, and creative opportunity, but by many measures it’s the Swedes who turned this smorgasbord of concepts into a sustaining meal.”However, Heller looks behind the façade and what he discovers makes the HPI look not so silly. Prune out wealth as a factor, and countries like Colombia come out better than in the HPI. Look at  good health, and Denmark falls farther. In the past decade, the proportion of people who live below its poverty line has nearly doubled, to almost eight per cent. Finland may have fine schools, but it is one of the least diverse places on the planet.

Kyle Smith in the New York Post put it more crudely: “So how happy can these drunk, depressed, lazy, tumor-ridden, pig-bonking bureaucrats really be?”

Happy Development

The UN said: “We offer the 2013 World Happiness Report in support of these efforts to bring the study of happiness into public awareness and public policy. This report offers rich evidence that the systematic measurement and analysis of happiness can teach us much about ways to improve the world’s wellbeing and sustainable development.”

More next week on the economic benefits of chuckles.




Reconciliation in Haiti Part 3

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday May 12 2013

Titid – Le Petit Aristide – was hugely popular with poor Haitians and hated by the elite. The case against him has been put by Peter Dailey in the New York Review of Books, Andre Linard and Maurice Lemoine in Le Monde diplomatique. Kim Ives has demolished Dailey’s NYRB articles. My virtual friend, who calls herself Zen Haitian, has challenged Le Monde diplomatique. Paul Farmer has made the case for Aristide in London Review of Books and been supported by Peter Hallward and Brian Concannon.

Linard wrote of Aristide: “He was attacked for setting up an anti-democratic regime and accused of enriching himself through illicit trafficking. The public was divided between three explanations. Some feel they were conned by Aristide in 1990. A slightly less widely shared view is that he was changed by the 1991 coup that ousted him, his exile in the US and return to power in 1994. There are those who saw him as a victim of constraints: ‘se pa fôt li (it’s not his fault)’, they say in Creole, preferring to blame both his entourage and the international community”.

Dailey’s assertion that the “Aristide government’s increasingly authoritarian behavior has left it isolated and condemned by the international community, which suspended crucial foreign aid” was countered thus by Ives: “The ‘international community’, if defined as the majority of the world’s nations, is sympathetic to the Haitian government and disapproving, at the very least, of the Bush administration’s strong-arming. … the majority of the OAS and CARICOM member states have pleaded for the release of the aid and loans to Haiti, held hostage only by Washington’s hostility to Aristide.”

Titid vs. Washington Consensus

Aristide came under fire from those who advocated more enthusiastic compliance with the US and IMF. Ives: “Aristide was proving to be mercurial and uncooperative about privatizations and other neoliberal reforms.”
Brian Concannon: “The ease with which Haiti’s leftist elite and its foreign supporters joined sweatshop owners, Duvalierists and the Bush administration in a crusade to overthrow Aristide says more about the fluidity of their own political commitments than about Haiti’s government. The real cleavage in Haiti has always been not left-right but up-down. When push came to shove, class allegiance trumped any professed commitment to social equality or democracy.”

Military coup

Aristide was overthrown in a military coup September 1991, in which the US and France were heavily implicated. The military’s leader, General Raoul Cedras, led an oppressive regime marked by numerous human rights violations. Both the Organization of America States and the United Nations issued international sanctions against Haiti in response to the coup.
In October 1994, under Bill Clinton, the US military intervened and restored Aristide to power, with a little over a year of his term left to run. Although authorized by the UN, the restoration was basically a US operation. My friend Zen Haitian commented: “He was forced to agree to their structural re-adjustment measures in order to be restored to power– he lost some, but was still able to command the love and respect of a majority of Haitians.”

Another electoral triumph

In November 2000, Aristide was again elected by a landslide. The US froze international aid on specious grounds of electoral fraud. The Haitian government, faced with crippling poverty, was required to pay ever-expanding arrears on its debts, many of them linked to loans paid out to the Duvalier dictatorship and to the military regimes that ruled Haiti with great brutality from 1986 to 1990.

The US State Department ignored repeated opposition attacks against Lavalas and the deadly campaign being carried out by neo-Duvalierist guerrillas. Declassified records now make it clear that the CIA and other US groups helped to create and fund a paramilitary group called FRAPH.

Abduction and exile

Aristide was flown out of the country by the US on 28 February, 2004. Aristide has accused the U.S. of kidnapping and deposing him.

