March '12

For Sarajevo

Why the image came into my head, I cannot be so sure. It was of an old man, his noble face, stood proud, contrasted against the black night sky. A sea of candle-like flashlights stretched beyond and there were many tears. It was Lillehammer 1994 and the face belonged to that of Juan Antonio Samaranch at the closing of the winter Olympics - an emotional scene as people’s thoughts turned to the citizens of Sarajevo. A city where, just ten years before, a beautiful Olympics had taken place had now been turned into a place of war and genocide. The Zetra figure-skating centre where Torvill and Dean had performed their beautifully romantic Bolero had now been reduced to rubble by shelling and mortar-fire. Sarajevo, where people from all nations had gathered together to bring joy and entertainment, was now being ripped apart as people died, Innocents killed by snipers, as they searched for bread or went to fetch water, victims of a policy of ‘ethnic cleansing’, genocide, declared by Serbians against Bosnian Muslims, their Yugoslavian brothers, their human brothers - all part of a wider brutal conflict in the former Yugoslavia as that nation exploded with Serbs, Bosnians, and Croats taking up arms against each other.

And as all nations came together again in Lillehammer, the atrocities somehow seeming the more horrific, more real, for happening in a place they had visited, amongst a people they had known, I recall the overriding message was that this should never be permitted to happen again. Never again would the world’s powers stand-by and watch as they had in Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, of which Sarajevo was the capital.

Now some 18 years later, in a so-called more developed world, sat in the comfort of my living room, I am watching scenes of destruction in Syria – the shelling of more Innocents in Homs as the world, once again, stands-by and watches.

Why should this be? How can this be?

A few weeks before, the United Nations tried to vote on a resolution to call on Syria to cease such hostilities, only for the resolution to be vetoed by China and Russia. And the failure of the UN to act has been seen by some as a green light to the regime of Bashar al-Assad to increase its bombardment, to now act as it wants with no adequate threat of action against them.

It is easy to blame the actions of China and Russia on either commercial reasons, or on grounds of self-interest lest they fear they may also wish to conduct similar action within their own borders in the future. However, this is perhaps too easy against a background coming just a few months after the Libyan conflict, where these same nations still felt tricked into agreeing to the UN no-fly zone over Libya. Intended for the protection of civilians – on both sides - the Chinese and the Russians (along with others) saw the subsequent actions of NATO as an abuse of this resolution, primarily focused instead on an aim to overthrow the regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi. So, would the citizens of Homs (and indeed, Innocents of other future areas of oppression and conflict that will occur in the world) have been better served if the rhetoric and actions of the Western politicians in the Libyan conflict had been less about helping the rebels and more about the protection of civilians; if it had been more about first establishing a peace and, thereafter, negotiating a lasting, peaceful, diplomatic settlement – is that not the very purpose for which the UN was established?

Why did the Syrian resolution recently sought call for the removal of Assad? Why not just the protection of civilians? Hubris of Western politicians still congratulating themselves following the Libyan conflict, perhaps?

So what does this mean for the future? For the UN’s ability to take action to prevent further scenes of genocide and mass killing around the world? To carry out the main purpose for why it was established – to stop wars and to promote dialogue; that is, to find the ultimate utopian aim, every beauty queen’s dream - world peace!? For, just as in Cormac McCarthy’s novel ‘The Road’ we know that amongst all the good of which mankind is capable, man is always also able to perpetrate alarming barbaric acts against his fellow man.

Of course, the failure of action by the UN is as a result of a process that is political and from issues that are political. In a true democracy there should be a separation of powers – a government that is separate and does not interfere with the judiciary, the judges and the courts, which should be independent of the politicians.

And that is the fundamental flaw with the UN. Established so many years ago after the Second World War, it is an organization unfortunately operated under the will of the political considerations of its member states, particularly those sitting on the Security Council holding the power of veto, where self-interest will always come to the fore. So, often on the important issues for which its very existence was created, where its assistance is urgently needed, the UN is deadlocked and incapable to act.

There is also the International Criminal Court, which during the Libyan conflict issued warrants for the arrest of Gaddafi and others in his regime for crimes against humanity. Why has this court yet to issue warrants against the Syrian regime (as at the date of the penning this column)? And it is interesting to note, that even in the case of Libya, the warrants for Gaddafi’s arrest were only issued after the UN resolution had been passed. Could it be that the International Criminal Court is not independent and will only act where political masters at the UN direct it to do so?

Should the UN become independent to avoid a future of inaction, of deadlock? Should the world have some form of international judiciary, independent of any political masters, which can order its police force, an international army of peace-keepers with their Pale-Blue helmets perhaps, into areas where it determines it is needed to protect the citizens of the world, to protect the Innocents? With no need for political resolutions, no vetoes, the peacekeepers could be in Homs already! But what chance, the global leaders voting such a derogation of power, to make a change to prevent us having to stand-by and watch another terrible atrocity elsewhere in the world?

As the people of Homs ask why we do not help them, as millions around the world watch with horror at the atrocities being committed there, we do ask, ‘Why have our international institutions become so powerless?’ And so, eighteen years later, the world does stand-by and watch Sarajevo happen again…..and, if a change is not made, we will most certainly also have to endure to watch, helpless, as it happens again elsewhere in the future?

With the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ now over a year old, a time that started full of such hope, naïve perhaps, for the future, has now been replaced by the reality of a Libya and a post-Mubarak Egypt with an increased prevalence of al-Qaeda and fractured leaderships. And with the war drums frighteningly now beating and increasing in volume for action against Iran lest it develop a nuclear capability, it is little wonder that tensions in the region are escalating and that Israel, in particular, should now be feeling increasingly vulnerable. So, the incapability of the UN to act and resolve such issues of conflict around the globe is real cause for alarm and you cannot help but feel that the scenes in Syria are just the tip of the iceberg, that somehow worse is yet to come. What chance, one of the world’s leaders will make a stand, a stand really worthy of a Nobel peace prize, to stand up for the future of the citizens of the world and make a change, to give us an international organization that really works to prevent future conflicts, to ensure peace.

They should do it for Sarajevo, they should do it for Homs, they should do it for all the Innocents.


The views expressed herein are entirely the author’s opinion and should not be treated as fact.

Go back