In 1995 an estimated 20,000 unarmed children, babies and adults were brutally tortured and shot by the Serbian military into mass graves in, and around, the UN promised “safe area” of Srebrenica and Zepa. One-hundred and seventeen unarmed UN Peacekeepers were also murdered by the Serbian military.
On Srebrenica’s anniversary speeches will be made. Tears will be shed. Commentary will be published. Hypocrisy will be heavy. The promise we made to those murdered, and the loved ones who survived, was that Srebrenica would be remembered by never being repeated. Senator McCain is correct shame for the ongoing slaughter of children in Syria should also be present in the White House on July 11th as Srebrenica is remembered.
In 1999 the UN Secretary General released a searingly honest report, The Fall of Srebrenica, detailing the horrific failures by the international community. The sum is this: moral judgments are imperative to both recognize evil and take decisive action to stop evil by military force when necessary. The leadership of the international community, including America, failed to make the moral judgments and commitment of forces necessary to stop the evil in Srebrenica.
Is it too much to ask that the White House contemplate these lessons, paid for by the lives of over 20,000 innocent unarmed children, adults and peacekeepers, in America’s response to Syria?
The Obama Administration would be well-advised to read the entire Srebrenica report. Over one-hundred pages, the report is dense with failures and lessons-to-be-learned. The six most important lessons are being repeated right now by the Obama Administration. Never again:
1. Make false peace-agreements with “unscrupulous and murderous” regimes;
2. Fail to recognize evil when confronted with it;
3. Fail to make moral judgments necessary to use military force when necessary to halt evil;
4. Deploy unarmed peacekeepers as cover for diplomatic failure to commit military force;
5. Pretend to “keep the peace” and apply rules of peacekeeping when there is no peace to keep;
6. Forget the promise to honor innocent lives lost at Srebrenica by never repeating the failures that made this slaughter possible.
How many Syrian children will be massacred, tortured, or shot trying to cross the border holding their mothers’ hands on Srebrenica’s anniversary when we promised "the only meaningful and lasting amends we can make… is to do our utmost not to allow such horrors to recur."
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) is a lone voice of leadership and courage. Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s response remains weak and confused. Vice President Joe Biden, a man of courage who once stood shoulder to shoulder with Senator McCain on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in the Balkans has been largely silent.
On July 11th all our children are Bosnian and all our children are Syrian. That is the most important lesson of Srebrenica. Why is President Obama breaking America’s promise of the Srebrenica Lessons to Syria’s children and where is Mitt Romney’s response?
Handrahan is a professor at American University’s School of International Service. She serves on UN's Inter-Agency Standing Committee (ISAC) working groups on humanitarian response and worked for UNHCR in the Balkans and Chad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.