Today's date:
Summer 1995

Since the UN Can't Protect Us, Lift the Arms Embargo

Haris Silajdzic is the prime minister of the Republican of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

SARAJEVO - The arms embargo imposed on Bosnia-Herzegovina is a direct cause of the death and misery in my country. We believe that the arms embargo is illegal, immoral - and inhuman. It is killing us. It must be lifted immediately.

It is ludicrous that an arms embargo should be imposed on the victims of genocide. The international community, led by the United States, must have the strength to correct the mistake and injustice done to my people three years ago when we were rendered unable to defend ourselves. The inherent right to self-defense is pre-eminent under international law and cannot be modified by the politics of appeasement or be abridged by actions of the United Nations Security Council.

As a result of Serb genocidal aggression, more than 200,000 people have been slaughtered in my country 17,000 of them children. There are up to 150 mass graves, each with as many as 5,000 bodies. And at least 20,000 women have been raped as part of the campaign of ethnic cleansing - a euphemism for genocide.

Today Sarajevo is still besieged, there is no way to bring in food, there is no gas or electricity, there is no water-just like three years ago. Very little has changed.

Serbian aggression continues unabated and strangulation of Sarajevo is becoming worse and worse.

How is it possible that countries like the US, which believe in justice and democracy, can condone the imposition of an arms embargo on an unarmed people? In Bosnia, there is an aggressor and there is a victim. There are those who shoot and those who are shot. There are those who rape and those who are raped. There are besiegers and there are the besieged. Clearly, the world must be able to distinguish between right and wrong.

If we do not exercise principled morality, we are soon going to have many Bosnia-like situations around the world.

By failing to distinguish between right and wrong in Bosnia, the world is sending a very dangerous signal: Forget about international law; everything is up for grabs in a violent free-for-all. In the case of former Yugoslavia, a mutant of fascism, Stalinism and Hitlerism is running rampant in Belgrade's attempted realization of a greater Serbian dream. This mutant will cat everything in its path from Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Caucasus.

To Belgrade and beyond, the message in this is clear: Tyrants, thugs and dictators fear not.

So far, the international community has pursued a policy of containment in Bosnia. This policy has instruments of implementation -among those is the arms embargo. Another is the acceptance of the status quo. The peace plan which we have accepted has also become an instrument of postponement and containment.

It is now quite clear that the international community has sought to contain the problem to Bosnia, not to solve it. The end game among states now seems to be to bolster a UN protection force and not to bring peace to Bosnia-Herzegovina Some leaders now say that their first priority is to protect their troops on the ground. It should be to bring peace so that they may once and for all go home.

There are many now worn-out arguments against lifting the arms embargo. I assure you that none of them is valid. All of them have failed the test in Bosnia's laboratory of death.

They say that the Serbs will overrun the rest of Bosnia if we lift the arms embargo. If they could, why don't the Serbs do this right now? What's holding them back? It is certainly not their reputation. It's not the UN, which has made its inability to deter quite clear. It is our soldiers and brave freedom fighters who are preventing them from overrunning the rest of our country.

They also say we cannot use the arms without proper training. Are three years of intensive combat training not enough? We could train others from what we have learned through our experiences in the past three years. We have suffered aggression by an army with superior tanks, big guns, aircraft. We have suffered torture, extermination camps, thirst and hunger and we are still here.

Enough is enough. If friends would supply us with arms we will solve the problem ourselves. Postponement and containment have brought nothing but failure.

They say that lifting of the arms embargo will cause the war to spread and contaminate other areas. The blood flows in Bosnia but, as yet, does not spill out of Bosnia. So it appears that politicians are prepared to sacrifice us for the cause of world peace.

I am afraid that in a couple of years we will realize this could have been stopped in Bosnia. We believe that keeping the arms embargo on Bosnia is rewarding the aggression, is helping genocidal forces, is sustaining an unjust status quo-and is establishing a dangerous precedent. From the beginning, the UN has failed to fulfill its promises to us and to its own Charter and resolutions. It has failed to open supply routes for humanitarian convoys. It has failed to call for NATO airstrikes. It has failed to consider Article 51 of the UN Charter which explicitly guarantees the right of a member state to self defense. It disregards Chapter 7, which authorizes the UN to use force to defend its member states and Security Council resolutions.

When I hear officials say they don't want to take sides in Bosnia, to become a combatant there, I understand that perfectly. It is every nation's sovereign right to determine whether they will intervene or not. But we too have a sovereign right to defend our country.

For us it is not a matter of privilege, but necessity. Nobody knows what is better for us than we do. What gives any state the right to deprive another state of its most sacred of rights? We do not ask for boys from any other country to come to our country to die. We demand out right to defend ourselves.

The arms embargo is an intervention on the side of the aggressor. It is an instrument for genocide. It is immoral. It is a failed policy. And it is inhuman. The arms embargo must end.

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