An Open Letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Members of the Security Council, President Bill Clinton, Members of Congress, Leaders of Citizens’ Organizations Concerned with Achieving an End to the War in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the people of the former Yugoslavia.

Who We Are

The signers of this letter are members of an independent citizen’s committee, composed of educators, lawyers, physicians, writers and others, that has been meeting under the aegis of the Center on Violence and Human Survival at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) to study actions that can be taken to mitigate the suffering in the former Yugoslavia. We have been moved to this commitment through a shared conviction that the global community, as well as each of us personally, must attempt to stop the atrocities being committed by all sides, and the mass rape and apparent genocide now being carried out against the Bosnian Muslim population with a ferocity unparalleled since World War II.

A Plan for Immediate Humanitarian Intercession

We propose that the immediate next step in Bosnia-Herzegovina is the establishment under United Nations supervision of Assertive Safe Havens. Safe Havens should also be established in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. Safe Havens are urgently required to put a belated halt to the killing and persecution of innocent women, children, aged, and other non-combatants, including former combatants for whom violence has become intolerable, and to sustain their lives until civil order can be restored. Our proposal requires a new United Nations force with an expanded mandate and power of enforcement. Safe Havens are necessary no matter what political settlement is finally negotiated.

Our group makes this urgent recommendation after reviewing all plans before the public relating to the restoration of peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We have consulted international lawyers, military advisers, UN officials, and informed citizens of the former Yugoslavia. It has repeatedly been pointed out to us by those with experience on the ground that the destruction throughout the former Yugoslavia has been carried out with small forces whose effect has been multiplied by the absence of a credible threat of resistance. This proposal aims to shift that balance through the measured threat and, if necessary, use of force to save lives.

The authoritative basis for Assertive Safe Havens can be found in Security Council resolutions calling for a security zone encompassing Sarajevo, and the request to Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to “study the possibility and requirements of safe areas for humanitarian purposes.” In addition, we read authority for Safe Havens as being within the purview of the laws of war.

The Assertive Safe Haven Proposal

(1) Acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council would authorize the Secretary-General to declare as Safe Havens areas where populations are presently gathered. These would be established primarily in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in other affected locations as well. Potential sites for such Safe Havens are: Sarajevo, Bihac, Zenica, Srebrenica, Mostar, Tuzla, Bjelina, Goradzde, Nowy Pazar, Osijek.

(2) A new United Nations force with an “assertive” mandate and power of enforcement would be authorized to a) demilitarize the area surrounding each Safe Haven, placing heavy weapons under effective supervision; b) disarm the populations in the areas designated as Safe Havens; c) seek out and lead to safety non-combatants out-side the protected area who desire entry to a Safe Haven; and d) use appropriate force to defend themselves, their charges, and carry out the mandate.

(3) We estimate that 50,000 or fewer troops could effectively carry out the project of establishing Assertive Safe Havens. To ensure the multilateral nature of the force, no more than 25% of the total number of troops would be supplied by any single nation at a given time.

(4) The creation of Safe Havens would not rely on the permission of paramilitary forces or other local authorities. The humanitarian consideration of saving of human lives takes a higher priority. On the other hand, the Safe Havens as conceived do not require massive dislocation and movement of population. Thus a credible, yet limited, international armed force is envisaged.

(5) The establishment of Assertive Safe Haven zones would not impose long-term political solutions. The Safe Havens would pragmatically offer immediate security and reliable humanitarian relief to populations already trapped or taking refuge in the protected sites.

(6) In keeping with a mandate to assertively promote humanitarian relief in the Safe Havens, the United Nations would invite appropriate UN agencies and humanitarian organizations to assist in the administration of certain functions in the Safe Havens, such as the distribution of food, the provision of medical care, and psychological counseling.


This proposal for the creation of Assertive Safe Havens should be seen as a temporary authority establishing civil order. Safe Havens are not intended to be used as a basis for shaping the future map of the former Yugoslavia, though their establishment would improve the chances for a lasting peace. Once the Safe Havens are secure, Serbs, Muslims, and Croats will have diminished motive to resist a settlement.

We believe a clear distinction should be drawn between massive military intervention, which we do not favor, and the establishment of Assertive Safe Havens. We have been advised by those we have consulted that the task of creating Safe Havens in areas where populations are now gathered is practical, and will not expose that force to intolerable risks. We recognize that our proposal entails risks. But the on-going genocide obligates the world community to assume responsibility for creative humanitarian action.

We urge those to whom this letter is addressed to actively support and implement the idea of Assertive Safe Havens. We urge our fellow citizens to endorse and support this proposal so that together we may act to resolve a crisis that appalls and shames all people of conscience.

Citizens’ Committee on Bosnia-Herzegovina
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

New York City
Janet Coleman
Yael Danieli
Bogdan Denitch
Richard Falk
Michael Flynn
Elinor Fuchs
Elizabeth Gerle
David Haber
Kathleen Hulley
Harry Kahn
Robert Jay Lifton
Karen Malpede
Jennifer Manlowe
Saul Mendlovitz
William L. Messing
Erika Munk
Marlene Nadle
Michael Perlman
Dinko Podrug
Nannette Sachs
Charles B. Strozier
Ellen Wachtel
Peter Weiss
Burns H. Weston

This Issue

May 13, 1993