In his book, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, Jeb Sprague focuses on the period beginning in 1990 with the rise of Aristide, and the right-wing movements that succeeded in driving him from power. Sprague traces connections between paramilitaries and their elite financial and political backers, in Haiti and in the US and the Dominican Republic.
Peter Hallward argued that people with – generally tenuous – connections to Aristide’s Lavalas party were probably responsible for around thirty killings in all the years he was in office. Five thousand Lavalas supporters were killed while Aristide was in exile between 1991 and 1994, and fifty thousand deaths have been attributed to the Duvalier dictatorships.

For all its faults, Lavalas remained the only significant force for popular mobilization in the country. No other political figure of the past fifty years has had anything like Aristide’s stature among the urban and rural poor. Class sympathy among Western elites who felt themselves under similar threat, both at home and abroad, goes a long way to explaining the international perception of the Lavalas regime.

– See more at:


Pros and Cons of R2P

Colman's Column3


Louise Arbour, of the International Crisis Group, said that, “The responsibility to protect is the most important and imaginative doctrine to emerge on the international scene for decades.” Anne-Marie Slaughter from Princeton University has called it “…the most important shift in our conception of sovereignty since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.”


The UN General Assembly endorsed the principle of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) in 2005. The Security Council unanimously reaffirmed the principle in Resolution 1674 in 2006. The head of the UNHRC mission to Darfur, Jodie Williams, used it to evaluate the government of Sudan’s performance, finding that the government had “manifestly failed” in its responsibility to protect its citizens. Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon used R2P in relation to their diplomatic efforts to resolve the post-election conflict in Kenya.



The origins of R2P go back to 1993. The then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali appointed Francis Deng, a well-respected former Sudanese diplomat, as his Special Representative on IDPs (Internally Displaced People). As wars became less a matter of conflict between states and more a struggle between forces within states, so the number of internally displaced increased. Remaining within national borders, IDPs were afforded no special international protection of the kind offered to refugees and so they were vulnerable to the sovereign state.



The following principles emerged:


• A state has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.
• The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfil its primary responsibility.
• If the state manifestly fails to protect its citizens and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions and as a last resort, military intervention.



The immediate reason for R2P was the recognition that the international community had failed to respond to the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. Kofi Annan, who was Assistant Secretary-General at the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations at the time of the Rwandan genocide, acknowledged the international community’s failure. When he was Secretary General in 2000, Annan wrote the report We the Peoples. He posed the following questions: “if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica — to gross and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?


There had been much debate about the legality of the NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia in 1999. In late 2001, the Canadian government created the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS).


The ICISS argued that six criteria should guide any form of military intervention:

• Just cause – Is the threat a “serious and irreparable harm occurring to human beings”?
• Right intention – Is the main intention of the military action to prevent human suffering or are there other motives?
• Final resort – Has every other measure besides military invention been taken into account?
• Legitimate authority.
• Proportional means – Are the minimum necessary military means applied to secure human protection?
• Reasonable prospect – Is it likely that military action will protect human life, and are the consequences of this action sure not to be worse than no action at all?



At the third round table meeting of the ICISS in London, the phrase “responsibility to protect” was chosen as a way to avoid the “right to intervene” or “obligation to intervene” doctrines and yet keep a degree of duty to act to resolve humanitarian crises. The ICISS released its report Responsibility to Protect which advocated that state sovereignty is a responsibility, and that the international community could, as a last resort use military intervention to prevent “mass atrocities”.


The phrase did not immediately stick. At the World Summit in 2005, the member states included R2P in the Outcome Document. The next year, in April 2006, the UN Security Council formalized their support of the R2P by reaffirming the provisions of the paragraphs from the World Summit document. Several governments have argued that they did not, in fact, endorse the principle in 2005 and committed themselves only to further deliberation; and members of the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly (Administrative and Budget) resisted the appointment of a special adviser mandated only to develop the ‘concept’ of R2P and build consensus around it.



The committee eventually agreed to the appointment of Edward Luck, but insisted that the phrase R2P be removed from his job title. His surname turned out to be inappropriate. Luck was paid $1 a year for his services. At the UN as an assistant secretary-general, Luck, was primarily involved in conceptualizing, developing and advocating for R2P. From 2007 to 2011, Luck worked at the International Peace Institute, an independent policy research group in New York.


