July 2015 Monthly Forecast


Srebrenica Anniversary

Expected Council Action

In July, the Council is expected to hold a meeting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Briefers may include Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

The Council may adopt a resolution.


Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), was designated by the Security Council as a “safe area” during the country’s 1992-1995 war. The Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) maintained a siege of the enclave during much of the war, which came under the protection of the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) beginning in April 1993. In July 1995, the BSA launched an offensive against the enclave, seizing a number of UN observation posts before entering the town of Srebrenica on 11 July. Around 20,000 Bosnian Muslims fled to the UN contingent’s headquarters at Potočari, located north of the town, coming under Bosnian Serb artillery fire on the way. Meanwhile, an estimated 15,000 Bosniak men gathered to the northwest of the town, whence they would try to cross Bosnian Serb lines and make their way through the forest to Bosnian government-controlled territory 50 kilometres west in Tuzla.

The ensuing days saw the killing of an estimated 8,000 Bosnian men by Bosnian Serb forces. At the UN base at Potočari, men were separated from women and children and later executed. Thousands died during the attempted escape through the forest while coming under Bosnian Serb fire or were killed in mass executions after surrendering. Most were buried in mass graves and later reburied in more dispersed sites to hide the crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice would later determine that the mass murder at Srebrenica amounted to an act of genocide.

The UN and the Security Council both came under heavy criticism for the Srebrenica massacre. The Dutch peacekeepers who had been assigned to protect the town were criticised for  not defending the enclave from the Bosnian Serb advance and for ordering all the men who had sought refuge at Potočari out of the compound and handing them over to the BSA. A reluctance to use force and a series of errors led to delays by the UN in approving requests from the Dutch commander at Srebrenica for NATO air strikes against the BSA, which started shelling the “safe area” on 6 July. When NATO airstrikes finally occurred on 11 July, they were limited to dropping only two bombs.

Greater responsibility for the events at Srebrenica, however, lies with the Council and the international community more broadly because of the lack of political will during the war to confront the Bosnian Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing.  A significant part of the problem had been the resort to the untested concept of a “safe area”. Srebrenica was the first location designated as a “safe area” on 16 April 1993, when the Council adopted resolution 819. Subsequently, the Council adopted resolution 824, expanding the safe-area designations to Sarajevo, Tuzla, Žepa, Goražde and Bihać. Though the UN Secretariat advised that effectively protecting these safe areas would require 34,000 additional troops, the Council authorised only 7,600 additional peacekeepers in resolution 844. In July 1995, the Dutch contingent in Srebrenica numbered 450 peacekeepers. They were lightly armed and therefore no match for the BSA’s artillery and tanks.

In addition to failing to provide the safe areas with a credible military deterrent, the Council resolutions, though adopted under Chapter VII, left unclear whether UN troops could use force to defend the zones and population from attack or only in self-defence. Thus it was left up to the Secretariat and UNPROFOR’s commander to interpret how they should protect the enclaves. The tragedy at Srebrenica became a classic example of the Council’s failure to match mandates with the means to fulfil them. It also demonstrated the risks of deploying a peacekeeping mission into areas of open conflict.

The Council later sought a full investigation into violations committed at Srebrenica, Žepa, Banja Luća and Sanski Most in resolution 1034. Nearly a year later, in a 10 October 1996 presidential statement, the Council condemned obstruction of the investigations, and requested the Secretary-General to keep it regularly informed on the matter. The issue of the investigation remained on the Council’s “Tentative Forecast of Work” for the next ten years, though it seems it was never revisited.

A self-critical report on Srebrenica was produced by the UN in 1999, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 53/35. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who had been the head of UN peacekeeping at the time, gave strong backing for an assessment of UN actions in the context of the tragedy. This report documented the decisions and events from the creation of the safe area policy in 1993 to the eventual genocide.

Key Issues

The Council is expected to commemorate those who lost their lives at Srebrenica, and to reaffirm its determination to prevent genocide. A key issue is how to do this in a resolution amidst the sensitivities and divisions in BiH.

Reflecting on the failures of the Security Council and the UN that led to the massacre in a Council-proclaimed “safe area” is an additional issue.


The Council may adopt a resolution that:

Holding the commemoration without adopting a resolution is another option.

Council and Wider Dynamics

A plan to adopt a Council resolution to mark the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide is a very sensitive issue within BiH as well as Serbia. Since the war, BiH continues to face divisions along ethnic lines. The president of Republika Srpska—the predominantly Bosnian Serb entity of BiH—has criticised the planned resolution and reportedly intended to ask Russia to veto it. (On BiH issues, Russia usually supports the positions of Republika Srpska.) In initial discussions on the text, Russia and China have apparently expressed opposition to a resolution.

Some members see adopting a resolution on Srebrenica as a logical follow-up to last year’s resolution 2150 on the prevention of and fight against genocide to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The UK has taken the lead in the Council on drafting a resolution. The 17-member Preparatory Committee for the Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide in New York includes Council members Chile, France, Jordan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Sign up for SCR emails

Security Council Resolutions
16 April 2014 S/RES/2150 This was a resolution calling on all states to prevent and fight against genocide, and other serious crimes under international law, reaffirming the principle of responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and underscoring the importance of taking into account lessons learned from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, during which Hutu and others who opposed the genocide were also killed.
21 December 1995 S/RES/1034 This resolution condemned the violations of humanitarian law and human rights in Bosnia-Herzegovina and stated the need to investigate these violations rights.
12 July 1995 S/RES/1004 This resolution demanded that Bosnian Serb forces cease their offensive and withdraw from Srebrenica.
18 June 1993 S/RES/844 This resolution authorised the reinforcement of UNPROFOR.
6 May 1993 S/RES/824 This resolution established safe areas in Bosnia and related UNPROFOR responsibilities.
16 April 1993 S/RES/819 This resolution established safe areas in Bosnia and related UNPROFOR responsibilities.
Security Council Presidential Statement
10 October 1996 S/PRST/1996/41 In this statement, the Council requested to be kept regularly informed into progress on investigations of violations at Srebrenica.
Secretary-General’s Report
15 November 1999 A/54/549 This report assessed the events dating from the establishment of the safe area of Srebrenica.

Subscribe to receive SCR publications