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Srebrenica Massacre: As the world pays homage to victims, hypocrisy has become the global norm

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By Gaurav Sharma

Twenty years ago scores of people, mostly young Muslim boys and men from the east Bosnian town of Srebrenica were captured, blindfolded, tied-up and loaded into trucks. Shortly thereafter they were lined up, asked to pray and shot dead with automatic weapons.

Today, the world will fall silent for a few hours to commemorate the anniversary of the systematic killings recognized by the UN war crimes tribunal as the only genocide on European soil since World War 2.

The brutal massacre was part of the Bosnian Wars which occurred during the early 1990’s. The wars were a trickle down effect of the political and economic upheavals that began in Yugoslavia in 1980’s after the fall of the firm communist leadership of Josip Broz Tito.

Following the fall of the communist regime in Yugoslavia, ethnic tensions flared up between Serbs and Croats, leading to the Croatian War of Independence. After the independence of Croatia in 1991, the influence of xenophobia and ethnic hatred burst out in the open. The Serb-dominated Yugoslav army attacked Croat villages and bombarded Dubrovnik with special focus.

The media dubbed the explosion of violence in the area as “a strategy for pursuing the creation of a Greater Serbia”. Following Serbian and Croatian lines, the violence continued unabated in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a newly formed state which comprised a multi-ethnic population of majority Muslim Bosniaks, and minority Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.

Bosnia and Herzegovina received international recognition on April 6,1992. On the same day, the Serbs laid siege to the capital city of Sarajevo and marked the beginning of the Bosnian Wars.

In July 1995, the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb Army under the command of General Ratko Mladic swept into the Srebrenica enclave, a UN designated “safe haven” and perpetrated the killings of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys. The bodies were later dumped into pits.

In the bloody aftermath of the genocide, the Serbian wartime leadership dug up the mass graves and reburied the corpses in a bid to conceal the atrocities inflicted on Bosnian Muslims.

While Serbian leaders Radovin Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic await sentences for their role in directing the genocide, the seemingly innocuous Western powers who were well aware, if not active participants in the genocide have remained clear of any criminal charges.

Declassified cables and testimonies in the Hague tribunal have revealed that America, Britain and France supported the contention that Srebrenica, along with two other UN safe havens were “untenable”. To bargain for peace, the Western powers were willing to cede Srebrenica to the Serbs.

What firmly establishes the complicity of the West in the genocide is the revelation that they were well aware of “Directive 7”, a Serbian military order that called for the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims from the safe area.

After a US diplomat reported to Washington that a peace map would not become a reality unless the safe areas were ceded to the Serbs, the US policy-making Principles Committee urged the soldiers to move away from the fragile land, a reference to the safe areas.

Furthermore, the US cables show that the CIA was watching the mass-killings “live” through satellites.

Dutch troops have also been accused of evicting people from their refuge and watching the Serbian army segregate young children and women from the male assemblage.

As happens with most people who reveal the secret complicity of the dominant powers, Florence Hartmann, the woman behind the shocking disclosures has beenindicted for breach of confidentiality and also convicted of contempt of court by the International Criminal tribunal.

Meanwhile, Serbia and Russia have chosen to turn a blind eye on the massacre with Milorad Dodik, a Bosnian Serb leader, terming the genocide as“one of the biggest shams of the 20th century.” Russia has moved along similar lines by vetoing against a UK-sponsored UN security council resolution declaring the killings as genocide.

At the same time, the two countries acknowledge the killings as a “grave crime” while blaring out resounding calls that they are “not deaf to the sufferings of the victims of Srebrenica”.

As commemorations paying homage to the victims of Srebrenica, including a memorial service in Westminster Abbey and a mass gathering at a huge graveyard near the United Nations base at Potocari start pouring in, one wonders if hypocrisy has become the global political norm.

On the other hand, the families of the victims have been forced to live in a limbo built on foundations of constant fear and hatred where justice has become a far fetched dream.

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U.N. Agencies Running Out of Money for Essential Relief Activities, Yemen’s Children Continue To Suffer

Meanwhile, U.N. humanitarian operations in Yemen are at risk of running out of money in the coming weeks.

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A nurse looks as he weighs a malnourished girl at a malnutrition treatment center in Sanaa, Yemen, Oct. 7, 2018. VOA

The United Nations said Monday that the five-year-old conflict in Yemen has taken a “devastating toll” on the country’s children, with thousands killed, maimed and recruited to fight since the war began.

“The impact of this conflict on children is horrific,” Virginia Gamba, U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict, told a meeting of the Security Council. “All parties to the conflict have acted and reacted militarily to events resulting in the use and abuse of children in multiple ways.”