Luck took over as Dean of the Joan B Kroc (she was the third wife of Ray Kroc, who was the CEO of McDonald’s) School of Peace and Studies at the University of San Diego in August 2012. Luck resigned in October 2013 and is suing the University for loss of wages and damage to his reputation, and exemplary damages. His decisions were thwarted by high-level administrators and Provost, Julie Sullivan. She would not let him dismiss a subordinate who was circulating nude pictures. Female staff accused Luck of discriminating against them and being a poor manager. Sorting out Sudan seems simple in comparison to running the Kroc School.


Military interventions in Sierra Leone, Liberia, East Timor and Bosnia did improve the lives of the people there. Other interventions – for example, in Somalia – did not. There has been international disquiet about R2P and it has been widely suggested that it legitimizes non-consensual intervention, potentially without the sanction of the UN Security Council. Some critics of R2P allege that moral outrage and hysteria conceal the true strategic motives of interventions.


India’s UN Ambassador Singh Puri stated that the Libyan case gave R2P a bad name. “Arms were supplied to civilians without any consideration of its consequences, a no-fly zone was selectively implemented only for flights in and out of Tripoli and targeted measures were implemented insofar as they suited the objective of regime change”. The Russian and Chinese governments both issued statements to the effect that in their opinion R2P had been abused by the US as a pretext for regime change and that experience would make them extremely suspicious of any future Security Council resolutions invoking R2P.


Advocates of R2P claim that the only occasions where the international community will intervene in a state without its consent is when the state has abdicated its responsibilities as a sovereign jurisdiction by allowing mass atrocities to occur, or is committing them. There could be a worrying continuum. Interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, though not primarily humanitarian, eroded public support for military action. Some Syrians who oppose President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, remember Iraq and argue that the one thing worse than a cruel dictator is a sectarian civil war.


In his recent Groundviews piece,
Michael Roberts demonstrates that the LTTE tried to engineer foreign intervention in Sri Lanka because of humanitarian concerns about civilian casualties and IDPs. Could US activity against Sri Lanka at UNHRC morph into R2P and attempted regime change?



UN representative visits Sri Lanka IDP camps

This was posted on The Agonist September 19 2009.

B Lynn Pascoe, Under Secretary of the United Nations for Political Affairs, visited the IDP camps and met President Rajapaksa and his ministers.

Commenting on his visit to the north, Mr. Pascoe stated that he was ”impressed by the work done by the Army, the demining teams, the UN staff and the civil society” and that the team also witnessed the rehabilitation work that was underway. He also stated that in Jaffna, they were able to feel that the people were looking forward to getting more opportunities and that there was a feeling that a ”whole era was waiting for them”.

”In the Mannar area, we witnessed crews repairing roads and a school, as well as construction work on a large water reservoir to serve some 2,500 families slated to be resettled next week. We saw work being done in preparing rice fields for planting before the monsoons. We received a briefing and demonstration by the military on progress in clearing mines out of the Mannar Rice Bowl region.

In Jaffna, we visited two IDP camps: (a) The Kopai camp housing about four hundred people uprooted during fighting in the final two months of last year; and (b) the Kaidhely University Hostel, which houses more than 500 people who arrived about a week ago from Manik Farms. Also in Jaffna, we visited a rehabilitation center for former LTTE members, about 150 men and women.

We ended the trip in Vavuniya, at the Manik Farms camp. We witnessed food distribution and had an opportunity to talk to IDPs and camp administrators.”

During the discussions, issues pertaining to the health care services provided to the IDPs, educational facilities including the vocational training were also highlighted.

Secretary, Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms, S. K. Gamlath explained the progress made in the rehabilitation of ex-combatants. He stated that after rehabilitation, some have reintegrated into society, while others have gone overseas for employment arranged under a special rehabilitation programme. He also acknowledged the assistance rendered by the UNICEF in this endeavor.

Director General, Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition, Dr. Ajith Mendis, referred to the improvements and the enhancements that have been made to the existing health facilities provided to the IDPs. He pointed out that the hospitals and the clinics in the welfare centers have been strengthened with additional staff and the drug store has also been supplied with adequate medicines and other medical supplies.

Mr Pascoe was encouraged by what he saw but still had some concerns.

”We have urged the government to take the following steps:

To allow those who have completed the screening process to leave the camps as they choose.

For those remaining in the camps, at the very least, they shouldbe able to leave the camps during the daytime, and to freelyvisit friends and family in other sites.”