Since monitoring began in Yemen in April 2013 (before the conflict fully erupted) until the end of the 2018, Gamba said more than 7,500 children have been killed or maimed and more than 3,000 have been verified as recruited or used, and there have been more than 800 documented cases of denial of humanitarian access to children.

Gamba said children reportedly have been forcibly recruited from schools, orphanages and communities to fight on the front lines, man checkpoints, deliver supplies or gather intelligence.

FILE - A 17-year-old boy holds his weapon in High dam in Marib, Yemen, July 30, 2018.
A 17-year-old boy holds his weapon in High dam in Marib, Yemen, July 30, 2018. VOA

Last year, over half of the children recruited were under the age of 15. During that period, the U.N. says more than 200 were killed or maimed while being used by the warring parties.

Gamba called out the Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels for recruiting the majority of the children, followed by the Popular Resistance, Yemen Armed Forces and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

“The numbers I present to you today represent a mere fraction of violations committed against children in Yemen,” she told council members.

In addition to harm to child soldiers, Gamba said of the more than 7,500 children killed or maimed between 2013 and 2018, nearly half of the casualties were caused by Saudi-coalition airstrikes.

Another 40 percent of such casualties came in ground fighting, including shelling and mortars. Gamba said Houthi rebels were largely to blame, followed by Yemeni government forces, among others.

It is not the first time the U.N. has called out the Saudi-led coalition or the Houthis for harming Yemeni children. But while both sides say they avoid harming civilians, the toll continues to rise.

Redeployment of forces

The U.N. has been working to end the conflict. On Monday, special envoy Martin Griffiths offered a glimmer of hope that the parties might be ready to take a first step away from the battlefield.

He told council members that both the Saudi coalition-backed Yemeni government and the Houthis have accepted a detailed redeployment plan to begin moving their fighters away from the crucial Red Sea port city of Hodeida.

FILE - Houthi militants patrol a street where pro-Houthi protesters demonstrated against the Saudi-led coalition in Hodeida, Yemen.
Houthi militants patrol a street where pro-Houthi protesters demonstrated against the Saudi-led coalition in Hodeida, Yemen. VOA

“We will now move with all speed toward resolving the final outstanding issues related to the operational plans for phase two, redeployments and also the issue of the status of local security forces,” Griffiths told the council in a video briefing from Amman, Jordan.

The parties committed to the plan at talks in Stockholm in December, but efforts to implement the agreement have failed. Griffiths expressed some confidence that they would go forward now.

“When — and I hope it is when and not if — these redeploys happen, they will be the first ones in this long conflict,” he said.

Griffiths acknowledged that the “the war in Yemen … shows no sign of abating,” and said there needs to be real progress on the military redeployments before the focus can shift back to the political track.

U.S. Acting U.N. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen welcomed Houthi acceptance to phase one of the withdrawal plan and said Washington would be “watching closely to see if they make good on that agreement.”

Funds urgently needed

Meanwhile, U.N. humanitarian operations in Yemen are at risk of running out of money in the coming weeks.

In February, international donors pledged $2.6 billion for Yemen relief operations. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — who are prosecuting the war against the Houthis — pledged an additional $1 billion.

FILE - A girl sleeps on a bed at a cholera treatment center in Sanaa, Yemen, Aug. 4, 2018.
A girl sleeps on a bed at a cholera treatment center in Sanaa, Yemen, Aug. 4, 2018. VOA

But U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said that nearly four months into 2019, the response plan has received only $267 million in actual funding.

“U.N. agencies are rapidly running out of money for essential relief activities,” he warned.

The country, which is facing a cholera epidemic, could see 60% of its diarrhea treatment centers close in the coming weeks if money is not received. U.N. food programs, which provide emergency food assistance to more than 9 million people every month, would also be impacted.

“Closing or scaling back such programs — at a time when we are struggling to prevent widespread famine and roll back cholera and other killer diseases — would be catastrophic,” Lowcock said.

He also warned that a potential environmental disaster is brewing off of Yemen’s Red Sea coast.

Lowcock said that an oil tanker used as a floating storage and offloading facility, and which is 8 kilometers off the coast at the Ras Isa terminal, is old and has not received any maintenance since 2015. It has about 1.1 million barrels of oil on board.

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“Without maintenance, we fear that it will rupture or even explode, unleashing an environmental disaster in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes,” Lowcock said.

A Saudi Arabian-led coalition began bombing Houthi rebels in support of Yemen’s government in March 2015. Since then, the U.N. estimates more than 10,000 people have been killed, mostly due to coalition airstrike. (VOA)