Responding to Mr. Pascoe’s observation that International Community has concerns when it hears that resettlement will be done after de-mining is completed, the President said resettlement did depend on the de-mining process. He mentioned that sixteen years after its war, Croatia had still not finished de-mining. “We do not intend taking so much time. I have laid down an initial target of 180 days to resettle at least 70% of the IDPs”. With the new equipment in use, and hopefully more to come, he expected the entire resettlement to be completed by the end of next January. “We have identified areas for resettlement and the people will be sent back as they are cleared”.

On the question of IDPs moving to live with relations outside, the President said that the government had already published advertisements in the media, calling for applications from persons seeking such resettlement. However, only 2000 applications had been received. These notices would be published again and also displayed prominently at the welfare villages.

With regard to freedom of movement outside the relief centers the President said that arrangements are already being made to issue day-passes for IDPs who wish to work outside.

Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, Senior Advisor to the President said that with the experience of 2000 applicants for re-union with relations, and the limited numbers of jobs in the area, it is likely that there will be only a few takers for these day-passes.

Recalling President Rajapaksa’s earlier commendable record on Human Rights, Mr. Pascoe said he acknowledged the need to adapt the role of the security forces, especially after a very long war. President Rajapaksa said the UN must be aware of the changes that had already being initiated at a very early stage after the war.

President Rajapaksa said: “Whether it is the US, China, Britain or any country we are all members of the UN. When the UN says anything about us we take it seriously. Similarly if big countries, try to bully us we will come to the UN about such matters.”

Mr Pascoe said: ”In the end, Sri Lanka is an energetic member of the United Nations, and it is important that we are able to have a constructive dialogue
about our disagreements. The United Nations is here to help, and will do whatever it can to help Sri Lanka move forward. Our commitment is clear, and much remains to be done.”

“This is an opportunity to move beyond simply ending the fighting to solidifying the peace. As the situation currently stands in the camps, there is a real risk of breeding resentment that will undermine the prospects for political reconciliation in the future.”

Mr. Pascoe concluded by telling President Rajapaksa, “You have a better story than is getting out today.”

Reconciliation in Bosnia



I am old enough to recall when Yugoslavia was held up by leftists in the west as a model for how a society and economy could  be run for the benefit of citizens rather than corporations. Yugoslavia experimented  with a type of independent socialism that allowed  workers in state-run enterprises to participate in management. I purchased  a volume Penguin published of  learned essays on worker self-management (sometimes called workers’ control or autogestion) in which socialist intellectuals enthused about Yugoslavia. Autogestion, they believed, was the answer to labour relation problems in the west.

Tito could be seen as a benevolent dictator because he had stood up to Stalin. “Stop sending people to kill me. We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle (…) If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second.” His internal policies successfully maintained the peaceful coexistence of the nations of the Yugoslav federation and  he gained international attention as the chief leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. On 1 January 1967, Yugoslavia was the first communist country to open its borders to all foreign visitors and abolish visa requirements. Croatia became a popular holiday destination and its wine appeared on British supermarket shelves.
Tito’s good reputation survived  the criticisms of dissident Milovan Djilas, who had been regarded as Tito’s natural successor. Slobodan Markovic, a political scientist, derided a wave of Yugonostalgia: “People have forgotten that Tito was a dictator. They remember there was peace and stability, and they forget the violation of human rights. Yugoslavia lived well because it was the only communist country that received enormous US aid and then loans.”

One hundred and twenty-eight countries sent political delegations to Tito’s funeral; those present included the USSR’s Brezhnev, Jimmy Carter’s mother, James Callaghan, Yasser Arafat, Colonel Gaddafi, the Duke of Edinburgh, Nicolae Ceausescu, Erich Honecker. There were four kings, 31 presidents, six princes, 22 prime ministers, 47 foreign ministers. Only five countries, including Pinochet’s Chile and apartheid-era South Africa, stayed away.


After Tito’s death in 1980, the New York Times wrote: ”Tito sought to improve life. … Yugoslavia gradually became a bright spot amid the general greyness of Eastern Europe”.  Tensions between the Yugoslav republics soon emerged and in 1991 the country collapsed into a mayhem of  inter-communal strife and horror. Djilas wrote: “Our system was built only for Tito to manage. Now that Tito is gone and our economic situation becomes critical, there will be a natural tendency for greater centralization of power. But this centralization will not succeed because it will run up against the ethnic-political power bases in the republics. This is not classical nationalism but a more dangerous, bureaucratic nationalism built on economic self-interest. This is how the Yugoslav system will begin to collapse.”


The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was particularly complex and horrific because there were so many parties involved. It was principally a territorial conflict, initially between Serb forces and the national army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was mainly composed of Muslim Bosniaks, and Croatian forces. The population of the  multi-ethnic, multi-faith  Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was 44% Muslim Bosniaks, 31% Orthodox Serbs, 17% Catholic Croats. Serbs set up their own enclave within Bosnia, Republika Srpska, whose army had some 80,000 personnel during the war and  committed war crimes and genocide against Bosnia Muslims and Croats.

Sarajevo and Srebrenica

There is no space here to describe the full complexity and horror of the Bosnian war. Let Sarajevo and Srebrenica stand as specimens. The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, three times longer than the Siege of Stalingrad. There was an average of 329 shell impacts per day during the course of the siege, with a maximum of 3,777 on 22 July 1993. It is estimated that nearly 12,000 people were killed or went missing in the city, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. Snipers killed civilians queuing for water or trying to buy food in the market. Bosniak  homes were ransacked, males taken to concentration camps, women repeatedly raped. UNICEF reported that, at least 40% children in the city had been directly shot at by snipers; 51% had seen someone killed; 39% had seen one or more family members killed; 19% had witnessed a massacre; 48% had their home occupied by someone else; 73% had their home attacked or shelled; and 89% had lived in underground shelters. The Bosnian Government reported a soaring suicide rate by Sarajevans, a near doubling of abortions and a 50% drop in births since the siege began.

In July 1995, at Srebrenica, a  “safe area” under UN protection, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by Serb forces under Ratko Mladić  and massacred.

The genocidal plan was orchestrated by poet-politician Radovan Karadžić, President of Republika Srpska.

Karadžić was accused of directing Bosnian Serb forces to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival of life” in the UN safe area. In addition, he is accused by the ICTY of ordering that UN  personnel be taken hostage in May–June 1995.The Bosniak victims included boys aged under 15, men over the age of 65, women, and reportedly even several babies.

UN failings – to intervene or not to intervene?

Dutch UN soldiers were criticised for failing to protect the Bosniak refugees in the “safe area”. Lieutenant-Colonel Thom Karremans was filmed drinking a toast with  Mladić . Zumra Šehomerovic reported mass rapes. The rapes often took place under the eyes of others and sometimes even under the eyes of the children of the mother. A Dutch soldier stood by and he simply looked around with a  Walkman on his head. He did not react at all to what was happening. It did not happen just before my eyes, for I saw that personally, but also before the eyes of us all. The Dutch soldiers walked around everywhere. It is impossible that they did not see it.”

In 2005, in a message on  the tenth anniversary commemoration of the genocide, Kofi Annan  noted that, while blame lay first and foremost with those who planned and carried out the massacre and those who assisted and harboured them, great nations had failed to respond adequately.  Srebrenica would haunt the UN forever.  In 2004, the International Criminal court ruled that the massacre constituted genocide, a crime under international law.

Jasmin Mujanović argues that persistent fallacies have informed the international community’s attempts to “deal” with Bosnia since (at least) 1991-92. He writes that the war was not “the result of the unbridled and millennial ethnic hatreds of its peoples, but rather the engineered and orchestrated machinations of an unaccountable political elite seeking to secure its political and economic survival in a period of immense social crisis”… Significant elements of the international community advocated a foreign policy based on preserving a vacuous conception of ‘stability’ and ‘unity’ rather than a principled insistence on democratization and human rights. …the international community had sent strong signals to the country’s leadership that an increased role by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) would be a welcome step towards checking some of their growing concerns about the stability of political authority in the country in the post-Tito period.”

Death Toll

There are large discrepancies between estimates of the total number of casualties in the Bosnian war, ranging from 25,000 to 329,000. According to Prof. Steven L. Burg and Prof. Paul S. Shoup: “The figure of 200,000 (or more) dead, injured, and missing was frequently cited in media reports on the war in Bosnia as late as 1994. The October 1995 bulletin of the Bosnian Institute for Public Health of the Republic Committee for Health and Social Welfare gave the numbers as 146,340 killed, and 174,914 wounded on the territory under the control of the Bosnian army. Mustafa Imamovic gave a figure of 144,248 perished (including those who died from hunger or exposure), mainly Muslims. The Red Cross and the UNHCR have not, to the best of our knowledge, produced data on the number of persons killed and injured in the course of the war. A November 1995 unclassified CIA memorandum estimated 156,500 civilian deaths in the country (all but 10,000 of them in Muslim- or Croat-held territories), not including the 8,000 to 10,000 then still missing from Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves. This figure for civilian deaths far exceeded the estimate in the same report of 81,500 troops killed (45,000 Bosnian government; 6,500 Bosnian Croat; and 30,000 Bosnian Serb).”


There were several major massacres during 1995 and NATO made many airstrikes against Bosnian Serb positions supported by UNPROFOR rapid reaction force artillery attacks. On 14 September 1995, the NATO air strikes were suspended to allow the implementation of an agreement with Bosnian Serbs for the withdrawal of heavy weapons from around Sarajevo. On 26 September 1995, an agreement of further basic principles for a peace accord was reached in New York. A 60-day ceasefire came into effect on 12 October, and on 1 November peace talks began in Dayton, Ohio. The war ended with the Dayton Peace Agreement signed on 21 November 1995.

The Dayton Accord was described as a “construction of necessity” the immediate purpose of which  was to freeze the military confrontation, and prevent it  from resuming. There is no space here to go into the intricate juggling to swap territories from one group to another in order to establish the new nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). Many scholars have deemed Dayton an  impressive example of conflict resolution which has turned Bosnia from a basket-case to a potential EU member.

Critics have, however, had problems with the fact  international , unaccountable to BiH’s citizens, to shape the agenda of post-war transition, and decide  punishment for  local political actors. Another perceived flaw is  each ethnic group was discontented with the results. Bosniaks were upset that  human rights issues were ignored  and that Serbian entities were given recognition. Edin Šarčević, of the Bosnian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the current legal structure of the agreement does not abide by the basic principles of international law making the Bosnian territorial and political situation continually unstable and fractious since its implementation.

Truth and Reconciliation

Retributive justice is impossible to apply in a context like Bosnia where so many were involved in the conflict. There are not enough resources to capture and try everyone who committed war crimes. Widespread arrests would reignite conflict. In January 2005, Hajra Catic, of the Mothers of Srebrenica organization, “lost faith” in ICTY’s ability to dispense justice after they sentenced Dragan Jokic, a man she believed was responsible for 3,000 deaths, to only nine years in prison.

Eileen Babbitt wrote about  UN efforts to reintegrate refugees: “they were coming back to communities where they were really, really unwanted. Most of them were coming back to places where they were a majority population and now post-war they are the minority, so another group has literally taken over and moved into their homes, and many of those people are also displaced, traumatized, etc. and they’re not about to simply give up everything and welcome the returning refugees with open arms.”

Reconciliation is hampered by a refusal to face up to the truth because each group has its own narrative. Schools are  strictly segregated and  children learn three different versions of the  war. After many failed attempts, there has still not been a successful truth commission.

On 6 December 2004, Serbian president Boris Tadić made an apology to all those who suffered crimes committed in the name of the Serb people. Croatia’s president Ivo Josipović apologized in April 2010 for his country’s role in the Bosnian War. On 31 March 2010, the Serbian parliament adopted a declaration “condemning in strongest terms the crime committed in July 1995 against Bosniak population of Srebrenica” and apologizing to the families of the victims.


In Bosnia, 88% support the country’s bid for EU membership. Identification with Europe as a supranational community can in Bosnia and Herzegovina become a way to overcome ethnic differences. Poll results show that support for EU membership is strongest in the Muslim community, with 97% in favour, while 85%  of Bosnian Croats support it and 78% of Bosnian Serbs. The EU-initiated processes of institutional engineering and systemic inclusion of minority groups and non-nationalists into policy-making processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina signals an important and historic shift from an ethnocentric citizenship model towards a democratic and inclusive citizenship regime.

Bosnia today

On 25 July 2012 Ban Ki-moon addressed the BiH parliament and noted the progress achieved by Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last two decades, including its transformation from a country which hosted UN peacekeepers to a troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, and from occupying the agenda of the Security Council to successfully serving on the Council. “Led by your priorities and direction, we are working together to create jobs especially for young people, extend social protection for the most vulnerable groups, end the suffering of those enduring protracted displacement, safeguard the environment, tackle discrimination and promote respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

The Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) highlighted the continued marginalization of minority groups, particularly Roma. In a joint opinion issued in June, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UK Foreign Affairs Minister William Hague expressed disappointment at the protracted institutional gridlock in Bosnia that was preventing needed reforms, including ending ethnic discrimination in politics.

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